Curious about Bowie, Iggy, and T. Rex, but not sure where to start? Go beyond the glitter with our guide to the essential albums and videos

By Michael Endelman
Updated February 17, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST
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T. Rex: Michael Ochs Archive.com

Glam Rock 101: The essential CDs and DVDs

I’m one of the world’s actors, in the broadest sense of the word. I’m an exhibitionist. I like showing off. I’m a peacock.
— David Bowie, as quoted in Glam!: An Eyewitness Account, by Mick Rock

They called it glam, shrinking glamorous into a curt, single-syllable catchphrase. Ironically, there was nothing small or diminished about glam rock. It was a scene obsessed with more: flashier, gaudier, and grander. Kickstarted by frizzy-haired Marc Bolan (singer/leader of T. Rex) in 1971, glam quickly became a musical, social, and, most of all, fashion sensation in the U.K., as girls and boys threw off their hippie threads for platform boots, brazen makeup, garish costumes, and lots of glitter.

It wasn’t all lipstick and Final Net, though; there was great music too. Bowie brought lovingly pretentious theatrical concepts (see: Ziggy Stardust), Roxy Music noodled and brooded with both substance and panache (you try it!), Mott the Hoople made pub rock with virtuosic flash, and Lou Reed turned his Manhattan gutter tales into stage-ready musical vignettes. Applying fake eyelashes, affecting a detached upper-crust accent, and squeezing into a sequined halter top might enhance your appreciation of glam rock — but, if you’re eager to dive in, it’s not 100 percent necessary. All you need is a will to bang a gong and let our guide lead you down this sparkly road.

Next page: 10 essential glam albums

Image credit: Iggy Pop & The Stooges: Robert Matheu / Retna AB FAB Iggy and the Stooges performing in Detroit, 1973

10 ESSENTIAL GLAM-ROCK ALBUMS

David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)
Bowie’s masterpiece is the premier glam document: pretentious, theatrical, fairly absurd, and, most importantly, stocked with shimmering anthems from start to finish.
CHOICE CUTS ”Ziggy Stardust,” ”Suffragette City,” ”Moonage Daydream”

T. Rex, Electric Warrior (1971)
With his sexy, breathy paeans to cosmic dancers and planet queens, T. Rex’s wiggy leader, Marc Bolan, was the fairy king of British glitter boogie.
CHOICE CUTS ”Bang a Gong (Get It On),” ”Jeepster”

Mott the Hoople, Mott (1973)
Even without their calling card, the Bowie-penned ”All the Young Dudes,” Mott is Mott’s true triumph: Mick Ralphs provides flash-guitar licks, Ian Hunter narrates in his working-class rasp.
CHOICE CUTS ”All the Way From Memphis,” ”Whizz Kid”

Lou Reed, Transformer (1972)
Coated in producer Bowie’s space dust (yes, his delicate hands are everywhere in the glam world), Reed’s second solo album detailed a Warholian cast of street kids and drag queens.
CHOICE CUTS ”Walk on the Wild Side,” ”Vicious,” ”Satellite of Love”

Roxy Music, Roxy Music (1972)
Precariously balanced between Bryan Ferry’s clenched-jaw croon and Brian Eno’s experimental synth noodling, Roxy Music’s debut turns tales of doomed romantics into wide-screen epics.
CHOICE CUTS ”Virginia Plain,” ”2 H.B.”

