Tony Visconti found Glam Rock buried in the basement of the UFO Club in London when he saw Tyrannosaurus Rex play to a crowd of 200 hippies on instruments they found in the garbage. Obviously I’m not talking about the giant, prehistoric reptile! I mean the band founded by Marc Bolan, and Steve Took (which is not as well known as the giant lizard). It was Visconti’s assignment to go out, and find a new band for the record label to sign as part of his six-month visit to England from Brooklyn, NY. At the time, they were folk heavy on the sound, but after three records, they topped the charts in the UK. It was the 1970’s. The radical US political group, The Weathermen (later called the Weather Underground) HAD gone underground, the Summer of Love died in a biker rage at a Stone’s concert, and the British Invasion of the US Billboard Top 100 was showing little sign of stopping. You ready boys and girls, because we’re about to get it on like a gong. Glitter? Check. Hair? Check. Unbridled, raw, sexual rock lyrics? Double check.
Let’s talk about who comes to mind when we all think of Glam Rock: David Bowie. A month or two after meeting Marc Bolan of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Tony Visconti was introduced to David Bowie. A man he worked for suggested he meet Bowie saying he had a talent for, “working with odd artists [paraphrased].” Bowie and Visconti hit it off, talking about everything from their favorite musicians, spoken word artists, and seeing the new Polanski film, Knife In The Water (Original US release in 1962)* before parting ways at around nine in the evening. His first album was apparently a mish-mash of inspiration from show-tunes, folk, rock and everything else in between. Bowie took time to discover himself, according to Visconti. In the few years they worked together, Bowie took mime classes, and discovered the art of Kabuki Theater. Both of these heavily influenced his showmanship.
Mime taught him how to use his body, and Kabuki inspired the wardrobe and makeup of his stage persona. He may not have been the impetus of the movement, but he was certainly one of its most major influencers. As soon as he wore what he wore, everyone rushed to copy him without understanding the source material and inspiration he was working from. The influence of Kabuki makeup, and the strong pronouncement of Kabuki’s costume design were matched only in the boldness of Bowie and Visconti’s destructive recording, or the act of recording take after take by taping over the one previous, only to hope that the next take would be better than the one before it.
David Bowie split from Visconti after a short time to join producer, Tony Defries, who told him he could make him a star. Just like Elvis. A few credit much to Defries, including making Bowie famous. He was alluded to, by Visconti, as being notoriously seedy in his dealings with artists. I think I now understand why people write libel and hearsay. Gross. In 2002 he was subject to a $22 million dollar loss in an “off shore tax evasion scheme.” Actions speak louder than words.
Defries worked with a gentleman named Mickie Most. Both of these guys look a little Guido-ish. Defries sported a perm, or else it was naturally curly hair, while Mickie boasted a collared shirt with tons of bling. His hair was wild and unkempt; he wore chains and rings, and was very much about the business of music rather than the heart and soul of it. He was an ex-musician himself. He felt he had peaked one day, so he helped create this record label called RAK in the hopes of “giving other artists the same chance” he had. You might recognize his work with the band Aarows from the music show compilation.
The Aarows video is one of my favorites. It’s very boy bandy with the lead singer looking as seductively as he can directly into camera. The lyrics, combined with the camera direction make it almost laughable, but charming.
In 1975, Mickie Most lost Mud as an artist on the RAK record label over frustration regarding lack of pay when compared to record sales. Mud decided to take their future in their own hands. They quickly signed with another label ending their partnership with RAK, a label heavily associated with Most and Defries, after a televised special about the dubious financial dealings of the company.
Glam started in a basement, and moved to the top as quickly as some pulled it in the gutter. The genre was recently paid homage with a Bowie cover of “Space Oddity” by Chris Hadfield, an astronaut who recorded the cover on the International Space Station. That’s about as glamorous as it gets.
The only way this article could be more Glam is if this article were written it in a coke fueled rage, but alas, weak nasal passages (or genetics…) would never allow such nonsense.
*Side note – seeing Knife in the Water upon release (at least according to the US release date [couldn’t find the UK one]) would be impossible, as Visconti says he had a career in London for 22 years ending in 1989. That would put the time line at 1967 (sounds about right), not the 1962 release date. Either way. It’s a nice brainteaser I guess.
David Bowie - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0T7z4rDg6k
Tony Visconti - http://vimeo.com/32710229
Mickie Most - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utODZuNZPCI
Chris Hadfield - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo