10 Essential Glam Rock Albums

Treble staff
David Bowie as Aladdin Sane

More than a few parents were undoubtedly freaked out by the sight of young men dressing in androgynous garb, caked in make-up and singing songs of sexual innuendo. Yet when it arrived in the ’70s, glam rock changed rock forever. Yet in spite of the shared quality of putting a lot more drama into their act, and the all-too-important visual effect of glitter and furs, the bands that carried a movement did so in their own unique ways. Bowie’s spun epic sci-fi storytelling, Bolan banged out bluesy stompers, Queen took the operatic route and the New York Dolls made sleaze impossibly loud and raw.

This month, David Bowie’s landmark album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars turns 40, a remarkable landmark in itself. So to commemorate the occasion, we’ve assembled what we consider the 10 best glam rock albums (limited to one per artist).

bes glam rock albums T RexT. RexElectric Warrior
(1971; Reprise)

Before rising to become glam rock’s first true star, Marc Bolan had spent a fair amount of time penning trippy folk songs about unicorns and wizards. That all changed with Electric Warrior. He plugged in, cranked up the volume, and turned in an explosive reinvention of an album that replaced those earlier, mystical folk tunes with meaty power chords, sexual energy and songs about cars. Shortening the name from Tyrannosaurus Rex to T. Rex, Bolan’s band was reborn and rocked hard enough to shatter his jeepster’s windows. “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” is the definitive glam anthem, nothing but beefy blues riffs and libidos, while “Cosmic Dancer” is the sensitive, space-age dreamer that Bolan never fully abandoned. Electric Warrior has been the sound of Saturday night for more than 40 years, and there’s no reason to take it out of rotation yet. – JT


best glam rock albums Ziggy StardustDavid BowieThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
(1972; RCA)

As much as David Bowie is credited for having popularized glam, not to mention recording some of its greatest songs and albums, it’s really only a fraction of his recorded output in the grand scheme of things. He later took on soul, new wave, electronica, and of course his “Berlin” period. Yet in his glam phase he knocked out some of the most outstanding rock records ever recorded, in particular The Rise and Fall of ZIggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. A concept album about an alien rock star who comes to save the earth from its demise, it ultimately becomes a tragedy about the excesses of rock `n’ roll and ends in a “Rock `n’ Roll Suicide.” Still, as rock operas go (which this probably technically isn’t), Ziggy Stardust has no lows, only highs — “Starman,” “Suffragette City,” “Moonage Daydream” and the title track are just a handful of moments that make this such a celebratory, life affirming tribute to aliens, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. – JT


best glam rock albums Lou ReedLou ReedTransformer
(1972; RCA)

Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, a live album with supercharged versions of Velvet Underground songs, is the most “glam” moment on the singer-songwriter’s timeline, but his best collection of glam-rock songwriting is undoubtedly 1972’s Transformer. Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, the album has more swagger and sex appeal than any of Reed’s other recordings, as best heard through rockers like “Vicious,” “Hangin’ Round,” and the transcendent space ballad “Satellite of Love.” Being that it’s a Lou Reed album, however, it takes a lot of other curious turns, from vaudevillian pop (“New York Telephone Conversation”) to a saucy burlesque (“Goodnight Ladies”). He didn’t stick to this approach for long, however, and his career only took bolder and stranger turns from there, but it certainly wasn’t his last masterpiece. – JT


best glam rock albums Roxy MusicRoxy MusicRoxy Music
(1972; Reprise)

There have been few bands in rock’s history with two cornerstones as eccentric as Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno. Eno, with his peculiar style — no doubt the most glam aspect of Roxy visually speaking — and avant-garde tendencies, and Ferry, with his inimitable, contorting croon and undeniable stage presence, were an unmatched duo even among their unconventional peers. Joined by guitarist Phil Manzanera, bassist Graham Simpson, Andy Mackay on oboe and saxophone and drummer Paul Thompson, the band created an off-kilter, pop masterpiece with their self-titled debut. Songs like “2HB” and “Re-Make/Re-Model” had an irrepressible groove, were incredibly imaginative and sported undeniable hooks. “Sea Breeze” and “If There Is Something” tossed out classic song structure, in favor of taking several rewarding stylistic twists and turns. “Chance Meeting” was one of Ferry’s first devastating ballads, made all the more unsettling by the addition of Eno’s haunting sound manipulations. The band’s sophomore record For Your Pleasure proved to be their crowning achievement, finding the perfect balance between Eno and Ferry’s strengths, but this first record more so than any other Roxy album balanced kitsch and artfulness in a way that was truly glam. – CK


best glam rock albums Alice CooperAlice CooperBillion Dollar Babies
(1973; Warner Bros.)

