Glitter Years

Glitter Years (M.Steele/D.White)

Year: 1988
Band: Bangles
Album: Everything
First Live Performance: 7/23/88
Last Live Performance: 9/13/89


Tabs:
Guitar
Bass


Lyrics:

Denny was working it real hard,
Down Sunset Boulevard
Back in nineteen seventy-three
Why would he bother going home,
His parents left him on his own
Who knows, maybe they were out getting stoned

I don’t really know how we survived the glitter years
What did we do it all for?
Do you remember the glitter years?

We were the lost and lonely ones,
We hid in the discotheques all night long
Til we could see the morning sun
Denny was king he rocked the place
Dressed like a working girl from outer space
He was dancing like he wanted to dance his life away

I don’t really know how we survived the glitter years
What did we do it all for?
Do you remember the glitter years?

In December of ‘seventy four,
Denny wrecked his father’s car
Driving home that night he was singing:
‘You better hang on to yourself”

Analysis:

Glitter Years is often described as a nostalgic song, with AllMusic’s Stewart Mason claiming that it has the sound of “someone genuinely yearning for her youth”. What I find interesting is that if you pay attention to the lyrics the song isn’t that nostalgic at all. Its describing a specific time and place (itself unusual), but the image of early 70s LA is quite downbeat.

This downbeat side firstly comes out through Denny, who already in the opening verse has been abandoned by his parents. He may be ‘working it real hard’ (and exactly where he’s working it is left ambiguous), but only because he has no reason to return home. Glam music is described as his escape from his surroundings, but judging from the description ‘he was dancing like he wanted to dance his life away’ it isn’t about happiness so much as simply trying to block out the rest of his life. Whether or not his parents are getting stoned is left open to the listener.

Similarly, the second verse moves beyond a single character to talk about music as an escape, but presents those enjoying it as ‘the lost and lonely ones’, not just going to discotheques but hiding in them all night long. Again its all part of a seedy night life. It isn’t entirely negative given that Denny really did ‘rock the place’, but the motivations of the audience are shown as something not necessarily worth being nostalgic about.

The final verse works as a fragment describing the end of glam: I was wondering about why it would be set in December 1974 and realised that setting it then nods to artists like Bowie turning away from glam rock in that year. Its also appropriate that the end of glam comes with a car wreck, given that the song is situated in Los Angeles, a city defined by the automobile.

Even the Bowie quote (which gives the song another level of meaning as a pastiche–its clever) has a double meaning to it. While quoting Hang Onto Yourself pays homage to Ziggy Stardust, it also presents the time as one in which maintaining self control is necessary to avoid disintegration, whether that comes through becoming an addict, dancing your life away or being in a car accident.

And that’s not even taking the chorus into account. Michael isn’t expressing a desire to return to the ‘glitter years’ so much as she’s raising the question of how a generation survived them. Even the motivation of those times is questioned in asking ‘what did we do it all for?”. The final line of the chorus is the closest she comes to celebrating the glitter years, and even then she’s only saying that they should be remembered–which they should. (And her song is part of the process)

So to sum up, Glitter Years presents an early 70s Los Angeles that is full of isolation and peopled by drug addicts, depressives and car accidents. It isn’t all downbeat; after all, the lyrics are also quite funny (especially the ‘working girl from outer space’ line). The really clever thing about the song however is that the lyrics carry all these depressing implications while being conveyed through an upbeat rock tune.

Quotes
[…] Michael contributed three songs to Everything. Her “Glitter Years” was a scorching rocker that looked back fondly on the early ‘70s, complete with Michael’s unique David Bowie impersonation on the last verse.

“A songwriter said to me once ‘You know, if that song had been about something normal, it could have been a hit,’” she laughed. “’Eh … you mean like ‘love/dove’? I always thought that songs that are about something ‘other’ were kind of interesting.” – Bill DeYoung, ‘The Bangles: California Dreaming‘, Goldmine Magazine [2000]

Reviews

[…] But, perhaps because there are so many writers involved, Bangles albums seldom have that sharp, personal edge that makes Crowded House’s work so stirring.

“Everything” does have one moment that comes close, the oddly moving “Glitter Years.” Set in LA in 1973, the song (co-written and sung by bassist Michael Steele) revives images of Rodney Bingenheimer’s English disco in Hollywood, platform shoes and other folderol from the era. The track paints a picture of a teen-ager whose life is empty except for his wholesale commitment to the glitter scene. With more highly personalized glimpses such as this, “Everything” might really have been something.- Cary Darling, ‘Everything’ pops up with something fun’, Orange County Register, 11 November 1988 p.36.

[…] “”Suits and T-shirts alike enjoyed the hits—“Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,”, a slick come-on called “In Your Room,” and the group’s current No.1 hit, “Eternal Flame,” a cloying ballad that Andrew Lloyd Webber could have written for Sarah Brightman. The Bangles’ best stuff, though, came through in the intelligent, well-crafted material written by the redheaded bass player, Michael Steele, the woman who gives the band most of its brains and guts. On those songs—-‘Complicated Girl’, ‘Glitter Years’—the hard-edged sound meshed beneath gauzy voices, and the staged smiles didn’t matter–the Bangles seemed able to rock and be real at the same time. Who wouldn’t dance to that?””” Eric Pooley, ‘Down In Front’, New York Magazine, April 10 1989, p.42.

2 Comments

  1. “Its also appropriate that the end of glam comes with a car wreck, given that the song is situated in Los Angeles, a city defined by the automobile.”…….perhaps a nod to Marc Bolan’s death in a car crash signaling the end of “Glam” too? (I realize that didn’t happen until 1977, but poetic license, etc. for the writer considered, this could be a stitch in the fabric of that story.)

  2. RIP David Bowie, 1-11-16. Thanks again Miki for writing such a beautiful song. Whenever I think of Bowie, I think of you singing “You better hang on to yourself. You better hang on to your-se-he-he-helf”.

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