Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review: 'Oh Yes We Can Love: A History of Glam Rock'


With its defiantly mindless philosophy and 365s-days-of-Halloween style, glam rock was designed to glitter brightly and burn out quickly. That’s just what it did in its early seventies salad days, arriving to annihilate the denim non-style of late-sixties hippies and send up the pompous seriousness of the leading heavy rock and prog groups. In all, glam held sway over teens (mostly British ones) for little more than three years. As Bowie discovered conservative suits and Brian Eno’s icy textures, Marc Bolan got chubby, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show parodied a parody, the death knell knelled.

So how could something so ephemeral be deserving of its own multi-disc box set? Short answer: everything gets its own multi-disc box set these days— there’s probably one devoted to you. Equally short answer: Mark Wood and Daryl Easlea, the dynamic duo who compiled Oh Yes We Can Love: A History of Glam Rock, are kind of brilliant. Instead of merely quadruple-loading the predictable Bowie, T. Rex, Slade, Sweet, KISS, and Suzi Quatro hits, they’ve elasticized the genre so that it stretches as far back as 1931 and as far forward as 2010. This way we really do get a sense of the history of glam: what inspired it and what has transpired since 1974. So now glam entails pre-WWII comic crooner Noël Coward, Belgian chanson master Jacques Brel, blues giant Howlin’ Wolf, pioneer American rockers Chuck Berry and Little Richard, pioneer British ones The Kinks, proggers Curved Air, toothy bubblegum purveyors The Osmonds, punks The Ramones, proto-goths Bauhaus, new wavers Human League, hair metalists Hanoi Rocks, dream poppers Saint Etienne, schlock rocker Marilyn Manson, electro whizzes Goldfrapp, and even the theme to an ITV kiddie show (and it’s great!).

This eclecticism follows a definite logic. Although Oh Yes We Can Love is an international affair, glam—with its extreme camp sensibility—is a distinctly British genre, so it is appropriate that the first melody we hear is Noël Coward’s appropriation of “Rule Britannia” and a jolly message of Imperialism. We then cross the pond to the American source of the sound with Chuck Berry’s guitar boogie, Little Richard’s flamboyant howling, and Vince Taylor, the inspiration for Ziggy Stardust. Anthony Newley’s “Bee Bom” presages nonsense classics such as “Ma Coo Ca Choo” and “Bish Bash Bash.” Then we go global to spend time with Brel and the Burundi drummers, who so influenced Adam Ant, before zooming into glam’s peak period for all those cuts from T. Rex, Slade, Sweet, and the like.

What this box set lacks is primary source David Bowie material. Despite being the most globally recognizable face of glam, Bowie only gets a single track: the not-very-glammy “London Bye Ta-Ta” (considering it’s an outtake from his early period on Deram, rights issues may account for the choice of song). Nevertheless, the thin white ghost haunts Oh Yes We Can Love all the way through, with songs he covered (Brel’s “Amsterdam”), covers of his classics (Dana Gillespie’s “Andy Warhol,” Lulu’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” Bauhaus’ “Ziggy Stardust”), songs on which he guest starred (the Lulu cover) or produced (the Gillespie cover), songs by his biggest influences (the Newley track), and songs by his closest collaborators (Mick Ronson’s “Growing Up and I’m Fine,” The Stooges’ “1969”), so we never feel as though King Glam has been turned away at the door.

There are a few other issues here. The sound is a bit thin, so we don’t quite get that big-bottomed boom that was glam’s sonic calling card. There are some missed opportunities in the song selection: a better Chuck Berry choice than “Around and Around” would have been “Little Queenie,” both because Bolan quotes it on the fade of “Get It On” and because of the camp implications of the name “Queenie.” As is the case with any multi-artist collection, not every track is wonderful. The Osmonds’ “Crazy Horses” is an important example of how glam’s decadence even trickled down to the most sanitized mainstream group, but it’s still a terrible song. There are also stinkers by Nazareth, Dead or Alive, Judas Priest, Marilyn Manson, and others. One thing we can all be thankful for is the paucity of eighties hair metal (Hanoi Rocks are the one glaring group of offenders). I won’t deny hair metal’s importance on the glam timeline, but no one needs to actually listen to that shit.

Wood and Easlea’s mindfulness of listenability is what ultimately makes Oh Yes We Can Love a great box set. After their cleverness has lost its novelty, when we’re not even in the mood too slather on the silver lipstick and glue-on glitter, we still have five discs crammed with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Howlin’ Wolf, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, The Kinks, T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music, The New York Dolls, Elton John, Patti Smith, Generation X, Blondie, The Ramones, Magazine, The Fall, Morrissey, Pulp, Goldfrapp, and a lot of other artists who make Oh Yes We Can Love a great collection of Rock & Roll regardless of genre.

Now I’d love for this box set to inspire others of its sort. How about a punk one that starts with Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” then moves to “Dirty Water” and “96 Tears” before hitting stride with The MC5 and Stooges? Or maybe a goth one that kicks off with Bach or Brecht before glooming on with “Paint It Black” or “A Whiter Shade of Pale”? The possibilities are bountiful.

Get Oh Yes We Can Love: A History of Glam Rock at Amazon.com here :


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