If, like this writer, you were lucky enough to have been born in the late fifties then you would also have been the perfect age to catch T Rex at their glorious peak (1971/72), including parent baiting ‘who’s this poof?’ Top Of The Pop appearances, live shows with little or no hope of hearing the music over the screams and, oh yes, a whole new way to dress – glitter everywhere, platform shoes, loon pants and, for the more fiscally endowed, satin jackets. Lest we forget these were the days when it was perfectly OK to like singles and album acts and it wasn’t unusual to find both Deep Purple and Sweet or Black Sabbath and Slade stencilled on classroom satchels and exercise books. By the mid ‘70s it had all begun to change, singles were for kids, platforms had been replaced by desert boots, satin jackets by army greatcoats and T Rex by Thin Lizzy (or, if you couldn’t get out of the habit of dressing up, David Bowie). But for a few short years there really was nobody like Marc Bolan and T Rex, TM-O's Andy Basire surveys the mountains of the moon in search of stray spoons.
Of course it all began long before schoolchildren got in on the act as Tyrannosaurus Rex were actually formed in 1967 (originally a four-piece), Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took producing defiantly anti-commercial and decidedly whimsical folk tunes for the burgeoning underground scene. Befriended and championed by John Peel Bolan became a regular on Peel’s radio show but his insistence on supplying all of the material proved to be a sticking point as Took wanted to perform his own songs and after a disastrous US tour the duo, with three albums to their name, split. Having replaced Took with bongo player Mickey Finn A Beard of Stars was the final album released under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex. Electric guitars, shorter tunes and the charts beckoned.
The next album, entitled simply T.Rex, was far more pop-oriented (the new sound and direction helped immeasurably by producer Tony Visconti, whose influence cannot be stressed too strongly), and first single, ‘Ride a White Swan’, reached number two in the UK charts in late 1970 helping the parent album into the Top 20 (although the single was not actually included on the album). This was promptly followed by a second single, and the blueprint for success, ‘Hot Love’ topped the UK charts and began the rollercoaster ride which prompted the hiring of a rhythm section (bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend), and then came possibly the most pivotal moment in Bolan’s career when Chelita Secunda - wife of Tony, manager of The Move, and for a brief period, T. Rex - put some glitter under Bolan's eyes before a Top Of The Pops appearance and glam rock was born.
What came next still remains Bolan’s finest hour as Electric Warrior, was released in September 1971, and began a two year run of what publicist BP Fallon would term ‘T. Rextasy’. Lead off single 'Get It On' reached the top of the UK charts, as did the album, and in January 1972 it also made the top ten hit in the US - retitled ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ to distinguish it from a song by the band Chase. Bolan went to EMI and persuaded them to give him his own record label on which he released The Slider (’72) spawning two more UK top slots with ‘Telegram Sam’ and ‘Metal Guru’ but the the rollercoaster had just about peaked and whilst 73’s Tanx had it’s moments, the material lacked the pop nous of his previous two outings and by 74’s Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow it was all over bar the shouting - due in no small part to Bolan's monstrously egotistical behaviour, fed by cocaine and brandy - Zip Gun (‘75) and Futuristic Dragon (’76), followed but fared progressively badly as he totally lost his way and most of his fans,
On 16 Sept 1977 Marc Bolan was killed in south-west London when the car driven by his girlfriend Gloria Jones hit a sycamore tree on the B306 Queens Ride at the southern edge of Barnes Common between Rocks Lane and Gipsy Lane (naturally enough much has been made of the rock/gypsy significance by people who enjoy that sort of daftness). Some reports insist a copy of a music paper was found in the wrecked Mini, open at an interview with Pete Townsend, with the headline ‘Hope I Die Before I Get Old’ but, despite almost certainly being apocryphal, nothing could have been further from the truth as despite his years in the wilderness there was plenty of evidence to suggest a more contrite Bolan was actually making something of a comeback. A UK tour with The Damned in support garnered positive reviews and his ‘77 album Dandy In The Underworld showed some signs of a return to form, he even began hosting his own TV show Marc. During the final episode, recorded on 7 September 1977, performing with old friend David Bowie, Bolan tripped and fell off the stage as the credits rolled, but the sort of slip most performers will suffer at some point in their careers became a desperately sad curtain call as a week later he would be dead.
Images are courtesy of Redferns Music and can be found, alongside many others at ‘Souls We Miss’ (Marc Bolan photographed by Keith Morris) at the Redferns Music Picture Gallery, 3 Bramley Road, London W10 6SZ. Tel: +44 (0) 20 7792 9914. The show runs from Sept 14 to Oct 31.
Greatest hits package Marc Bolan: T Rex Greatest Hits is out now on Universal, as are collectors vinyl 7" singles and digital downloads of 'Ride A White Swan', 'Hot Love' and 'Get It On', Demon are offering the same 7" vinyl/download deal on 'Telegram Sam', 'Children Of The Revolution' and '20th Century Boy'. Also due out on Oct 1st on Demon/Edsel are a 3CD package entitled Interstellar Soul and a 2CD pack entitled Live 1977 + In conversation.