Glam metal dominated the airwaves in the 1980s. It was flashy, bright, and lacquered from head to toe in hairspray. It was also short-lived – by the early 90s, grunge had put glam out of business. It eventually came back in the late 1990s when the likes of The Struts and Steel Panther decided catsuits and eye glitter were preferable to denim ‘n’ leathers, but it never quite enjoyed the same success again. Back in its heyday, though, bands like Poison, Ratt, Skid Row, Warrant, and Def Leppard ruled… but where exactly did they get their inspiration from? Which early pioneers of the style decided poppin’ party tunes and spandex and lace were better for business than blues and grit? Find out as we count down the 10 artists who were pioneers of glam metal.
10. New York Dolls
The New York Dolls might be best known as a proto-punk group, but make no mistake – this was a band that knew the power of big hair and skintight spandex. Combining elements of archaic rock and roll with the stylized glam rock of T-Rex and David Bowie, they gave a huge shot of adrenaline to the New York City underground music scene and laid the foundation for both punk rock and glam metal in the process. They may have self-destructed almost before they started, but had they never existed at all, there’d have been no Van Halen, no Quiet Riot… no glam metal at all, in fact.
9. Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper may seem more horror than glamour, but the drama and theatrics he brings to his music and the make-up and hair he brings to his stage shows have always been pure glam. As the Godfather of Shock Rock, his creativity has helped shape the sound and style of several genres, not least glam metal.
Alice Cooper didn’t exactly pass the ball to KISS (five decades into his career, he’s still clinging to it), but what he started, they ran with. From the theoretical stage shows to the full-blown makeup, KISS have never been a band to do things by half. They’re extreme, they’re divisive, and they’ve turned spitting blood while rocking black leather catsuits into an art form.
As loudwire.com points out, Aerosmith’s influence on glam metal often gets underestimated. To be fair, they always had more of a bluesy edge to their sound than their glam peers, but still – they had the look, they had the hair, they had the sickly sweet guitar riffs and in Steve Tyler, they had the ultimate glam frontman. They’ve also got the legacy, with Motley Crue citing them as one of their biggest influences.
6. Mott the Hoople
As liveabout.com writes, Mott the Hoople started as a concept band, with lead singer Ian Hunter doing his best Bob Dylan impression and the rest of the band performing like a sleazy version of the Rolling Stones. Their act won a cult following but almost no commercial success. On the verge of breaking up, they were thrown a lifeline when David Bowie offered them “All the Young Dudes.” The record transformed them from a slightly eccentric rock band into a glam sensation. Their second wind didn’t last long, but it still managed to have a huge influence on hair metal bands like Contraband and Great White, both of whom would go on to cover several of their hits.
5. Gary Glitter
Garry Glitter may be a bad word now, but back before he started making news headlines for all the wrong reasons, he was pioneering the glam movement. His love for football chants, a towering hairdo, and a sweet riff helped turn glam rock into a juggernaut in the 1970s, and inspired and influenced a new breed of glam metal bands in the 1980s.
4. The Sweet
Named as one of the pioneers of glam by expertscolumn.com, The Sweet’s falsetto harmonies, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and cocky delivery might never have got the band the kudos they deserved during their heyday, but it produced enough gems to inspire and shape the glam sound. It also gave us “The Ballroom Blitz” and that immortal intro “Are you ready, Steve?” “Uh-Huh”… for which we should all be very thankful.
Glam rock birthed glam metal. It also birthed Slade, a ragtag bunch of hooligans with a knack for misspelling song titles and a talent for creating runaway hits like “Cum On Feel the Noize,” “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” and, of course, everyone’s favorite Glam Christmas song, “Merry Xmas Everybody.” Weirdly enough, Slade started life as a skinhead band, but quickly dropped the shaved heads and tough guy act when they realized becoming the forefathers of hair metal would be much more profitable.
2. Marc Bolan
Without glam rock, there’d have been no glam metal, and without T.Rex (or more specifically, without Marc Bolan), there’d have been no glam rock – or at least, no glam rock as we know it. To lay the credit for an entire genre at one man’s door may sound bold, but it’s not unjustified. Marc Bolan pre-dated Bowie, he pre-dated Slade, the Sweet, the New York Dolls – everyone, in fact, who helped change rock from bluesy to flashy. When he stood resplendent in glitter and boas on the “Top of the Pops” stage in 1971 and blasted us with “Hot Love,” he ushered in a new era. His life may have come to a tragic end 6 years later, but his legacy remains.
1. David Bowie
You can’t have a conversation about the glam era without mentioning David Bowie. Until Bowie, several artists had tried to meld fashion with music. Some had even succeeded- Marc Bolan most notably. But none managed to do it quite so beautifully as Bowie. Ultimately, he was always more than just a musician – he was an artist. His colorful outfits and vivid characters didn’t detract from the music, but neither were they overwhelmed by it. He could never be shoehorned into any one genre for long, and his flirtation was glam ended the moment he unpacked his thin white duke suit. But if Bowie wasn’t defined by glam, glam was defined by him. You might not automatically think of him when you hear Twisted Sister or Motley Crue, but without him, you wouldn’t be hearing them at all.