Rock ‘n’ roll’s foremost villain and lovably despicable creature, Alice Cooper put a distinctive spin on glam rock by embracing a darkside foreign to so many other bands at the time, at least in terms of what happened onstage. While androgyny and theatricality were becoming just as important as songwriting in the 1970s, Vincent Furnier was taking it to a new level, slathering his face in corpse paint and giving parents a new threat to their moral sensibilities. Billion Dollar Babies is, at once, the band’s best album and its most dramatic, balancing misanthropic anthems like “No More Mr. Nice Guy” against ceremony-opening fanfare like “Hello Hooray” and the necrophilia slow dance of “I Love the Dead.” Alice Cooper may have eschewed the glitter, but made a convincing case for the dark side of glam. – JT


best glam rock albums Cockney RebelCockney RebelThe Human Menagerie
(1973; EMI)

Glam rock and big guitars are practically inseparable, until you come around to Cockney Rebel that is. A surreal, epic and arty variation on British glam, Cockney Rebel combined the opulence of Queen with the progressive tendencies of Genesis and the tuneful swagger of Bowie, and they did so primarily through lush organs and violin rather than guitars. Still, while frontman Steve Harley didn’t consider the band glam, there’s a dramatic and flashy streak that runs through the album, reaching climactic highs in tracks like “Crazy Raver” and “Muriel the Actor.” Yet when soaring to their most ambitious peaks, on “Sebastian” and “Death Trip,” they were a much more ornate baroque pop band with gorgeous arrangements and a sense of intricacy that big power chords would only distract from. The Human Menagerie is mostly glam in attitude, but there’s less distance between this and Roxy Music than meets the eye. – JT


Mott the HoopleMott the HoopleMott
(1973; Columbia)

It’s somewhat unusual for a band to reach the peak of their powers on their sixth album, let alone one whose songs primarily deal with exhaustion, frustration and broken dreams. After all, glam rock was about fantasy more than anything else, but on Mott the Hoople’s incredible Mott, it can also be a vessel for disillusionment. On the album’s outstanding leadoff track, “All the Way to Memphis,” frontman Ian Hunter rattles off a scathing series of one liners — “Your name gets hot while your heart grows cold,” “You look like a star, but you’re still on the dole.” And in “The Ballad of Mott the Hoople,” Hunter recants the tale of the band’s own downfall, cynically commenting that “rock `n’ roll’s a loser’s game.” For such bad vibes, though, there’s a staggering amount of showmanship, pounding piano, wild guitar riffs and squonky saxophone leads courtesy of Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay. Clearly Mott couldn’t give less of a shit about all the young dudes by this point, but it didn’t stop them from playing their bitter hearts out. – JT


New York DollsNew York DollsNew York Dolls
(1973; Mercury)

Meanwhile, back in the United States, a group of platform-shoed, makeup slathered New Yorkers began to shimmy and swagger their way all over some supercharged Chuck Berry and Keith Richards riffs. The New York Dolls, much like The Stooges, played a significant part in shaping the sound of punk rock a good half decade before it really had a name or any significant press, but they did so with a tongue-in-cheek theatricality, a wink and lots of blown kisses (which singer David Johansen catches on tape in “Looking for a Kiss”). No doubt image played a massive part of the Dolls’ identity, but as rock debuts go, it’s hard to beat their self-titled 1973 release, produced by Todd Rundgren. Opening track “Personality Crisis” is all the evidence one needs to know that this is one helluva fun rock `n’ roll record, and “Trash” is the moment that truly seals the band’s status as Godfathers of Punk Rock. – JT


Brian Eno Here Come the Warm JetsBrian EnoHere Come the Warm Jets
(1974; Island)

Brian Eno spent a few years as keyboardist and “sonic treatments” guru to Roxy Music before striking out on his own, at which point he began to take his experimental ideas into some bold and, at first, pop-perfect realms. Here Come the Warm Jets, his first and most accessible full-length, is also the one most closely wrapped up in the glam sound. “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” the soaring leadoff anthem, is almost proto-shoegaze in its dense array of guitars and layers of sound, yet it’s also simply one of the best rock songs ever written. Elsewhere Eno delves into an experimental rock dirge in the mind-blowing “Baby’s On Fire,” kicks up some dust in “Blank Frank,” and gets back to some intense heights on the title track. For a guy whose discography mostly comes nowhere near “rock,” he did a bangup job on his first crack. – JT


Queen Sheer Heart AttackQueenSheer Heart Attack
(1974; EMI)

The path of Queen’s career took the British band from proto-metal to rock operetta, new wave and sporting anthems, yet their first true triumph, 1974’s Sheer Heart Attack, is a work of glam rock grandeur. It’s also the point at which the band started to grow more indulgent, but then again, that pomp and over-the-top sensibility is what set them apart in an age when drama and ambition weren’t in short supply. Sheer Heart Attack has its share of bold, guitar driven anthems (“Brighton Rock”), cheeky art-pop romps (“Killer Queen“), and hard rocking riff-fests (“Stone Cold Crazy,” “Now I’m Here”). Just a year later, Queen would do the impossible and create a bridge between Thin Lizzy and Gilbert & Sullivan on A Night at the Opera, which seems an awfully quick progression. However, the seeds are here, and so are a bunch of outstanding songs. – JT

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