Friday, 25 December 2009

It's Christmaaas

It seemed like a good idea to get a bit ahead of schedule with some of the blog entries I was intending to write, and to set some sort of order to the songs being posted. So with that in mind I began planning this Xmas post way back in August at the height of the British summer. As it turned out we didn't get much of a summer (as usual).
Anyway the point is, that it nicely links in with the song posted here, namely "Merry Xmas Everybody" by Slade. It is now a well known fact that this song was recorded in the (not very Christmasy) heat of June in a studio in the USA, to be released in the winter of 1973. It went on to become one of Slade's best selling and best loved 45's.

Originally a #1 in December 73, it has been re-released (in the UK) almost every year since then, giving Noddy and the boys a nice little pension in the process. Rather than posting the 7" version that everybody has heard, I have posted a rocking live version by the band from 1975.
The glam rock years were a golden period for Xmas singles, with Wizzards "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" only a #4 in December 1973 (such was the standard of other singles released at the same time). Mud's "Lonely This Christmas" a #1 the following year, and other less famous ones such as "Step Into Christmas" by Elton John and even "Wombling Merry Christmas" by the Wombles obviously.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Origins of Glam Rock

Glam rock emerged in the post hippie period of the late 60’s and early 70’s. It is commonly accepted that it began when Tyrannosaurus Rex an acoustic, psychedelic, folk rock band lead by one time mod Marc Bolan, shortened it’s name to T. Rex and released the number 1 UK single “Ride A White Swan” in December 1970.

Marc Bolan also changed his professional image by wearing makeup and glitter, first seen during an appearance on Top of the Pops in late 1970. It was this appearance along with a mix of bisexuality and a 1950s-futurist hard rock-pop sound that laid the foundation for glam rocks early sound and image.

Following Bolan's successful metamorphosis, David Bowie (seen as the other major player in the scene) altered his own professional persona to fit the new concept (and further explore the bisexual glam image), by creating Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy was strongly influenced visually by Stanley Kubrick's movies ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, and as with Marc Bolan, the music was harder-sounding and more aggressive than his previous work.

It was David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character that brought Glam rock its relatively modest popularity in America, and lead to American artists such as Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, The New York Dolls, Jobriath, and Alice Cooper adopting Glam or Glam-influenced styles.

Also caught up in Bolan’s wake, previously existing pop-rock bands and artists such as, Slade and Sweet (originally called Ambrose Slade and The Sweetshop respectively) would emerge and have greater commercial success during 1971-72. Pure pop artists like Mud, Gary Glitter and Alvin Stardust would also rise to fame in 1972-73, as a second generation of glam acts conquered the charts, making glam a national music phenomenon in the UK.

Glam itself can be seen as a nostalgic mixture of various styles, from both the visual and musical arts. This ranged from 1930s Hollywood glamour, and 1950s rock n' roll teenage rebellion, to a bit of pre-war cabaret theatrics, with some ancient and occult mysticism and mythology added for good measure.

But it was science fiction imagery that was at the core of glam rock's stylistic pallet. Themes of spaceflight and alien encounters were common in the glam rock spectrum. Glam style strongly referenced the "space Age" with silver astronaut-like outfits and multicoloured hair. This trend was often musically represented with science-fiction/fantasy-oriented lyrics and music tinted with early synthesizers such as the Moog.

So with its flamboyant costumes, androgyny and colourful visual styles, together with a camp, theatrical blend of old style glamour, transvestism and futurism, glam rock dominated the early seventies musical backdrop in the UK. Although seen predominantly as a teenage and youth phenomenon, glam rock also consciously wallowed in more adult themes and 1970’s drug and sleaze excess. The stars of Andy Warhol's films and his stage play ‘Pork’ were crucially influential to the nascent glam movement. The Warhol set were provocatively camp, flamboyant, and sexually ambiguous.

Another element in the melting pot of glam rock was recent homosexual reforms in the United Kingdom and the militant Stonewall Riots for gay rights in the US. Sexual ambiguity was briefly in vogue as an effective cultural "shock tactic". David Bowie caused a media uproar in 1972 when he told the UK press he was bisexual. But while glam rock went against traditional gender-representation, genuinely gay glam rock musicians were rare. The late Jobriath was amongst rocks first openly gay performers, while Queen's Freddie Mercury stayed mostly "in the closet".

