What is Glam Rock?

All about glam rock and glam rockers

The New York Dolls
The New York Dolls, 1973.

 Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

Glam rock, in its very first, classic incarnation in the UK from approximately 1972-1974, arose from a number of distinct musical trends: a move away from what was perceived as the crushing seriousness of the metal, prog and hard rock bands that would make up what would later be termed "classic rock," a related love for retro Fifties three-chord rock and roll, the rise of bubblegum music aimed at teens in the late Sixties, and a general androgyny unleashed by the culture wars of that same time period. The typical UK glam rock song, therefore, was loud, stomping, simple, and flamboyant, with big guitar riffs and repeated chants that would encourage crowds to sing along. (The typical glam song of time also featured heavy, tribal beats and a lead vocal that blurred at least some gender distinctions.) Other artists that were too musically adventurous to stick to one genre dabbled in Glam as well (Queen, David Bowie, ELO, Cheap Trick).

Of course, America took some note. Sweet managed to have hits in the USA; the New York Dolls took the movement to heart, transforming that city's rock scene for the rest of the decade, and Alice Cooper began to inject the style and attitude of the genre into his own Doors-inspired mix of goth and hard rock. All of this helped make glam a tremendously influential movement: early punks and New Wavers caught on to the style's anti-hippie stance and brutal simplicity, while metal and hard rock bands looking to capture a younger and more varied audience began to assimilate the genre as well. The most popular of these -- KISS, Van Halen, Aerosmith -- went on to make huge inroads into American radio with their bluesier and harder version of glam; in the Eighties, their success would spearhead the entire "hair metal" movement (for which glam is unfortunately confused to this day by many Americans).

Also Known As: Glam, Glitter Rock, Hair Metal


"Ballroom Blitz," Sweet

In many ways they were the band that started it all, and this, their biggest stateside hit, remains a classic bar brawl anthem that even survived model Tia Carrere's awful Wayne's World version.

"Metal Guru," T. Rex

A two-chord wonder and, in true Marc Bolan fashion, an ode to a car and a girl at the same time, it inspired the Smiths' own very different '80s hit "Panic."

"Suffragette City," David Bowie

The most popular of his Ziggy Stardust anthems and very possibly a story of a proudly gay man being tempted by the fairer sex. Very glam.

"Cum On Feel The Noize," Slade

Later repurposed as a debut single for Quiet Riot, the original still holds plenty of power, a great example of Slade's ability to make everything sound like a pub singalong with power chords.

"All The Young Dudes," Mott The Hoople

Given to Mott specifically to save their career, this was a switch from "Suffragette" -- the band members were straight but the song, ostensibly about the glam movement, was actually a gay pride anthem.

"Personality Crisis," The New York Dolls

Produced by Todd Rundgren, it established New York Rock as a continuing thing after the death of the Velvet Underground and is one of the founding cornerstones of punk. 

"Do The Strand," Roxy Music

Roxy were the art-rock version of glam, even in the early days, and their style would serve them well in the slick latter part of the decade, when they'd help birth the UK's New Romantic movement.

"Can The Can," Suzi Quatro

Suzi was the female teen idol of glam, in a world where the Runaways were too tough for glam's sensibilities.

"I'm The Leader Of The Gang," Gary Glitter

Glitter helped begin glam with "Rock and Roll Parts 1 and 2," so it was only natural that his tribal style would continue to net him hit after glittery hit.

"Be My Lover," Alice Cooper

Alice sat at the crossroads of glam, goth, and metal, but when he wanted to camp it up, he had the outsize personality to go full glitter on everyone.