T. Rex: Buyer's Guide

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Marc Bolan did not invent glitter rock, but he most certainly perfected it. With nothing more than a mass of corkscrew hair, a battered acoustic guitar and a barefoot hippy bongo player, the elfin young Bolan transformed from a late-60s coffee house warbler into an electrified sci-fi superhero in silver spaceboots, glittered cheekbones and bright pink feather boas. His music was pop-metal perfection; brilliant little bursts of rock flash and psychedelic poetry, the ultimate ear candy for the sex-saturated 1970s. And everybody loved him. And then he died.

Marc Bolan (originally Mark Feld, but let’s not linger on that sad fact) was born in East London on September 30, 1947. He claimed to have been a mod in the early 60s, but so did Ozzy and that’s probably not true either. As a teen, he put his cheekbones to work and modelled for a while. Legend has is that he also spent time with a wizard in Paris who taught him how to levitate, but ultimately his soul belonged to rock’n’roll. After a brief stint in garage-punk legends John’s Children in 1967, he formed the two-man hippy jam band Tyrannosaurus Rex with percussionist Steve Took.

The acoustic Tyrannosaurus Rex lasted three years and garnered much critical acclaim, had a couple of Top 40 singles but sold very few albums.

All of that changed when Marc sacked Steve, daubed glitter on his cheeks, and wrote a hand-clapping electric glam-pop song called Ride A White Swan. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bolan fever swept the UK, nearly topping Beatlemania in its froth, and T. Rex enjoyed a few years of stunning success. After a murky year or two in the mid-70s when Marc experimented with short hair, vodka and disco, he returned to the spotlight with a smashing comeback album and a punk- friendly television show in 1977, but his resurgence was short-lived. On September 16, 1977, he died in a car crash in London, two weeks before his 30th birthday.

Despite his tragic end, Bolanmania has never truly abated. There are a staggering number of T. Rex ‘hits’ compilations, reissues, remasters and junkpile collections out there to wade through, with many more on the way, Marc’s many fan clubs still do brisk business, and, most importantly, his music still rocks like crazy.

Here, then, is your definitive guide to getting it on and, if the mood hits, possibly even banging a gong.

Marc Bolan (originally Mark Feld, but let’s not linger on that sad fact) was born in East London on September 30, 1947. He claimed to have been a mod in the early 60s, but so did Ozzy and that’s probably not true either. As a teen, he put his cheekbones to work and modelled for a while. Legend has is that he also spent time with a wizard in Paris who taught him how to levitate, but ultimately his soul belonged to rock’n’roll. After a brief stint in garage-punk legends John’s Children in 1967, he formed the two-man hippy jam band Tyrannosaurus Rex with percussionist Steve Took.

The acoustic Tyrannosaurus Rex lasted three years and garnered much critical acclaim, had a couple of Top 40 singles but sold very few albums.

All of that changed when Marc sacked Steve, daubed glitter on his cheeks, and wrote a hand-clapping electric glam-pop song called Ride A White Swan. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bolan fever swept the UK, nearly topping Beatlemania in its froth, and T. Rex enjoyed a few years of stunning success. After a murky year or two in the mid-70s when Marc experimented with short hair, vodka and disco, he returned to the spotlight with a smashing comeback album and a punk- friendly television show in 1977, but his resurgence was short-lived. On September 16, 1977, he died in a car crash in London, two weeks before his 30th birthday.

Despite his tragic end, Bolanmania has never truly abated. There are a staggering number of T. Rex ‘hits’ compilations, reissues, remasters and junkpile collections out there to wade through, with many more on the way, Marc’s many fan clubs still do brisk business, and, most importantly, his music still rocks like crazy.

Here, then, is your definitive guide to getting it on and, if the mood hits, possibly even banging a gong.

ESSENTIAL - CLASSICS

ELECTRIC WARRIOR

Fly, 1971

You could not have a more fitting title than this. Bolan sheds his hippy skin, reinvents himself as a golden god with a gleaming, screaming electric guitar, and writes his two biggest hits in one fell swoop.

Jeepster and _Get It On – pimped out for car and cola commercials for 30 years now – are virtually the only T. Rex songs many Americans have ever heard. These two tracks often overshadow what is otherwise a stellar collection of sun-dappled narco-rockers like Planet Queen and The Motivator, as well as lighter, dreamier fare, like Monolith and the autobiographical Cosmic Dancer._ This album influenced everyone back then. Still does.

THE SLIDER

EMI, 1972

At this point T. Rex were the biggest glam band of all time, and they sounded like it. The Slider is a masterpiece of blissed-out glitter rock. It’s so good that even the songs that are terrible are still great. Main Man is just one stoned riff played over and over, an obvious last-minute piece of fluff, and it’s as classic as the infectious summer anthem Rock On or the orchestral flash metal of Buick McKane.

Whereas albums that came earlier or later in the T. Rex timeline have come to sound dated over the years, The Slider is still as fresh, sexy and exciting as it was when it first jumped out of the box pouting, posing and preening back in 1972.

SUPERIOR - THE ONES THAT HELPED TO CEMENT THEIR REPUTATION

TANX

EMI, 1973

Much less formulaic than the string of hit singles that preceded it, Tanx represented a startling maturity in Bolan’s songwriting, revealing layers of humour and humanity never seen before. Included are several bloozy, vampy tall tales like Left Hand Luke, Highway Knees, and Broken Hearted Blues, played with shuffling guitars and punctuated with swells of female backing vocals. There’s also plenty of the impossible- to-resist glamourama T. Rex were known for, including an infectious sleazefest called Mad Donna and the arena-rocking anthem Shock Rock.

Defiantly eclectic, Tanx was not a critical hit when it was released, but history has proven those fools wrong. It’s sublime.

