Part 13. Glam Rock

Originating in the UK in the early 70s, glam rock is stylistically hard to pin down. That is, until you realise that it's all about the trousers.

In the sixties Marc Bolan was a mawkish, waiflike hippy, constantly under the threat of being crushed by his own acne. In the seventies he discovered spandex loon pants, formed T-Rex and suddenly it seemed like the whole world would be pulverised beneath the six inch heel of glam rock.

Truly great trousers

Sure, the previous decade could boast some truly great trousers: mottled corduroy creations, tie-dyed pyjama pants and stonewashed wonders of flower power. But they were a shadow of what was to come. When Bolan first stepped out on stage sporting lurex jodhpurs, a florescent body warmer and four foot wide fibreglass epaulettes it was a wonder to behold.

And surprisingly, no one laughed. Several people took a sharp intake of breath, one woman fainted and a man almost choked to death on a cheeseburger, but shockingly not a titter was heard.

Fanciest pants

Soon everyone was donning their fanciest pants and joining a band. Roxy Music upped the ante when Brian Ferry modelled a pair of velvet dungarees augmented by flashing neon lights installed by his electrician friend Brian Eno. The trousers were extremely popular with promoters, as they found that there was no need to hire a lighting crew, and so Eno set up Enossification Ltd to supply them to other artists.

However, as Eno was a strict Seventh Day Brianist, his religion meant that he could only sell them to other people called Brian. In the end he only shifted three pairs, one to Queen's Brian May, one to Brian Connolly of Sweet and the other to the actor Brian Blessed, who used them to great success in a production of The Merchant of Venice at the Alhambra in Leicester.

In fact to date it is one of only two occasions when a pair of trousers has received a standing ovation in a production of a Shakespeare tragedy - not including the 1962 production of The Tempest, when Sir John Gielgud's jockey shorts returned for an encore at the insistence of an ecstatic and electrified audience.

Back to the trousers

Of course, Glam Rock wasn't just about the fashion. There was also music involved. Anyway, back to the trousers.

Competition was fierce as everyone tried to out-trouser everyone else. There were neon trousers, laser trousers, glow-in-the-dark trousers. Noddy Holder of Slade sported a pair of mirrored strides which were subsequently confiscated by the Civil Aviation Authority after they were identified as a navigation hazard. Trousers became brighter, shinier and bigger.

Elton John had doorways specially widened in order to accommodate his extraordinary pantaloons and The Bay City Rollers had to be rescued from a pair of bell bottomed breeches by the marines after being trapped inside for three days. Mathematicians at Princeton even came up with something they called 'Trousers²'. This was a mathematical concept of a pair of four dimensional trousers which, although they could not be physically realised, were predicted to have bigger pockets.

Trouser nonsense

Clearly all this trouser nonsense could not go on. For one thing, there simply wasn't enough fabric in the world. And fashion being what it was, it was only a matter of time before something new would emerge. That something new was the modfather himself, Paul Weller, who crashed onto the scene in 1977 with his band The Jam, and astounded the world by singing cover versions of songs by Bread, Marmalade and The Rolling Scones whilst wearing some of the skinniest trousers the world had ever seen. In fact, his trousers were actually narrower than his legs.

Within weeks Glam had practically died out, to live on only as a faint memory on the second-hand clothes racks of Oxfam stores, in the record collections of wedding disc jockeys and in those photos of your Uncle Tony looking like a proper tool, taken on the seafront at Skegness in 1975.

None of this is true, by the way.

Ricky Stratocaster is all better now after a poorly tummy.

Return to 'The History of Rock'

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