“Though primarily a UK-centred genre and of somewhat nebulous impact in the US, glam rock rapidly influenced popular culture to the point where acts as disparate as The Osmonds and the Rolling Stones wore some glitter or makeup. Even though their own work had little if any connection to science fiction, sexual ambiguity or high art, the genre's pop stars also wore makeup and 'futuristic' garb. However, as the genre progressed, it became stylistically diluted and commercialised”.

By the end of 1975 glam rock was in its final days. Acts like Slade, Sweet and T Rex were losing popularity and record sales, as the public found other music and trends to take there place. While artists such as David Bowie and Roxy Music were exploring different musical avenues and genres that didn’t have glam rocks restrictions.

“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide.
No escape from reality”.
Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen, December 1975

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Suzi Quatro: I Wanna Be Free (b-side)

"I Wanna Be Free" was the b-side to the 1974 single "Too Big" a moderate hit reaching # 14.
The song is written by Quatro and her then husband Len Tuckey.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Sweet: The Six Teens (a-side)

This song is often regarded as the best track written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman for The Sweet. It details the lives of six teenagers who have to deal with the change from the idyllic and idealistic 1960's to the more confronting 1970's.

It was also the last Chapman and Chinn song to feature on a Sweet single release. It shows a more plaintive side of the songwriters usual glam rock stomp. When released in 1974 it got to #9 in the UK charts.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel: Sebastian (a-side)

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel are an English rock band who’s music covers a range of styles from pop to progressive rock. Over the years they have had five albums in the UK Albums Chart and twelve singles in the UK Singles Chart.

The band comprised Steve Harley (who was also the songwriter) on vocals and acoustic guitar, Stuart Elliot on drums, John Crocker on violin, mandolin and guitar and bass player Paul Avron Jeffreys. Keyboards man Milton Reame-James was invited to join and the band went straight into the studio and recorded their first album "The Human Menagerie" in 1973.

The first single from this album was "Sebastian" it wasn’t a hit in the UK but did spark interest in the band, and was a huge hit in Holland and Belgium, staying at # 1 for weeks on end. The album rapidly drew attention and the violin/electric piano sound was soon recognised as the bands trademark.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Cuddly Toys: Madman (cover version)

was originally one of two songs written by David Bowie and Marc Bolan in September 1977. The other being "Sitting Next to You".

The original plan was to play these on Bolan's TV show "Marc" on which Bowie was a guest on the last show of the series.
However filming of the show had over-run, and they were only half a minute into the first song when Marc fell off the stage and technicians on a work-to-rule overtime ban stopped filming. Only a week later Bolan was dead, so any more collaborations were not to be.

The originals of Madman and Sitting Next To You have appeared on various bad quality bootlegs over the years.

It's said that Marc had given a tape of Madman to some fans, and the song first saw the light of day as this Cuddly Toys single in 1980. The Cuddly Toys started out as punk band "The Raped". Having little success they changed their name, sound, and image and became The Cuddly Toys.

The song reached #19 in the UK Indie Chart.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Mud: Morning (b-side)

"Morning" is the b-side to "The Cat Crept In". Released in 1974 it reached # 2 in the UK charts.
It follows a similar mellow, acoustic sound to "Mr Bagatelle" and is again written by the band.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Slade: How Does It Feel? (a-side)

In 1975 Slade made the film "Slade in Flame". Partly semi-autobiographical, it was not the film that critics and fans expected of the band. Instead of colourful "Monkees" style musical comedy it showed a more gritty and cynical side of the music industry, and I think it is all the better for that.
It chronicles the rise and bitter break up of a Northern rock band, and the movie's theme is the song "How Does It Feel?" which I think is one of the best singles released in the 70's. But the change in style for the band did not go down well with all fans with the song only getting to '#15 in the charts, a relative failure for Slade, making it their first single in three and a half years that failed to make the top 10.
It is a melancholy and reflective ballad using flutes and piano with string and brass orchestration, not something you would usually associate with their records. Noddy Holders voice shows genuine emotion and it was this song more than any other that gave Noddy Holder and Jim Lea the title of "The Lennon and McCartney Of Glam"
In 2000 on the Big Breakfast TV show Noel Gallagher of Oasis said it was his favourite Slade tune. He said:

"Slade were never pretentious. It was just music to them. Pop, rock, soul... it was all the same to Slade. They wrote great songs. And, besides, I'd like to raid their wardrobe."
"Do you know what it's like

to be searching in your own time?,
to be searching and suddenly find.
All your illusion, all your confusion,
all left behind.
How does it feel turning away?,
and how does it feel facing another day?.
Coz many years from now
there will be newer poisons
and new horizons.
How does it feel?"
Noddy Holder & Jim Lea 1975