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T. Rex

T. Rex

70's glam rock icons T. Rex were the creation of Marc Bolan and played amped-up rock & roll with boogie rhythms, flights of lyrical fancy, and crunching guitars. Beginning with the 1970 single "Ride a White Swan," Bolan tapped into the basics of rock and pop while dressing them up in equal amounts of mystical poetry and down-to-earth raunch. Songs like "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" and the album Electric Warrior defined the T. Rex sound, The Slider perfected it, and each album that followed took a big swing and, more often than not, especially on 1974's funk- and soul-influenced Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow, connected. The band, and Bolan's, lifespans were tragically short, but it was massively influential and inspired many of the best metal, punk, new wave, and alternative rock bands who followed in their glittery wake.

Marc Bolan was born Mark Feld on September 30, 1947 in Stoke Newington, London, England. The youngster seemed cut out for a career in show biz nearly from the start; he started playing guitar at the age of nine when he and some friends formed a skiffle band, and he made his professional acting debut in 1963, playing a minor role on the children's television series Orlando. After a brief run as a child model, Bolan dove into music and released his first single, "The Wizard," in November 1965, shortly after he signed a deal with Decca Records. After cutting a few more singles, which found Bolan moving into a direction clearly inspired by Dylan and Donovan, the Yardbirds' manager Simon Napier-Bell took over stewardship of his career, and in 1967 Bolan was added to the lineup of the freakbeat eccentrics John's Children. While he was in the group long enough to write and sing lead on their single "Desdemona" and tour Europe as the Who's opening act, Bolan left after a mere four months, and began writing songs for his next project.

Before 1967 was out, Bolan had launched Tyrannosaurus Rex, with a show at London's Electric Garden. After a less than stellar experience as a full band, he reworked Tyrannosaurus Rex into an acoustic duo, adding Steve Peregrin Took on percussion. Bolan's loopily engaging lyrical sensibility and Eastern-influenced melodies, coupled with Took's unconventional style, helped to earn the group a loyal following in London's hippie community, and they were championed by John Peel on his influential BBC radio show. The duo scored a deal with Regal Zonophone Records, and their debut album, My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows, was released in July 1968. It was the first to be produced by long-time Bolan collaborator Tony Visconti, who would go on to helm nearly all of Bolan's subsequent work. The second Tyrannosaurus Rex album, Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages, appeared just three months later, and the third, Unicorn, came out in May 1969, shortly after the publication of The Warlock of Love, a book of poems written by Bolan. Soon afterward, Took was fired from the band and Mickey Finn took over as the duo's percussionist. In 1970 they recorded A Beard of Stars as well as the single "Ride a White Swan," and both saw the band moving in a new direction, venturing away from the fading U.K. hippie scene. Bolan had begun playing electric guitar, giving the songs a bigger, rougher sound, and Finn's handclaps and percussion provided a backbeat that turned Tyrannosaurus Rex from a folk act into a rock band. The duo acknowledged their shift in direction with a trimmed-down name and a self-titled album, T. Rex, which came out later in 1970 and saw Bolan doubling down on the group's new proto-boogie sound by expanding to a quartet with drummer Bill Legend and bassist Steve Currie. He also took to sporting top hats, feather boas, and glittery outfits on-stage, giving their shows a welcome sense of flash, and while some of Bolan's older fans blanched at his abandonment of his elfin hippy image, the release of Electric Warrior in September 1971 was all the consolation he needed. The album, which featured production from Visconti and backing vocals courtesy of Flo & Eddie, was a major hit, rising to the top of the U.K. album charts and establishing T. Rex as one of Britain's biggest bands, while also helping to launch the glam rock era that would dominate the country for the next several years. The album also spawned two U.K. hit singles, "Jeepster" and "Get It On."

The latter, retitled "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" cracked the American Top 40, and T. Rex developed a cult following in the United States, especially on the West Coast.

As "T. Rexstasy" took hold in the U.K. and Europe, the band released The Slider in July 1972, which offered more of the group's crunchy hard rock boogie and Bolan's sly, playful lyrics, while also showing off a deeply emotional, almost melancholy, side to the band. At the same time the album was being recorded, a film was being made about Bolan and T. Rex, Born to Boogie, directed by Ringo Starr. After the film's release, Bolan began work on an album that leaned more toward the hard rock and soul music coming out of America. Featuring lushly layered production, Mellotrons, massed backing vocals, and heavier guitars, 1973's Tanx took a step away from the classic T. Rex sound while still retaining much of its flash. Non-LP singles "20th Century Boy" and "Metal Guru" were issued concurrently and proved to be the last two T. Rex singles to reach the U.K. Top Ten. The band continued to tour heavily, with an eye toward breaking big in America. Recording for the next album took place during breaks in touring, and 1974's Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow reflected the sounds of America even more than their previous album, and vocalists Gloria Jones and Pat Hall loomed large in the album's mix. Though the album wasn't a huge departure from the classic T. Rex approach, there was a great deal of change in the ranks. Visconti exited the creative team, and the remaining members of the band did too, while Bolan and Jones relocated to California. 1975's Bolan's Zip Gun was recorded in Hollywood and followed a similar funk-inflected path as its predecessor.

After that album's less than enthusiastic reception, Bolan rebounded in early 1976 with the release of Futuristic Dragon, an ambitious set that featured a bigger sound than T. Rex's last few albums, incorporating stylistic elements borrowed from doo wop, '60s girl groups, and disco. Bolan also became a father as he and Jones welcomed a son, Rolan Bolan, and the family returned to England, where he became the host of a pop music show, Marc. The program featured performances by Bolan, artists from the height of the glam rock days (including David Bowie), and rising stars on the punk rock scene, including the Jam, Generation X, and the Boomtown Rats. Buoyed by the show's success, he returned to the studio to record the 1977 album Dandy in the Underworld. The stripped-down and direct rock rhythms conjured up favorable comparisons to the band's early sound and the single "I Love to Boogie" was a fun rock & roll pastiche the likes of which only Bolan could deliver. Sadly, it was the last album released during his lifetime as he died in an auto accident in September of 1977. Marc Bolan and T. Rex's legacies have been kept alive through numerous reissues of their albums and archival collections of rarities. Edsel is one of the record labels involved in the effort, reissuing each T. Rex album along with an alternate version made up of different takes and demos. In the 2020s they began releasing box sets that cover T. Rex's career year-by-year. Both 1972 and 1973: Whatever Happened to the Teenage Dream? collect studio albums, singles, demos, and rare tracks, weaving them into a comprehensive whole. Marc Bolan and T. Rex deserve nothing less than such treatment -- over their short career they helped change the landscape of both pop and rock music, making it a little shinier and more fun. ~ Tim Sendra & Mark Deming

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