Lost in the ’70s: Gary Glitter

lit70s

This is a tough one. Is it possible to look past someone’s reprehensible criminal behavior and enjoy their art? A question asked many times about many people. In this case, we ask this question of ’70s glam rock god Gary Glitter, one of the biggest pop stars of that decade in the UK. After many attempts at a recording career throughout the ’60s, Glitter finally concocted a signature sound with the epic “Rock & Roll Part 2″ (1972). Originally a 15-minute jam, once the song was cut up into the mostly instrumental single version (complete with football cheer “Hey’s”), it made the Top Ten in England and the States, one of the few glam successes on this shore.

Glitter followed that up “I Didn’t Know I Loved You (‘Til I Saw You Rock & Roll),” (1972) (download) a bit of a sound-alike of his first smash, albeit with vocals and a more melodic hook this time around. Let’s face it: Glitter’s songs all pretty much sound the same. The stomping beat, the crunchy guitars, the shouted “Hey’s” – but I’ll be damned if they’re not all catchy as hell. While his second single was another Top Ten hit in the UK, it did noticeably less business here, barely denting the Top 40. It would also be his final chart hit in the United States. It wasn’t for lack of trying – Glitter toured sporadically Stateside and even did some local television appearances, like this Los Angeles-based dance show where he performed his second single. But first, Gary had to judge a dance contest:

While that was it for Gary in the US, the hits kept coming in the UK – “Do You Wanna Touch Me?” (remade into a Top 20 hit years later by Joan Jett), “I Love You Love Me Love,” (remade into a flop single by Joan Jett [her again?]), and probably his biggest hit overseas, “I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)” (1973). (download) It’s a bit of a crime this single failed to even chart in the US. What was it about glam rock that scared America so? The make-up? The costumes? The camp? Then why were KISS so big here? Was it because they took every opportunity to remind everyone of how straight they were and that all this was just playing around?

As if to prove a point, super-butch Southern rock one-hit wonders Brownsville Station very nearly hit the Top 40 with an alarmingly similar remake of the song one year later. I guess it was safe for American radio to play that version. “I’m The Leader” had a long shelf life. Mock-metal group Green Jelly covered it in 1995 with wrestler Hulk Hogan handling the vocals and it even resurfaced in 1998 in the Spice Girls’ epic movie Spice World (Glitter had also filmed a cameo but it was cut after his arrest just before the film’s release):

Glitter had a couple more years of hits in him in the UK, then it all dried up for a few years until he made a bit of a comeback in the ’80s on the college tour circuit and he was recognized as a proto-punk icon (Adam & the Ants owe their careers to Glitter). But sadly, we know how this story ends – a conviction for having child pornography on his personal computer, obscene acts with a minor, heart disease, and exile in Vietnam. To this day, Glitter continues to proclaim his innocence and the convictions haven’t stopped “Rock & Roll Part 2″ from being played at nearly every sporting event in America.

“I Didn’t Know I Loved You (‘Til I Saw You Rock & Roll)” peaked at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972.
“I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)” did not chart.

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