From David Bowie to Lady Gaga: a brief look at the history of glam rock

Writer Simon Reynolds, whose new book Shock and Awe looks at glam rock's legacy, discusses some of the genre's most notable artists.
David Bowie is one of the most prominent glam rock artists in music history, merging outlandish fashions with glittering rock 'n' roll. (Getty Images)

Simon Reynolds' new book, Shock and Awe, details the history of glam rock, a musical genre and style stemming from the early '70s and marked by an outlandish, eye-catching aesthetic. From pioneers like David Bowie and T-Rex to a modern day artist like Lady Gaga who draws from those artists, glam rock has been an influential force in music. 

"It goes backwards and it goes forwards," Reynolds explains. "It's the sound of the '50s but with all the advances, the studio productions of the late '60s. It's a weird mixture of primitivism and production." 

Writer Simon Reynolds' new book, Shock and Awe, details the history of glam rock. (Joy Press)

We played Reynolds music from a number of notable glam rock stars and this is what he had to say about their contributions to the genre and how a few of them perhaps eventually veered away from glam into more fascist imagery. 

T. Rex
"I remember being vaguely sort of scared as well as thrilled when I first heard them. [Lead singer Marc Bolan] seemed like an alien. It just seemed musically and visualy just kind of startling."

David Bowie
"Somehow he just caught the zeitgeist. He saw what Marc Bolan did and thought, ah that's what I'm going to do. Almost overnight, he went from being a complete has-been to being considered the fulcrum of the rock universe."

Roxy Music
"The clothes that Bryan Ferry was wearing moved from the more gender ambiguous parody glamour of the early Roxy stuff to the sort of male archetypes, looking vaguely fascistic. It was a strange sort of shift away from the sexual ambiguity and camp of glam to playing to these more masculine and authoritarian tropes."

"Freddie Mercury liked to strut around onstage and even at the time, certain rock critics, particularly in America, felt uneasy. They felt there was something vaguely Mussolini-like or dictatorial about his postures onstage." 

Suzi Quatro 
"There were very few women involved in the frontline of glam. The female equivalent of men making themselves look pretty is making yourself look tough and, in a sense, de-glamourize yourself. She was a glamourous tomboy figure."

Lady Gaga
"She almost studied the history of glam and later glam influences, and tried to do a modern day version of that. The music is not as interesting or as varied as what Bowie did or what Roxy Music didl; it's sort of efficient electronic-pop. She even called it 'soulless electronic pop' with a kind of wink to Andy Warhol and the idea that plastic and surface-deep is cool."