Per Gessle’s Nine Peaks of Nordic Rox – Glam rock

Nordic Rox on Sirius XM kicked off a new program on 5th October, presenting 9 of Per Gessle’s favourite songs in certain areas, eg. new wave, glam rock, singer songwriters, songs about certain topics, e.g. flowers or cars every month.

Starting the show, Sven asks Per to tell about how he started collecting records. Per tells his first record was The Kink Kontroversy by The Kinks. His brother owned it and he needed money to buy cigarettes. Nobody in the family knew about him being a smoker, except Per. Mr. G was 6-7 years old at the time, his brother was 7 years older than him and he was a fan of records. When he had money left after buying cigarettes, he bought records. Per tells he loved the album sleeve of The Kink Kontroversy, the close-up of Dave Davies on the guitar and the wonderful songs on it: Till the End of the Day, Where Have All The Good Times Gone, Milk Cow Blues. Per got really hooked. The only thing he wanted as Xmas or birthday presents was records. He remembers getting Last Train to Clarksville by The Monkees, Little Man by Sonny & Cher, Day Tripper. Per says he had 100 LPs when he was 10 years old, which is amazing, especially because he is not coming from a very wealthy family. Those days you could earn some easy money by selling newspapers on Saturdays and Per started doing that really early on. The only thing he was interested in was music.

Sven says Per started writing music himself and later they also established Roxette and he has numerous hits inspired by his vast collection. Mr. G says he had many successful records, but he didn’t invent the wheel. He says he is a product of his record collection. Everyone is influenced by something or someone. The Beatles were inspired by Little Richard, Tom Petty by The Byrds. Per was inspired by the 60’s and the 70’s in particular. That’s when he was young and the music you listen to and get hooked on when you are young is going to stay with you forever. Even today when he is 61 years old, when he writes music today, most of it is still based on the 60’s and 70’s.

The first theme the guys are talking about is the glam rock era, when Per was 13-15 years old. Sven asks if there is a difference between glam rock and glitter rock. Per thinks there is no real difference. For him glam rock is when people started looking silly with lipstick on, all the guys started to dress up. Actually, girls as well, thinking of ABBA. There were many artists who were not really glam rock, but they looked like glam rock. Mr. G says they were never glam rockers. They just dressed up because it was fashion.

The first song Per picks is Killer Queen by Queen, released in 1974. Per says he is not the biggest Queen fan in the world, but he really loves this song. For him it’s part of the era when Queen were part of the glam rock scene. Freddie Mercury with feathers and platform shoes on. Sven asks how Per reacted when he heard the Killer Queen for the first time. Mr. G thinks it’s a stand out song for the time as well, because it’s so well produced. All the vocal arrangements sounded like nothing else. He didn’t hear anything like this since The Beach Boys. The whole album is really good. Sven also thinks it’s an amazing album and he likes the most when Queen is trying to play hard rock, because it doesn’t sound like Deep Purple, it sounds like nothing else. Per adds it doesn’t sound like Led Zeppelin either. It sounds like Queen.

Alice Cooper is next. Per says for him, living in the North of Europe, the only glam rock artist from the States he could think of was New York Dolls. He never liked them because they didn’t have good songs. They looked amazing though. If you check YouTube clips of them playing live, it’s just amazing to watch. He didn’t buy their first album, because when he listened to it in the record store, he didn’t like the songs. When he started thinking if there is anyone from the States who he really liked, he came up with Alice Cooper. Per’s first Alice Cooper experience was when he released the song Elected. Per bought it on a single. He thought that was a really cool song. Then he heard School’s Out. Then he thought the Billion Dollar Babies album was a masterpiece and Alice Cooper wore make-up. Mr. G picks No More Mr. Nice Guy from Billion Dollar Babies and it’s a great great song for him. Sven adds Billion Dollar Babies was Alice’s best selling album and this was basically his peak as an artist. Pat Boone made a cover of No More Mr. Nice Guy in the 90’s for his album In A Metal Mood, ironic metal versions by Pat Boone. Per didn’t know it. He laughs and says he wants to listen to that one.