New York Dolls, New York Dolls (1973)
As important to punk as they were to glam, this Gotham quintet pioneered the confrontational mishmash of gutter sleaze, gender-bending, and bare-knuckle, stripped-down rock & roll that’s been aped by countless more successful bands since. Bowie (who else?) called them the ”Stones in lamé.”
CHOICE CUTS ”Personality Crisis,” ”Jet Boy,” ”Trash”

Iggy and the Stooges, Raw Power (1973)
Produced in London under Bowie’s watch (we weren’t kidding, were we?), this 33-minute nihilistic blast comes on like a ”street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm.” Lipstick-wearing howler Iggy Pop forever upped the ante on outrageous performances.
CHOICE CUTS ”Search and Destroy,” ”Gimme Danger”

Sweet, Desolation Boulevard (1975)
Updating bubblegum pop for the glam nation, this stuff is all adrenaline whoosh and stupid fun. The guitars snarl, the hooks keep coming, and the lyrics stink of cheap sex and adolescent rebellion.
CHOICE CUTS ”Ballroom Blitz,” ”Fox on the Run,” and ”A.C.D.C”

Suzi Quatro, Greatest Hits (Import; 2000)
Happy Days fans know her as ”Leather Tuscadero,” but the bass-playing Quatro was one of the few female stars of the scene. With her albums mostly out-of-print, this compilation of sassy ?50s-style rock — a glam trademark — and raunchy riffs is the best way to experience the pint-size spitfire.
CHOICE CUTS ”Can the Can,” ”48 Crash”

Various Artists, Velvet Tinmine (Import; 2003)
Compiling what the liner notes call ”junk shop glam,” this 20-track disc is stuffed with tawdry, frivolous, but supremely poppy British glam singles from ultra-obscure acts like Crunch and Iron Virgin.
CHOICE CUTS Hello’s ”Another School Day,” Bearded Lady’s ”Rock Star” (Read the review)

NEXT PAGE: Glam-themed DVDs

Image credit: David Bowie: Ilpo Musto/London Features TAE BOWIE Aerobic exercise, glam-style, as seen in the ”Ziggy Stardust” DVD

FIVE MUST-SEE GLAM DVDs…

Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Released more than 25 years after the British boys began bedazzling themselves, Todd Haynes’ surreal, fractured fairy tale is a twisted example of historical fiction: It distills the movement’s outrageous experimentation and major figures into a candy-colored fever dream that is based on — but not really set in — reality. (Read the EW review)

New York Doll (2005; on DVD April 4)
What happens to a glam rock star after the fishnets and sequins have been tossed away? This documentary is the heartbreaking story of New York Doll bassist Arthur ”Killer” Kane, who ended up as a destitute alcoholic-turned-Mormon librarian in Los Angeles after the Dolls flamed out. (Read the EW review)

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture (1973)
The sound and image quality is far from perfect, but D.A. Pennebaker’s film of David Bowie’s last concert as Ziggy Stardust is a vivid document of this amazing band, complete with hysterical screaming teens and some backstage footage of Bowie applying the ”leper messiah” makeup before the show. Still, it leaves one question unanswered: How the hell did guitarist Mick Ronson shred so nastily in 6-inch platform heels? (Read the EW review)

T. Rex: Born to Boogie (1972)
That this flick — a smattering of killer live clips culled from two back-to-back shows, sprinkled with some truly odd surrealist vignettes — bears resemblance to A Hard Day’s Night should come as no surprise: During this time of ”T. Rextasy,” frontman Marc Bolan and his band were billed as the ”second coming of the Beatles,” and even one of T. Rex’s Fab Four-bears bought the hype. Ringo Starr not only directed and produced Boogie, but also found some time for an on-camera jam alongside Bolan and a thicker-haired Elton John.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Those songs! Those wigs! That inch! A triumph of masterful musicality and glitter-bomb visuals, John Cameron Mitchell’s rousing tale of The Little Tranny That Could is a late-era glam-rock landmark. (Read the EW review)

…AND ONE TO SKIP

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Sort of Hedwig‘s cinematic father, Paradise makes it clear that while glam makes for great music, it doesn’t necessarily provide for scintillating movie-watching. Who knows what Brian De Palma was thinking when he wrote and directed this coked-up variant of the classic Phantom tale — or why he cast elfin composer Paul Williams as his Faustian lead? — but we’d sell our soul to the devil if he’d spare us a second viewing.

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