Home Music Various Artists: Oh! You Pretty Things: Glam Queens and Street Urchins 1970-76

Various Artists: Oh! You Pretty Things: Glam Queens and Street Urchins 1970-76

The trouble with attempting to assemble a comprehensive collection of artists representing any number of micro-movements or musical fads over the course of the last 60-odd years of pop music as we’ve come to know and consume it is that, more often than not, there’s a single group or artist who came to define that sound. Depending on their label or estate’s willingness to contribute representative tracks, the collection’s effectiveness hinges on whether or not these specific artists are represented. In the case of glam rock and the massive new compilation from Cherry Red’s Grapefruit subsidiary, Oh! You Pretty Things: Glam Queens and Street Urchins 1970-76, the artist in question is David Bowie. It would be impossible not to mention Bowie in any discussion surrounding glam in the period outlined by Oh! You Pretty Things, so his absence is notable, particularly given the fact that the collection takes its title directly from a Bowie song, and thus makes the compilation less than comprehensive.

That having been said, Oh! You Pretty Things is nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable overview of the seedier side of the pop underground during the glam era, with Bowie substitutes and songs being represented throughout. Simon Turner cover’s Aladdin Sane’s “The Prettiest Star,” while Dana Gillespie (sounding more than a little like Debbie Harry) turns in a strange, orchestral version of Hunky Dory’s “Andy Warhol.” Meanwhile, Bowie right-hand man Mick Ronson steps out from his role as erstwhile Ziggy Stardust guitar foil to take on the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat.”

And then there’s Jobriath, a fascinating figure in pop music history who has unjustly been relegated to sub-Ziggy status for his penchant for androgyny and theatricality. Both aspects of Jobriath’s presentation were admittedly somewhat helped into the broader pop cultural landscape by Bowie during this time, however rock has long had a history of shadow figures (Little Richard/Esquerita immediately come to mind) that worked within a similar artistic and aesthetic vein as another artist who tended to garner more or greater recognition. Bowie considered Jobriath a lesser version of himself and, in the press at the time, was quite dismissive. Somewhat ironically, the Jobriath track here, “Earthling,” would be co-opted by Bowie himself as the title of his 1997 venture into techno.

Beyond Bowie, the other most influential act represented and felt throughout Oh! You Pretty Things would be the aforementioned Velvet Underground. An influence on Bowie, the Velvets show up all over the collection in terms of both sound and, in a handful of instances, the band’s key sonic architects. Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” ― found on the Bowie-produced Transformer album ― is followed by John Cale’s “Gun,” the latter having been Reed’s sparring partner on the first two Velvets albums and also a major driving force within the glam and punk movements, having produced the Stooges (represented here by “Gimme Some Skin”). In other words, much of Oh! You Pretty Things relies on the tangential relationship these artists had with David Bowie and, in turn, one another.

These are all, of course, the more well-known artists on the album and therefore serve as a hook to draw listeners in. The clever thing about Cherry Red compilations (and its myriad subsidiary labels) is that they are often able to bring in big names (Mott the Hoople, the Stooges, Roxy Music, Sparks, Flamin’ Groovies, et al.) that are then supplemented by lesser known ― though no less talented ― groups whose songs then stand nicely alongside the more well-known fare. While anyone who has spent much time deep-diving into the world of glam rock and pop will likely be familiar with the Hollywood Brats, their presence helps showcase just what a great (if little-heard) band they were. Same with Duncan Browne, John Howard and the unfortunately named the Winkies.

But for every great forgotten act that clearly has roots in the glam (or at least underground) scene of the mid-‘70s, there are head-scratchers like Electric Light Orchestra, Hawkwind, the Kinks and…Leo Sayer? The latter is a truly puzzling inclusion, but Sayer’s “The Dancer” shows the reach and influence of the underground at the time. And while it’s not full-on glam, there are certain trace elements that can be found on all manner of recordings represented here, ultimately helping to justify its inclusion. At 66 tracks and nearly four hours of music, Oh! You Pretty Things has plenty to offer those looking to explore beyond Bowie and delve deeper into the world of glam and its myriad early-to-mid-‘70s offshoots.

Summary
At 66 tracks and nearly four hours of music, this collection has plenty to offer those looking to explore beyond Bowie and delve deeper into the world of glam and its myriad early-to-mid-‘70s offshoots.
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Beyond Bowie

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