DANDY IN THE UNDERWORLD

EMI, 1977

Released just a few months before Bolan’s untimely death, the criminally underrated Dandy In The Underworld is a dazzling collection of vintage, back-to-basics glam rockers like the slinky Jason B. Sad, the pinballing Hang Ups and the gloriously tacky Crimson Moon.

Had he been around long enough to properly promote it, Dandy… would have been Bolan’s very own ‘68 Comeback Special, most likely propelling him right back onto his rightful throne as the boy king of all things glitter. But even touched, as it is, by tragedy, Dandy In The Underworld remains a fun, funky album, and the perfect coda to the remarkable story of T. Rex.

A BEARD OF STARS

Regal Zonophone, 1970

Recorded soon after original Tyrannosaurus Rex bongo boy Steve Took was ousted, A Beard Of Stars has only a smattering of hand-drums from his replacement, Mickey Finn.

In essence, it’s the one and only Marc Bolan solo album. Stylistically it was still in the same cross-legged cosmic folk vein of the early Tyrannosaurus Rex albums, but the songs here were layered with fuzzy acid- rock guitars and a rumbling electric bass. On pleasantly trippy tracks like Woodland Bop and Pavilions Of The Sun it just makes for a richer, fuller sound, but on the jaw-dropping bongos/fuzz freakout Elemental Child the electric guitar shows the way for what was to come.

UNICORN

Regal Zonophone, 1969

Pre-glam and pre-electric T. Rex, this is the best example of Bolan’s early aesthetic. Wonderfully outdated now, and making practically no sense it all, it’s like the soundtrack to Alice’s tea party with the Mad Hatter; a seemingly random series of bizarre conversations set to stripped down tangles

of clumsy acoustic guitar and clumping bongo beats. The most endearing part of it all is how earnest the young Bolan sounds while warbling clearly insane lyrics like ‘The toad road licked my wheels like a saber’ and ‘Daubed in doom in his tongue tombed room’.

Amazingly, it spawned two semi-hits: Cat Black (The Wizard’s Hat) and the ominous King Of The Rumbling Spires. Inspired lunacy.

GOOD - WORTH EXPLORING

BOLAN’S ZIP GUN

EMI, 1975

In ‘75, T. Rex were floundering. The steady stream of singles had dried up, and 1974’s disastrous pseudo-concept album Zinc Alloy… sank like a stone. So the band sensibly played it straight on this one, with a sampler of simple, gooey glam rock pleasures sprinkled liberally with the more florid, danceable elements of the burgeoning disco movement.

The vintage feather boa stuff, like Light Of Love, the ballsy Space Boss, the shamelessly throwaway Think Zinc and even the Motown-fueled Token Of My Love, are all great. The disco-tinged junk, on the other hand, is deplorable. Once heard, the horrors of The Girl In The Thunderbolt Suit cannot be erased from your mind.

FUTURISTIC DRAGON

EMI, 1976

On the one hand, it is quite obvious that by 1976 Marc Bolan had completely lost touch with what was going on in rock’n’roll. This was not a man who could have predicted punk rock. His music had become bloated and weird, full of superfluous orchestration and over-reaching genre- bending. He had gone quite mad, and much of Futuristic Dragon makes that glaringly apparent.

On the other hand, he was still Marc fuckin’ Bolan, which means there are still several glammy gems here, including the elastic-fantastic New York City, the funky summertime rock’n’roll of All Alone, and the groovy Jupiter Liar.

T. REX

Fly, 1970

This self-titled album came hot on the heels of their breakthrough hit Ride A White Swan. Still a guitar/bongo duo at the time, they had just shortened their name from the impossible-to-spell Tyrannosaurus Rex and had switched to an electric guitar – two moves which alienated the sandal wearers that had gotten them this far.

They more than made up for the loss with the success of this one. Musically it’s the stop-gap between the flower-sniffing folk of their early days and the stack-heel strut of Electric Warrior, a warm and pleasant collection of electric pop songs like the elfin _One Inch Rock _and Beltane Walk. Not terribly rock’n’roll, but quite charming.

AVOID

ZINC ALLOY AND THE HIDDEN RIDERS OF TOMORROW - A CREAMED CAGE IN AUGUST

EMI, 1974

When I was a teenager, I was such a huge T. Rex fan I once paid $50 for a bootleg of Marc and John Lennon sitting in the back of a taxi cab, drunkenly singing along to Be Bop A Lula and other doo-wop songs on the radio. I would still much rather listen to that ridiculous waste of money than this disco inferno of woefully undercooked glam trash.

Marc wisely asked the label to omit his name from the cover, preferring to hide under the Zinc Alloy moniker, but they forced him to fess up to the dirty deed, and it almost sank the entire operation. T Rex? More like T. Wrecks.

ESSENTIAL PLAYLIST

SUNKEN RAGS

Tanx

RAW RAMPGet It On

B-side of

CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION

Tanx

ELEMENTAL CHILD

A Beard Of Stars

METAL GURU

The Slider

SPACE BOSS

Bolan’s Zip Gun

SOLID GOLD EASY ACTION

Single

HOT LOVE

Single

ROCK ON

The Slider

THE MOTIVATOR

Electric Warrior

DANDY IN THE UNDERWORLD

Dandy In the Underworld

BABY STRANGE

The Slider

THE GROOVER

Single

TRUCK ON (TYKE)

Single

20TH CENTURY BOY

Single

SHOCK ROCK

Tanx

ZIP GUN BOOGIE

Bolan’s Zip Gun

LONDON BOYS

Futuristic Dragon

MAD DONNA

Tanx

TELEGRAM SAM

The Slider

This was published in Classic Rock issue 94

Read a major insight into one of T. Rex’s greatest albums