When glam rock burst into the UK pop charts in the early 1970s the genre may have appeared all shiny and new and suitably outrageous but many of its lead players had been trying to make their all-important breakthrough in the previous decade. Five of the acts we look at here all released their debut singles in the mid to late 60s.
Bowie – 1964
David Bowie’s debut single ‘Liza Jane’ which was released under the name Davie Jones & the King Bees and was recorded at Decca Studios in West Hampstead in May 1964 but released on the Vocalion Pop label. Although producer Leslie Conn is credited as the composer the song is an arrangement of an old standard ‘Li’l Liza Jane’ which dates back to at least the 1910s. Bowie released two more singles the following year under the names The Manish Boys and Davy Jones & the Lower Third but his first release using the name David Bowie was his 1966 single ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ which was released as David Bowie & the Lower Third. Bowie’s next single, ‘Do Anything You Say’ released that same year was the first credited solely to David Bowie. Bowie release four more singles and a debut album prior to his first success chart success in 1969 with the single ‘Space Oddity’ which reached number five.
Bolan – 1965
Marc Bolan’s debut ‘The Wizard’ was released by Decca in 1965. “I sounded like Dylan,” Bolan later admitted in an interview. Mark Paytress in ‘Bolan – The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar’ takes up the story: “On the morning of September 14th 1965 Mike Leander, Jim Economides, Mark Pruskin and Marc Bolan congregated in Decca’s Broadhurst Gardens studios in West Hampstead. A small backing orchestra, comprising string section and pop instruments, and The Ladybirds vocal group were briefed and awaited further instructions from Leander. It was ten in the morning and everyone knew the session would be over by lunchtime.” When it failed to make its mark on the charts a couple more solo singles followed after which their was a stint in John’s Children. Bolan then enjoyed modest success in the underground acoustic duo Tyrannosaurus Rex before shortening the name, expanding the personnel, turning up the amps and hitting glam rock superstardom.
Slade – 1966
Recording as the N’ Betweens prior to changing their name firstly to Ambrose Slade and then Slade, Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell made their debut single in 1966. ‘You Better Run’ released by Columbia was a cover of a song by US band The Young Rascalls. Ian Edmondson & Chris Selby in ‘The Slade Discography’ take up the story: “Visiting American record producer Kim Fowley saw something in them that he liked and decided to to approach them with a view to recording some music. Fowley was what was referred to in those days as a ‘freak’. This was a combination of his height and his way out American dress style and attitude. He was fond of calling his records ‘Instant Productions’. This seemed to be mainly because he didn’t waste a lot of time and money on recording.” ‘You Better Run’ sold exceptionally well in Wolverhampton but failed to sell many copies elsewhere. Several more singles and two albums would follow until the band hit the UK Top 20 with ‘Get Down and Get With It’ in 1971.
Mud – 1967
Mud released their debut single ‘Flower Power’ on CBS in 1967, a song written by the band’s guitarist Rob Davis. Several more flop singles would follow until Mud hit the charts with ‘Crazy’ six years later, after they were signed to Mickie Most’s Rak label and enjoyed the fruits of the Chinn-Chapman songwriting team. Even at this early stage, however, three-quarters of the classic Mud line-up are already in place: Les Gray, Rob Davis, Ray Stiles. Drummer, Dave Mount, would join a year later. The band worked the social clubs of Surrey whilst continuing with their day jobs, Les Gray recalling in an interview: “We would do anything because we wanted to work.” Before finding their glam-meets-rock n roll-revivalist niche they hit us with this wonderful bit of psychedelic kitsch silliness.
The Sweet – 1968
The Sweet’s debut single ‘Slow Motion’, a song written by Wolverhampton pianist Dave Watkins, was released in July 1968 on Fontana. Set to be released under their original name The Sweetshop the band’s name was hurriedly shortened when they discovered another band had been using the same name. At the time of their debut three quarters of the band’s classic line-up, Brian Connolly, Steve Priest and Mick Tucker are already in place. Guitarist Andy Scott would join two years later in 1970. Produced by Phil Wainman, who would go on to produce the band’s hit singles during the glam era, ‘Slow Motion’ is a long way away from Blockbuster! and Ballroom Blitz but at the same time not a million miles away from the string of bubblegum hits (Funny Funny, Co-Co, Poppa Joe et al) that the band had before hitting their stride with a rocked-up glam sound.