Glam and its sugary offshoot, glitter, were British pop phenomena and nobody does pop phenomena better than the Brits. At the peak of British pop -- which ran a long time, from Beatlemania in the '60s to Brit-pop in the '90s, just over 30 years -- the charts were volatile and pop fans were fueled by a flurry of TV shows, weekly music newspapers, feuds, rivalries, mad genius, and charlatans in frocks. Unlike some of the trends that swept through the United Kingdom, glam was proudly trashy and fleeting, particularly when it morphed with bubblegum to produce glitter, with only the titans of the genre weathering the test of time (as well as breaking the American market). Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and, to a lesser extent, Gary Glitter were the touchstones of the genre, setting the pace for all who followed, and while there were genuine bands in the glam idiom -- the rough'n'ready Mott the Hoople, the flamboyant Queen, American pretenders the New York Dolls (who really existed in a whole different universe), even the fizzy Sweet and wonderous dunderheads Slade -- what cluttered the charts were outfits that were considerably less macho and rockist. These are the artists who make up the 20-track Velvet Tinmine, a collection of forgotten singles, album tracks, and almost hits that never were heard outside of the U.K. and, apart from Nick Lowe masquerading as the Tartan Horde with "Bay City Rollers We Love You," were forgotten and unheard until this glorious reissue.
To complain that this stuff is lightweight is missing the point, since these singles were designed to not last longer than a few weeks as they rocketed up and down the charts, and that's the beauty of this music: It proves that pop can be at its best and most magical when it is cheerfully, crassly commercial and transient, nothing more than a cheap record for kids. Each of these -- apart from Lowe's number, of course, which is a knowing, irresistible, pitch-perfect sendup of the rest of this -- is a tawdry, shiny, junky gem, filled with sparkling hooks and big beats that are as addictive as the best bubblegum pop. Sure, it's easy to spot sound-alikes, but part of the fun is hearing how the Sisters' "Kick Your Boots Off" sounds like Slade and Crunch's "Let's Do It Again" is more nimble than Gary Glitter, how Ziggy Stardust becomes Bearded Lady's "Rock Star" or how Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel is vamped up on the Andrew Loog Oldham-produced "Va Va Va Voom" by Brett Smiley -- and that's not even counting Tubthumper gleefully turning the MC5 into kiddie pop on "Kick Out the Jams." And that's just the beginning of the treasure here: There's also Iron Virgin's stomping, idiotic "Rebels Rule"; Warwick's tremendous singalong "Let's Get the Party Going"; Flame's "Big Wheel Turning," with its rampaging runaway chorus sounding like it was sung by a psychotic preteen; Ricky Wilde's "I Wanna Go to a Disco," which was actually sung by a sweet preteen; and the wonderful "Love Machine" by Shakane. Each track sounds like a forgotten classic, the kind of record your gut tells you should have been a smash even when your mind tells you there's no way this ever was anything more than pop ephemera. Which is why this is a pure, unadulterated, flat-out delight for the crazed pop fan -- the kind of listener who not only loves pure pop, but believes that the third volume of Varese's Bubblegum Classics series is undoubtedly the best, because it's nothing but these fantastic songs that were unknown prior to this record. This is just as good, a brilliant collection of the best pop you've never heard. The pure pop collector could find no better compilation of lost gems than Velvet Tinmine in 2003 (unless its planned sequel betters it).