Glittery Obituary: ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’

❉ From grungy pub rock to effete balladry, this is a glam rock grand slam for the hardcore.

“As a deep dive into the various flavours of glam, Oh! You Pretty Things is an invaluable historical document for anyone with an interest in how glam spread its glittery tendrils across early 1970s rock and pop…”

This time last year, Cherry Red Records and sister label RPM took us on a walk on the wild side with All The Young Droogs, a wildly eclectic 3CD collection of 60 deep cuts from the glam rock era that contained “more should-have-been hits than perhaps any other CD box set I’ve heard”, our reviewer Ian Harris wrote. In the intervening twelve months, the reissues’n’rarities label RPM bowed out with the aptly-titled Right Back Where We Started From, and Cherry Red’s Grapefruit Records took up their mantle with Bubblerock Is Here To Stay!

Now, one entire solar cycle since All The Young Droogs, Grapefruit’s David Wells has assembled a companion of sorts to that earlier collection in the form of Oh! You Pretty Things, subtitled Glam Queens And Street Urchins: 1970-1976. OYPT doesn’t limit itself to the satin’n’tat of big names like Sparks, Slade, The Sweet, Mott The Hoople, New York Dolls and Roxy Music (all present & correct), but makes room for bands with a penchant for the flamboyant and theatrical in their sound or stagecraft (Heavy Metal Kids, Curved Air, Strawbs, Hawkwind, Sensational Alex Harvey Band), rock’n’roll revivalists Fumble and Crushed Butler, and Roundhouse-friendly hairy garage acts and underground bands who shared primal influences with glam and helped seed the sound of punk (Third World War, Pink Fairies, Doctors of Madness, Hammersmith Gorillas, Flamin’ Groovies).

Representing the “street urchins” half of this box’s subtitle, this collection has a strong emphasis on straightahead, down and dirty, gruff, demin-clad rock and twelve bar boogie – see the likes of ELO at their most Oasis-like with Ma Ma Ma Belle, Michael Des Barres’ Silverhead’s Rolling With My Baby, Blackfoot Sue’s Glittery Obituary and Deep Purple labelmates Brutus with Payroll – which serves as an effective reminder that, in John Lennon’s words, glam was “just rock’n’roll with lipstick on.”

OYPT also delights in showcasing tracks by English Invasion bands who had contributed to the DNA of glam in the ‘sixties and dipped a toe into some signature glam stylings. The Pretty Things’ Joey (here in its single version) is a prime example of that “Weimar cabaret meets cockney knees-up” piano-led oompah-vaudeville glitter rock sound you’ll recognise in tracks like Mick Ronson’s Hey Ma Get Papa and Cockney Rebel’s Mister Soft, while The Troggs’ perverse and preposterous Strange Movies (as seen in David Bowie’s The 1980 Floor Show) feels right at home in this collection. Similarly, Thin Lizzy’s appearance on disc two may appear incongruous, but Little Darling is propelled by a bold-as-brass, bombastic horn sound of the style heard on glam albums Alice Cooper’s Killer or Mott’s The Hoople.

If this all sounds a bit too testosterone-heavy, and galaxies away from your image of glam as a cosmos populated with flaming creatures of the night and alien misfits, OYPT has those bases covered, opening with Pyjamarama – Roxy Music’s often-forgotten second single, a known favourite of Bananarama, who took the track title as inspiration for their potassium-filled moniker – and hidden gems from bona fide queer musicians of the era, in the form of trans punk icon Wayne/Jayne County’s Queenage Baby, singer-songwriter John Howard’s gorgeous Small Town, Big Adventures and Jobriath’s delightful camp stomper Earthling (should’ve been a hit!).

The infamous Jobriath isn’t the only act here who failed to reach the heights his handlers aspired to, joined here by Kim Fowley proteges Hollywood Stars (Kings of the Night Time World), juvenile actor and Jackie magazine regular Simon Turner (covering Bowie’s The Prettiest Star), Andrew Matheson’s Hollywood Brats (Tumble With Me) and Andrew Loog Oldham discovery Brett Smiley (Space Ace).

It’s fair to say that the above-named acts recovered from missing out on the legacies originally envisioned for them, as the Hollywood Stars reformed in 2018 and saw their ‘lost’ albums Shine Like A Radio and Sound City gain re-release and reappraisal, the Brats’ Matheson was rediscovered with his must-read memoirs Sick On You, Smiley was similarly rehabilitated before his death in 2016 when Breathlessly Brett was finally released by RPM, and Turner has enjoyed an enduring career as a musician and composer ranging from scores for Derek Jarman and experimental soundscapes to cult albums under pseudonyms Deux Filles and The King of Luxembourg, and is as productive as ever.

As a deep dive into the various flavours of glam, OYPT largely leans into the obscure and under-appreciated, with efforts by the likes of Roxy and Mott acting as marquee tentpoles to offer a reference point of security for the unwary explorer journeying into this collection, whose ethos leans into the crate-digging ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’ foraging instinct of its ‘junkshop glam’ predecessors such as Velvet Tinmine, Glitterbest and Boobs.  Where else would you discover hidden gems such as Hard Stuff’s The Ragman, Rococo’s Blue Movie Star, future hitmaker Rupert Hine’s jaunty The Monk or the hilariously shameless bit of Sparks cosplay that is A Raincoat’s I Love You For Your Mind (Not Your Body)?