Gary Glitter is next. He had many hits in England and in Sweden, e.g. Rock and Roll, I’m The Leader of the Gang (I Am), Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again. The song Per picks is Do You Wanna Touch Me from 1973. What he really liked about Gary Glitter is the sound of the record. He wrote all the songs together with Mike Leander and they had a distinctive sound with all the echoes and drum sounds, it just knocked Per out when he was a kid and it still does. Americans know it more thanks to the Joan Jett version. She recorded it as a cover on her first album, Bad Reputation in the 80’s. Per thinks that’s a great cover as well.

Sven asks Per if he ever put on make-up in the 70’s during the glam rock era. Per says he didn’t, but he had platform shoes. He remembers he went to a David Bowie concert in Gothenburg in 1976. There were 8-9000 people in the audience and most of the fans came dressed up as Ziggy Stardust and David Bowie of course came out on stage looking like Frank Sinatra. Per says they’ve always been a little bit late in Sweden. Haha.

Sven tells before the Ramones were formed, the band members were into glitter rock. Joey had that jumpsuit and knee-high platform boots and with that he became well over 2 metres long and had a wobbly walk in those boots. He also had feathers. Per says: pictures please!

Next is a British band, Slade formed in Wolverhampton in the 60’s. Per says they were never really a glam rock band, but they became a glam rock band. They were extremely big in Sweden, most of their singles were No. 1 there. Per was never a huge fan, but he loves the song he picks, Cum On Feel the Noize. Sven tends to like the band Sweet more, but he likes Slade’s Chrsitmas single, Merry Xmas Everybody. Per always hated that one.

Lou Reed is next. He made an album, Transformer produced by David Bowie, which Per thinks is Lou Reed’s best album. It came out during the glam rock era, so he put the make-up on. He used David Bowie’s band, Mick Ronson played the guitar. Per picks Vicious. He could have picked Walk on the Wild Side as well. Bowie was in a helpful mode in 1972. He helped out Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople and also revitalized Lou Reed. He was very busy back in the days. The idea to Vicious came from Andy Warhol. He asked Lou Reed ”Why don’t you write a song called ”Vicious”?” Lou Reed asked what kind of vicious. Andy replied ”Oh, you know, vicious like I hit you with a flower.” And he just wrote it down. Per says it’s a brilliant line. Later Lou Reed went on to a harder rock sound, which Sven thinks is absolutely phenomenal. The version of Vicious on Lou Reed Live is just amazing. Per thinks he didn’t buy Transformer upon its release, but a couple of years later. He remembers buying Rock ’n’ Roll Animal. That was the first time Mr. G heard The Velvet Underground. There were glam rock magazines in Sweden and Lou Reed was all over the place. Because he had make-up on. He was a dangerous guy.

You can’t make a glam rock list without David Bowie. Per picks Starman from the Ziggy Stardust album, which Per considers to be one of the best albums ever made. It’s very much part of Per’s life. That era of David Bowie’s career is just amazing: Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Diamond Dogs. 5 amazing albums for Per in the glam rock period. The guys agree that they love many more albums from Bowie, they should dedicate a program for him. He is one of the biggest artists ever in rock and pop and when you look back at him when he was on top of his game, it’s a very long period of time, from 1971 to 1983. Then he became uninteresting for Per, after his Let’s Dance album he just disappeared. Sven adds he thinks it was uninteresting for David as well. Sven tells they often laugh at the Tom Petty line ”Their A&R man said “I don’t hear a single””, but Per also heard this sentence during his career and actually, every recording artist has heard it. Bowie also heard it when they were recording the Ziggy Stardust album. Dennis Katz told him the album didn’t contain a single. Bowie wrote Starman after this comment, which replaced Round and Round (a cover of Chuck Berry’s Around and Around) on the track listing at the last minute. Per thinks that was a good choice. He likes Round and Round because of Mick Ronson’s amazing guitar sound, but Starman is a wonderful song. Sven says sometimes these record company guys are right. Per immediately reacts: ”No!”. And they both laugh. Mr. G says he read that David Bowie was very much into this ”Somewhere over the rainbow” (and he sings it), so he used that ”There’s a starman waiting in the sky” (and he sings it) jump in the melody. Mr. G thinks it’s really cool, he didn’t know it at the time. Sven is wondering if that was a conscious thing. Per thinks Bowie tried to find a way of using that trick in the melody, which isn’t very easy to do. Per also tells that in the early 70’s it was almost impossible to find these artists on television. There was TV once a week, 30 minutes pop music. The first time he saw David Bowie moving around was just amazing.

