Prolific label Cherry Red Records are currently outdoing themselves with their output of classic and rare vintage boxed sets – search for the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, Pub-Rock, Back Street Crawler and Fraternity reviews on this website for starters. This latest 3-CD boxed set, complete with 40-page booklet insert, strives to document the glam rock movement of the early seventies. OK, so far so yawn, I hear you say, assuming this will be another predictable compilation of all the usual platform-soled suspects, Cum On Feel The Noise, Can The Can, Tiger Feet, Blockbuster et al. And there you would be wrong, because instead, this is a meticulously-researched document, a deep dive into the musical underground of 50 years since, compiled and annotated by one David Wells. Out of the 63 songs presented, with a running time of almost four hours, you’d be hard put to find a single one of the songs you would expect to find. Yes, we do meet Slade and Sweet, but not with not with their most famous output, and you’ll have to dig to find Suzi Quatro or Marc Bolan – both appear as guest performers on other people’s songs.
Admittedly, CD1 opens with Roxy Music’s Pyjamarama, maybe not the first song that comes to mind from their catalogue, but not a complete unknown either, and the same with second track, ELO’s Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle. Next, Sparks are represented by Barbecutie, the non-album B-side to their classic This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us. And this is the way the compilation rolls; interesting and considered choices that give an insight into the evolution of the scene, rather than opting for the obvious crowd-pleasing chart fodder. As the promo puts it, “the emergence of the outrageous, androgynous, peacock-plumaged Glam Rock scene provided a vital spark in the dark,” in a musical scene that was arguably getting too stern and serious for its own good.
The establishment found itself briefly overrun by a wave of heavily eye-linered, fishnet-wearing, platinum-blonded performers – and that was just the guys. Out of this scene would emerge the more chart-friendly glammed-up pop idols and the spiky-haired punks, but this selection showcases the brief, historic interlude between 1970 and 1976 which made sleaze acceptable and innovation compulsory. London was the epicentre of this new tectonic movement, and although east coast America is represented, this is an overwhelmingly British collection – the three bands chosen to open the collection being followed by The Pretty Things, The Hollywood Brats, who also adorn the front cover, and the enigmatic Silverhead, featuring Michael des Barres, a member of the English aristocracy turned outrageous underground purveyor of raunch.
Everyone who is anyone turns up in some form or another, some of them pivotal members of the scene, some who only touched it briefly or glancingly, but still influenced its development in some way. No David Bowie songs are featured, but he still manages to garner no less than 38 mentions in the extensive sleeve notes. Space rockers Hawkwind are represented with their banned 1976 song Kerb Crawler; Dana Gillespie, who played Mary Magdalene in the original production of Jesus Christ Superstar, sings the Bowie-penned Andy Warhol, with Mick Ronson on guitar.
Irish rockers Thin Lizzy seem an unlikely inclusion with their obscure, 1974 non-album single Little Darlin’ – but that song is a rare treasure, being recorded during guitar wizard Gary Moore’s original brief tenure with the band, after Eric Bell left and before they found success with the Vertigo label and their new, pioneering, twin-guitar sound. There is a further Thin Lizzy connection with the inclusion of a song by the Hammersmith Gorillas – their single She’s My Gal was one of the first recordings to come out of former Lizzy co-Manager Ted Carroll’s Chiswick label. Of course, this compilation disdains to include She’s My Gal, and instead includes the unreleased rarity Shame, Shame, Shame from the same sessions.
A corset-clad Tim Curry singing Sweet Transvestite from The Rocky Horror Show is perhaps a shoo-in for a selection such as this, but more unexpected is middle-of-the-road popster Leo Sayer – unless, of course, you remember Sayer in his early days, dressed as a Pierrot-inspired clown, singing The Show Must Go On in an artificially gruff voice. Just to bend it even further, even that early hit is too well-known for this compilation, which instead opts to feature Sayer’s aching ballad The Dancer, from the same album. Sayer went on to become a pop chart regular, but he is put cheek by jowl with some bone fide rareties: relative unknowns Streak released a couple of obscure singles and even recorded an album in 1973, which was never released. They are represented here by the pub-rocky On The Ball from that record.
Andy Arthurs recorded a handful of singles under the bizarre name A Raincoat, and is here represented by I Love You For Your Mind (Not Your Body). The transatlantic connection is represented by Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and the New York Dolls, but also by the less well-known Jobriath, who was touted as the first openly gay rock musician to be signed to a major label, Elektra, in 1973.
The set aims to cover two strands of the movement – the arty, song-writery or proggy side of the fence: Teenage Archangel by Be-Bop Deluxe, Phil Manzanera’s Canon in D-inspired Big Day, Curved Air’s brilliant The Purple Speed Queen, and Bright Lights by the heavily Lou Reed-influenced England’s Glory – and the more in-your-face, straight-ahead hard rock and proto-punk: Tumble With Me by The Hollywood Brats, Personality Crisis by the androgynous New York Dolls, Payroll by the totally anonymous Brutus. It’s a fascinating and eye-opening piece of archaeology, giving obscure and unknown acts equal billing with genuine legends of the scene – and it’s no easy task to explain why some hit the bullseye and others missed.
Suffice to say that the comprehensive insert booklet includes notes on every song, explaining when and under what circumstances it was recorded, and why it made the cut for the compilation. Nevertheless, if you can almost-but-not-quite remember who Rusty, Duffy, Spiv, Bullfrog or The Winkies were, or what Michael Moorcock was doing when he wasn’t writing sci-fi fantasy, or why you loved/hated The Pink Fairies or Mott The Hoople, then it’s time to get immersed in the history and re-live your misspent youth.