Talking Sparks, it’s great to see the Mael brothers represented with Barbecutie, a B-side from the Kimono My House album that audibly demonstrates the significant and underrated contribution that young Martin Gordon’s muscular, coiled-spring bass playing brought to the group in that initial hit-making line-up – which raises the question, where is Gordon’s band Jet on this collection?

When it comes to ‘name’ acts, compiler David Wells commendably cherry-picks less obvious tracks, with the honourable exception of Ian Hunter’s Once Bitten Twice Shy – always a pleasure to hear that again, from Ian’s casual-as-you-like introductory “’Ullo” to Ronno’s axeman antics. The Sweet close disc two in epic form with their miniature odyssey The Six Teens, the Velvet Underground’s former sparring partners Lou Reed and John Cale are represented side-by-side with Transformer’s Satellite Of Love and Fear’s Gun respectively and there’s a welcome airing for Bryan Ferry’s re-make/re-model of the eerie Chance Meeting from Let’s Stick Together. By Wells’ own admission, Eno’s art glam-era Island recordings were out of the compilation’s budget, but Phil Manzanera’s Big Day is a more than acceptable substitute as these things go, capturing the art-rock boffin’s vocals in all their ‘debauched choir boy’ mid-‘70s glory.

One track selection that I was grateful for was the inclusion of Sweet Transvestite from the original London cast stage album of The Rocky Horror Show, recorded and released by Jonathon King’s UK Records label. Almost half a century later, it’s fashionable to belittle Rocky Horror as, in the words of Spaced’s Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg) “boil-in-the-bag perversion for sexually repressed accountants and first-year drama students”, but the show was genuinely transgressive and progressive when it made its debut in 1973 at the Royal Court.

This recording captured the show when it was still ‘living theatre’, rough and ready, an enthusiastically ramshackle production that organically evolved from one show to the next – a far cry from the ritual of liturgical re-enactment that the movie and subsequent stagings spawned. In its original form, Rocky Horror was as much an extramural ingredient in the glam rock soup as Clockwork Orange and Cabaret, so its inclusion here is incredibly significant.

Given the compilation’s title, perhaps the elephant in the room is David Bowie – but thanks to Cherry Red’s existing deal with MainMan, there’s enough Ziggy-by-proxy to fill your stack heeled PVC boots, in the form of yet another airing of Dana Gillespie’s dramatic reading of Andy Warhol, Mick Ronson tearing through White Light/White Heat and Iggy & The Stooges’ blistering Gimmie Some Skin – a track guaranteed to blow off the cobwebs and about as primitive as it gets (Sample lyrics: “Get fucked, baby!”). Play it loud and annoy the neighbours!

The collection as a whole bows out with the suitably valedictory Saturday Gigs by Mott the Hoople – one of a number of early 1974 efforts that saw glam prime movers keen to sound the death knell on its antics and draw a line under the whole “teenage rampage”. Oh! You Pretty Things takes a very broad and fluid approach to what could be considered ‘glam’ – from grungy pub rock to effete balladry, but it’s worth recalling that it was (to adapt a phrase) a ‘revolt in style’, a media-coined umbrella term for all that was horny, hormonal, rebellious, rampant, at a time when escapism and fantasy must have seemed preferable to reality for late-boomer teens, a time of industrial action, terrorism, power cuts, ‘concrete jungles’ and stentorian public information films.

With the advantage of half a century’s hindsight, we’re discovering that the escape route of popular ‘70s entertainment was not without its own ‘stranger danger’ (as the sleeve-notes comment, “nobody ever said that glam rock was wholesome”), but Oh! You Pretty Things is an invaluable historical document for anyone with an interest in how glam spread its glittery tendrils across early 1970s rock and pop – there’s hits and misses aplenty in a collection as sprawling as this, but every track (Leo Sayer?!) receives a case for its inclusion in the detailed and well-illustrated booklet that we’ve come to expect as standard from Cherry Red Records. It’s a devoted deep dive into a genre that was initially seen to have inbuilt-obsolescence but maintains an enduring fascination for anyone spellbound by its distillation of dirty-sweet pop values.

❉ ‘Oh! You Pretty Things: Glam Queens And Street Urchins 1970-76’ (3CD Clamshell Box) released February 26, 2021 by Grapefruit, RRP £19.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.

❉ Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

❉ James Gent is the editor of pop culture webzine We Are Cult, and has previously contributed to volumes such such as 1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die, Blakes Heaven: Maximum Fan Power, You and 42: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Douglas Adams and Scarred For Life Volume Two: Television in the 1980s. He is the co-editor of Me And The Starman (Cult Ink), available to buy from Amazon, RRP £11.99. UK: | US: ISBN: 9798664990546.

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1 Comment

  1. Superb review. I await my copy with my satin jacket drooping on the hanger where it’s been since 1974. I’m hoping that the Ma Ma Belle version is one of the first takes where Marc Bolan played a beautifully grungy lead guitar. 19.99 well spent and my loon pants will soon be flapping.

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