One of the best glam rock acts ever is T. Rex. They had many single hits in England and in Sweden as well. Not that many in the States though. Sven tells they had only one single in the US, Get It On in disguise. It was released under the title Bang a Gong (Get It On). They were big in Europe, but in Sweden they were like gods. They had great songs: Jeepster, 20th Century Boy, Telegram Sam. They came from the 60’s hippie thing with acoustic sets. There was Marc Bolan on guitar and Mickey Finn on congas. Sven says: ”What can go wrong?” Per says: ”What conga wrong?” Haha. Per picks Metal Guru. He loves it and thinks it’s a great track. Tony Visconti produced it. Using the strings and the girls putting octave voices on Marc Bolan’s low voice is great. It’s got this magic sound to it. All those T. Rex recordings have an alternative touch, but still sound commercial. It sounds like hit records in the 70’s. They broke through with the song Ride a White Swan, moving from Tyrannosaurus Rex to T. Rex. Sven adds maybe Marc Bolan’s range of artistry or his bag of tricks was a bit more limited than Bowie’s, but for a while he was unstoppable. Per tells he also looked amazing.

No. 2 on the list is Sweet. Per says they didn’t have a big career in the US. They had a big song, Love Is Like Oxygen later on in their career, but in the early 70’s they were unstoppable in England and in Sweden. Per remembers he bought all their singles, Poppa Joe, Wig-Wam Bam, written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. Producer was Phil Wainman. Then came The Ballroom Blitz and it was like the song of the year. Everyone loved it with the introduction of the band in the intro. The sound of this single was amazing. They wanted to become a little harder and toughened their sound. Sven says they wanted to upgrade their fanbase from 12 to 14 year-olds. Per says he knows the feeling. Haha. Per tells Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman wrote many songs for Smokie, Suzi Quatro, Mud. Mike Chapman also became a great producer for e.g. Blondie and The Knack. There was something in every song that stood out of it. A gimmick or something in the title or in the sound. Sweet sounded like Sweet, Mud sounded like Mud, Smokie sounded like Smokie. There were distinctive differences between all the bands and they had very simple, but very catchy songs. Per thinks The Ballroom Blitz is a strange song with this drum thing going on in the verses and sounds different to everything else. Great singers, great band, great drummer, Mick Tucker.

No. 1 is All the Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople, written by David Bowie. This is a magic song to Per. Bowie wrote this song for the band when they were splitting up. He suggested Suffragette City, which both Per and Sven think would have sounded great by Mott the Hoople, but they didn’t like it, so Bowie gave them All the Young Dudes. He is singing backing vocals on it. Mott the Hoople was very much Ian Hunter’s songwriting, but then came Bowie and presented them with this song. Per thinks All the Young Dudes is one of the best songs he knows. The band recorded 4 albums that went nowhere and they were touring forever. Then suddenly they became a glam rock band with high heel shoes and one of the biggest bands in England. Everything was a success after Bowie came and spread his gold dust. However, Sven tells that they were very close to breaking up after the All the Young Dudes album. Their Ballad of Mott the Hoople (26th March 1972, Zürich) from the Mott album sounds like a break-up song. Mick Ralph left the band and formed Bad Company with Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke and Boz Burrell.

Per’s Top 9 glam rock songs:

9. Queen – Killer Queen
8. Alice Cooper – No More Mr. Nice Guy
7. Gary Glitter – Do You Wanna Touch Me
6. Slade – Cum On Feel the Noize
5. Lou Reed – Vicious
4. David Bowie – Starman
3. T. Rex – Metal Guru
2. Sweet – The Ballroom Blitz
1. Mott the Hoople – All the Young Dudes

Thanks for the technical support, János Tóth.