The Most Essential Glam Rock Albums

Glam rock’s peak lasted only a handful of years, but its impact cannot be overstated. The flamboyant and rebellious androgyny of David Bowie and Marc Bolan laid groundwork for later musical movements to toy with wild and offbeat appearances. Glam was a response to the hippy movement and a complete reinvention of the rock star archetype. With their makeup and glitter, glam’s forefathers blurred gender lines. Bands like the New York Dolls and T. Rex embraced excess and a back to basics rock approach, whereas others like Bowie and Roxy Music introduced a newfound art school mindset to rock.

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David Bowie

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

With his rousing and theatrical performances, Bowie ponders the ups and downs of an interplanetary rock star on his most revered record. Full of glitz and flair, Ziggy Stardust is a cynical evaluation of the rock star mythos that subverts the machismo of the preceding icons . Mark Ronson’s guitar rips and sparkles through standout tracks like “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City.” Ziggy Stardust is the sure highlight in a string of essential Bowie classics.

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Roxy Music

For Your Pleasure

Alongside Bowie, Roxy Music was instrumental in pushing rock music into more art-oriented directions. It was the last Roxy Music album to feature Brian Eno. The combination of two brilliant musical minds, Ferry and Eno, resulted in upbeat rock numbers that ventured into the world of avant-garde. Atonal guitar solos and jagged sax lines flavor the tracks. Rock tropes are skewed and reinvented in a way that makes For Your Pleasure sound alien in a typical collection of rock LPs.

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Sparks

Kimono My House

With their eccentric and off-kilter image, Sparks didn’t look, act, or sound like rock stars at all.  Within a deep and daunting discography, Kimono My House is Sparks’ most recognizable release. The songs are strange and quirky with just the right amount of kitsch. Ron Mael’s keyboard playing accompanies Russell Mael’s distinctive operatic falsetto. Spark’s lyrics are complex, sophisticated, and jam packed with highbrow cultural references.

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T. Rex

Electric Warrior

Electric Warrior is the album most often credited with launching the glam rock movement. Marc Bolan deviated away from the band’s folk leanings to a more direct rock n’ roll sound.  Free of pretense and pompousness, Bolan aimed to return rock to an age of simplicity. Electric Warrior is a no frills collection of sleazy, sensual, and irresistibly fun rock tunes. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of depth by conventional standards, but it is highly stylized enough to invalidate its need for philosophical depth or musical sophistication. Tracks like “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” and “Jeepster” just groove too well to not be classics.

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New York Dolls

New York Dolls

The New York Dolls might have been first in their adornment of makeup, high heals, and spandex. New York Dolls is perfect hard rock sleaze that observed and reflected American urban decay. Their cross-dressing image may have been too much for the more vanilla audiences at the time, but this album has gained a proper cult following since. Drawn by their attitude and charisma, the punk movement looked to the New York Dolls, along with The Stooges and MC5, as inspiration.

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Lou Reed

Transformer

On the second Lou Reed studio album since the disbandment of The Velvet Underground, David Bowie lends production help to his idol and brings on guitarist Mark Ronson as an arranger. Transformer was a commercial breakthrough for Lou Reed with “Walk on the Wild” side as a hit single despite the taboo subject matter. The Velvet Underground took rock music and gave it a darker, more risqué edge. Lou Reed continues that tradition with glam flair.

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Matt Marciniec