Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott: My 5 Favorite Glam-Rock Songs
You only need to listen to Def Leppard‘s “Rocket” to hear how much frontman Joe Elliott loves glam rock. The lyrics pay tribute to David Bowie, Lou Reed, T. Rex, Queen and Sweet all in the space of about six minutes. So when Rolling Stone asked Elliott for a contribution to our ongoing “My List” series, he gamely picked his five favorite glam songs – some of which are surprising and some of which longtime fans should expect, since Def Leppard have covered them live.
The band will hit the road this summer on a massive world tour with co-headliners Journey, an event they also marked by making their entire catalogue available to streaming services for the first time. Ahead of the tour, Elliott called Rolling Stone to talk about his glam-rock picks.
Mott the Hoople
“All the Young Dudes”
It’s the anthem of our generation. I first heard it when I was 12. It was the definitive moment for a bunch of scruffy teenage kids in Sheffield and all over the U.K. – maybe more in the U.K. than in America. I had been a fan of the band since their early days when they were making hard rock, and I was totally up with Ian Hunter’s persona, his voice; everything about him resonated with me. It wasn’t until a lot later that I realized he wasn’t what you would call a “classic singer,” but the way he delivers the song is way more important; Bob Dylan showed everybody that years before. So when “All the Young Dudes” became a hit, I was able to go to the playground and do my “I told you so” dance all over the place. It was just a good feeling.
Every time I hear the song on the radio now, the hairs on my arm still go up. Not so much when I play it on my iPod or iPad or whatever, because it’s just me, but when I hear it on the radio and I know that a thousand other people are hearing it, I go, “Yep. There’s more than me out there going, ‘I love this song.'”
It’s also worth nothing that the song married two fantastic artists together, since Hunter sang it and Bowie wrote it. It was a great time for Bowie in 1972, and he was a champion of glam rock. He was bringing Iggy Pop to the forefront and Mott the Hoople and Lou Reed, as well as his own work. The Beatles had split, the Stones were off doing whatever they were doing and the kids were going, “This is my music.” That said, I didn’t like Bowie’s recording of “All the Young Dudes.” I’d gotten a bootleg of his Aladdin Sane version by about 1983, but I hated the version he did on David Live. The one he did in 2003 on the Reality Tour is superb.
I got into them right when they changed their name from Tyrannosaurus to T. Rex. They had already had four albums out, but they were like, “It’s kind of too much of a hippie, acoustic, bongo thing.” So they expanded the band, changed the name and started doing poppy songs. They’d had a huge summer hit in 1970 with “Ride a White Swan,” then he blew us all away with things like “Hot Love” and what in America was known as “Bang a Gong,” but in Britain it was “Get It On.” He had me hook, line and sinker, and if I were to pick a favorite T. Rex song it’s “Metal Guru.”
It was the perfect pop song. It wasn’t necessarily the best song he ever wrote, but as a standalone three minutes that you’d want to hear when you’re kicking a football around or sneaking out of somebody’s bedroom window or watching Top of the Pops, it was absolutely stunning. It’s total nonsense, as all great rock songs are. It takes you on a little journey that’s three minutes long and when the song finishes you want to put the needle back in the front and play it again. I probably played it 200 times in the four days it came out. It was just that good.
The first gig I ever saw was T. Rex in 1971. What I remember most is my mom dropped me off at the steps of the City Hall in Sheffield and the concert had already started. For some reason, I had gotten there late, or they went on early, and I went through the swing doors into the auditorium and he was already onstage performing, banging on his guitar with a tambourine and down on his knees. I’d never been to a gig, so I had no idea what the volume was going to be like and to my 11-year-old ears, he was just ridiculous. I was more mesmerized by the crowd and the hero worship. It was just screaming like you’d seen in newsreels for the Beatles. It was phenomenal.
Cut to nine years later, and Def Leppard are playing the same venue in 1980 and I stood where Bolan was and looked out at where the 11-year-old me was and I swear it didn’t seem as big. Once I became part of it, he wasn’t as big anymore or he was different. But I remember as a kid thinking he’s like hundreds of yards away from me and then I realized, “It’s not very far at all.” It was pretty weird.
It’s pretty hard to pick a Bowie song because there are so many of them. I’m going with “Starman” because it was his first proper hit, and we don’t count “Space Oddity” since that was an accident. “Starman” was the real David Bowie – the bleached, red-mullet Bowie, strange alien creature that he was – with this amazing band from Hull. They were from Yorkshire like we were, and God bless him for that.
It was the moment that captured me more than the song. I love the song, but the most important thing was when he played it on Top of the Pops. It wasn’t his first TV appearance, but it was on that show where he connected with so many people from Boy George to Morrissey and Marc Almond to me. When it aired and we English kids had probably only just gotten color TV, so we were seeing the Stones and stuff in grey and all of a sudden, we’re staring at a guy who’s wearing green and yellow and red and blue and he’s got orange hair and two of the band members were blond and wearing gold lamé suits. It was like something form another planet. They were literally aliens. It was pivotal.
When he hung his hands around Mick Ronson’s shoulders, parents were biblical about it. A man putting an arm around another man was like, “Oh, my God,” and we were kids going, “So what?” It’s that World War II generation of parents going, “It’s disgusting,” and it’s the same reason they all thought Alice Cooper was really scary, but we thought he was really cool. It was brilliant.
“See My Baby Jive”
I’m a huge fan of Roy Wood’s and how he was in the Move before ELO, and then how Roy disappeared and started doing Wizzard while Jeff Lynne stuck with ELO. It was fascinating as a kid to see it all unravel only a few years after all these Move songs like “Blackberry Way,” “Fire Brigade” and “Tonight.” Roy put a mad band together for Wizzard and they had a bunch of hits, but they had two massively successful singles. One was called “Ball Park Incident” and the other was the phenomenal “See My Baby Jive.” It’s kind of like a Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” thing. I think he quadruple-tracked the drums. It’s just mad.
John Lennon once said, “Glam rock is just rock & roll with lipstick on,” and that’s what Wizzard was; they were more like circus clowns. They wore the most ridiculous outfits. I think the tuba players or one of the bassoons dressed as a gorilla. They loved Top of the Pops and it was such a visual show, so they were trying to be more outrageous than the previous time they were on and more outrageous than the band that would follow them. That’s what glam rock was really: It’s just people trying to one-up each other because there were new color TVs and platform shoes and mirror-top hats that would do it any day for a 12-year-old kid. When you listen to the song you can see where things like Rocky Horror Picture Show correlate with the mood.
“I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!)”
This is going to be very controversial because nobody talks about Gary Glitter anymore, since he’s a child molester, but there’s no doubt that in 1973, him and Michael Leander, who previously worked with the Beatles, made a fantastic song. It’s just an absolutely tremendous sing-along, laugh-along pop anthem. It was just undeniable.
It starts off with a motorbike and then Glitter and the band start this “Come on, come on” chant and it speeds up and then just stops and he goes, “Do you want to be in my gang, my gang?” and it’s just begging for what comes next, which is the whole Glitter band going, “Oh yeah.” It’s just really well-constructed stuff.
You won’t hear him on the radio in the U.K. anymore because he’s banished to bloody hell because of all his misdemeanors with underage girls. But probably no more so than Jerry Lee Lewis who still gets played. And Chuck Berry had all these tours before he died, and nobody seems to remember that he put cameras in the toilets of his restaurant and filmed people. So people pick and choose their pariahs, I suppose. But if you discuss music and nothing but music here, the songs you had when you’re a 12-year-old kid were fantastic. And that one song in particular was the best one I ever heard.