5 Bands That Defined the Glam Rock Era of the 1970s

Glam rock hit the United Kingdom in the 1970s as a new, more flamboyant version of the rock ‘n’ roll music teens and young adults loved. Often characterized by the use of over-the-top stage costumes, makeup, and visual style, glam rock pioneers of the time blurred the lines of what was socially acceptable while providing a riotous soundtrack to the ever-changing times.

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The glitzy sub-genre started in Great Britain with acts like T. Rex and Roxy Music, but quickly found footing in the American music scene, as well. Below are five of the bands that helped write glam rock’s legacy into popular music history, from Marc Bolan’s T. Rex and co. to KISS, New York Dolls, and more.

1. T. Rex

The band that started it all. T. Rex’s March 1971 appearance on Top of the Pops is largely credited as the birth of the glam rock era in Great Britain. Frontman Marc Bolan and his bandmates had been on the musical series just a month prior, but when they launched into this particular performance of “Hot Love,” all eyes were on the singer’s flamboyant style, which consisted of satin pants, an equally shiny top, and two giant dabs of silver glitter beneath his eyes—the latter of which had been an idea by his stylist, Chelita Secunda.

In addition to early glam rock, T. Rex’s influence also spread over the following decades to punk, post-punk, alt-rock, and Britpop, among many others.

2. Roxy Music

Roxy Music formed in 1970 in London, and was founded by frontman Bryan Ferry and early bassist Graham Simpson. Two years later, they dropped their self-titled debut album after rounding out the band with lead guitarist Phil Manzanera, drummer Paul Thompson, saxophone and oboe player Andy Mackay, and short-term synth player (and future über-producer) Brian Eno. (Simpson exited the group just before the album was released and Eno left following their first tour.)

Ferry and his bandmates ultimately innovated glam rock by pioneering the use of electronic composition in the genre, and went on to release seven more albums over the next decade, including For Your Pleasure (1973) and Stranded (1973), Country Life (1974), Siren (1975), Manifesto (1979), Flesh and Blood (1980), and Avalon (1982).

3. New York Dolls

The birth of glam rock didn’t just occur in the U.K.; it was happening across the pond as well. Take New York Dolls, for example. The band didn’t achieve much commercial success or critical acclaim at the time they were making rock music in the Big Apple. In fact, public opinion was divided at best; one review of the band’s 1973 debut album even compared their style to the sound of lawn mowers cutting grass. However, in retrospect, the Dolls have become known as cult favorites and one of the most influential bands of the glam rock era thanks to their first two records: New York Dolls (1973) and Much Too Soon (1974).

The band dissolved in 1976 amid artistic tensions and rampant substance abuse among the members, but their legacy helped influence the birth of the glam metal sub-genre, inspiring the likes of Aerosmith, Mötley Crüe, Twisted Sister, Poison, and especially fellow New Yorkers KISS.

4. KISS

Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss birthed KISS in 1973, and immediately stood out thanks to their instantly recognizable face paint, black-and-white aesthetic, and shock-rock performing style that often included spitting blood, breathing fire, and playing smoking instruments along with over-the-top pyrotechnics and levitating drum sets. The foursome even added to their wild glam rock personas by giving themselves character names associated with their makeup: Stanley became the Star Child; Simmons, the Demon; Frehley, the Space Ace; and Criss, the Catman.

Through the decades, their lineup has changed around the nucleus of Stanley and Simmons. But unlike other bands on this list, they never stopped making music. The final iteration of KISS criss-crossed the globe for their End of the Road World Tour starting in 2019, with the end-date slated for December 2023.

5. Sweet

Whether you call them The Sweet or just Sweet, Brian Connolly and his bandmates actually started out with more of a bubblegum pop-leaning sound (give early single “Funny Funny” a listen) before shifting gears to the glam rock they’re best-remembered for.

[RELATED: The Meaning Behind “The Ballroom Blitz” by The Sweet]

In just nine years, the group racked up 13 (mostly non-album) Top 20 hits on the U.K. singles chart, including “Block Buster!,” “Hell Raiser,” “Teenage Rampage,” and “Fox on the Run.” Eventually Connolly jumped ship in 1979 to launch his solo career, though reformed versions and lineups using various plays on the band’s name (New Sweet, Brian Connolly’s Sweet, Andy Scott’s Sweet, Steve Priest’s Sweet, etc.) continued to proliferate through 2020. (Connolly passed away in 1997.)

Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

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