Gary Glitter written out of glam rock history in favour of Noël Coward

Box-set billed as the definitive guide to Seventies music genre has further ostracised its disgraced former star

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It was the pop craze that lit up the Seventies with a garish sparkle. But now Gary Glitter has been written out of the definitive history of glam rock in favour of Noël Coward.

Once derided as a teeny-bopper fad, the glam era is today rehabilitated with the release of a five-CD compilation and 100-page book, which credits the music and its outrageously dressed stars with a central role in the development of British popular culture.

Top of the Pops regulars T Rex, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Slade, Suzi Quatro, The Sweet and Mud all feature among the 91 tracks contained on Oh Yes We Can Love: A History of Glam Rock. Lou Reed, Blondie and The Ramones are also on the £38 compilation, which guides listeners through glam’s influence on the disco and punk movements and on contemporary exponents of the “glam stomp”, encapsulated by hits from Morrissey, Pulp, Suede and Goldfrapp.

But while the exhaustive history includes songs by Little Richard and Jacques Brel as glam precursors, as well as the Osmonds and Marilyn Manson, there is no place for Gary Glitter, arguably glam’s most successful exponent with 26 hit singles, including three No 1s.

The disgraced Glitter was convicted of child-sex offences in Vietnam and arrested and bailed last year as part of Operation Yewtree.

Yet The Glitter Band, formed by the flamboyant frontman’s backing musicians, are represented with “Angel Face”, their 1974 single, recorded without “the leader of the gang”, which reached No 4. Daryl Easlea, a music consultant and DJ who compiled the track listing for the Universal Music release, said: “The Glitter Band are there – and frankly, ‘Angel Face’ is on a par with any of their on-stage leader’s work.”

The compilation does include The Human League’s version of Glitter’s “Rock and Roll” but taste concerns had played a role in the singer’s omission. Easlea said: “If we’d included Glitter, it would have overshadowed everybody’s contributions and music.”

Glitter, 69, received royalties last year when the BBC repeated a 1977 edition of Top of the Pops in which he featured. The BBC said it would be “inappropriate to rewrite history” by editing out his performance.

The compilation’s opening track may surprise those who dismissed glam as a regrettable opportunity for “brickies in eyeliner” to invade living rooms. The first recorded glam rock song was actually “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”, performed in 1931 by the composer and wit, Noël Coward.

“Noël Coward’s influence on people like Bowie, Roxy Music and Cockney Rebel was absolutely immense,” Easlea said. “It suggested style, artifice and surface were equally as important as depth and substance. Time magazine noted Coward’s ‘sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise’. It reads like a glam manifesto.”

Glam’s chart takeover began with Marc Bolan’s appearance on Top of the Pops in 1971 daubed in glitter, which “permitted a generation of teeny-boppers to begin playing with the idea of  androgyny”, the compilation claims.

The glam gene – which Easlea defines as “a sense of élan and poise” displayed in music which “blurred the lines of gender and class” – still survives within today’s pop landscape.

“Lady Gaga very much has it; Goldfrapp, when she’s out of the forest glade and back down the nightclub, has it in spades,” Easlea said.

“One strand of Glam is exactly like The X Factor; cover versions, the equivalent of one of those Top of the Pops albums on Pickwick in the early Seventies. And characters like Alvin Stardust or the Rubettes would underline glam’s egalitarianism. If they could do it, so could you.

“It could be said that a lot of glam wasn’t authentic in the slightest – exactly the accusation levelled weekly against The X Factor. But it doesn’t stop audiences coming back for more or some of those records being fascinating time capsules.”

Rock rewind: stars on the playlist

Noël Coward

The English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer is a surprise inclusion in the box set. Coward wrote “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” in 1931; it became a signature feature of his cabaret act.

T Rex

Achieved huge success in the early Seventies, influencing the glam rock, punk rock and Britpop genres. “Hot Love” and “Metal Guru” are included.

David Bowie

His flamboyant alter ego Ziggy Stardust, unveiled in 1972, gives him good cause for inclusion. According to the biographer David Buckley, Bowie “created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture”. “London Bye Ta-Ta” is on the compilation.

The Osmonds

The clean-cut US family group, fronted by sibling Donny, became teen idols in the Seventies. Had a number of hits in the US before moving towards a more rock’n’roll sound. “Crazy Horses” is included.

New York Dolls

US hard-rock band formed in New York City in 1971 who influenced bands including the Sex Pistols, Kiss, Mötley Crüe, the Ramones, Guns N’ Roses, The Damned, Poison and The Smiths. “Looking for a Kiss” makes the cut on the box set.

Chloe Hamilton