A TIMEOUS GUEST POSTING by THE SWEDE
40 years ago, over breakfast on September 16th 1977, my Dad delivered the bad news – Marc Bolan had been killed in a car accident earlier that morning. Dad knew more than most just how much Bolan and his music meant to me. My first LP. My first gig. My first obsession. Barely six years had passed since my initial encounter with T.Rex, via a friend at school. Six Years is a blink of an eye now, but in 1977 it was a third of my life – and felt a lot longer. From a gawky shorts-wearing 11 year old in 1971 to 17 year old enthusiastic musical adventurer in 1977, Marc Bolan opened up a whole world to me, one I’ve been exploring ever since.
For the purposes of this imaginary compilation I’ve ignored the hits. I figure everyone is familiar with ‘Get it On’, ‘Telegram Sam’, ‘Metal Guru’ etc. You can find those classics on any one of the many greatest hits compilations available. I’ve chosen to dig little deeper into the catalogue to pull together an ICA from ten of my favourite T.Rex tracks.
Marc Bolan, 40 years gone and still missed.
1. Mambo Sun
In contrast to what would come later, 1971’s ‘Electric Warrior’ sounds effortless, uncluttered, pure. ‘Mambo Sun’ opens proceedings, featuring Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman‘s backing vocals to full effect. The duo are better known as Flo & Eddie of The Turtles and also contributed significantly to Frank Zappa‘s work with The Mothers of Invention in the early 1970s.
In the first flushes of superstardom, Bolan insisted on giving his fans value for money. Concert tickets were pitched at 50p and two otherwise unavailable tracks appeared on the flipside of each of the first few singles. ‘Cadilac’ (sic) was one of the pair of tunes on the b-side of T.Rex’s third No.1, ‘Telegram Sam’, in January 1972 and featured in the band’s live set throughout the rest of the year.
‘The Slider’ was the first LP I bought with my own money, in the Summer of 1972. In December of that year, T.Rex became the first band I ever saw live. The thrilling ‘Chariot Choogle’ from ‘The Slider’ opened the band’s set that night and remained an intermittent live favourite until 1974.
4. Sunken Rags
Another value for money b-side, ‘Sunken Rags’ was recorded during sessions for ‘The Slider’, before eventually appearing on the flip of ‘Children of the Revolution’ in September 1972.
‘Tanx’ was recorded in the Autumn of 1972 and released in January the following year. On the LP, Marc Bolan attempted to expand on the familiar T.Rex sound by heavily overdubbing instrumental passages and backing vocals to create a fuller, more claustrophobic feel. Brett Anderson allegedly took inspiration from ‘Tanx’ for Suede‘s ‘Coming Up’ LP in 1996. ‘Electric Slim and the Factory Hen’ demonstrates a lightness of touch that is not always apparent on ‘Tanx’ and also gives an early nod to the soul music direction Bolan would sporadically pursue in 74/75.
6. Venus Loon
Ask me what my all-time favourite T.Rex track is. Go on, ask me. Well, since you’ve asked so nicely, it’s ‘Venus Loon’, the opening track on 1974’s ‘Zinc Alloy & the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow / A Creamed Cage in August’.
‘Bent spent psychedelic mailman’s head, gorging up my spokes like the ghostly dead’ – they don’t write lyrics like that anymore! The album, produced for the last time by Tony Visconti, is once again dense with overdubs, multi-layered vocals and the sound of the kitchen sink being thrown in. Some say the LP is self-indulgent – I reckon it’s underrated.
7. Till Dawn
‘Zip Gun Boogie’ and ‘Light of Love’, the two weakest singles T.Rex ever released, were lifted from the 1975 LP ‘Bolan’s Zip Gun‘, while the obvious choice, ‘Till Dawn’, remained criminally overlooked. ‘Bolan’s Zip Gun’ saw Marc Bolan sitting alone in the producer’s chair for the first time, with the exception of this leftover from the ‘Zinc Alloy’ sessions, which has Tony Visconti’s uncredited fingerprints all over it.
‘New York City’ and ‘Dreamy Lady’, the singles plundered from 1976’s ‘Futuristic Dragon’, were again less than inspiring, but elsewhere on the LP are ‘All Alone’ and ‘Casual Agent’, two of Bolan’s best latter-day compositions. If only he could’ve sustained this mix of musical invention and lyrical playfulness across the whole LP.
By the second half of 1976, Marc Bolan had shed his excess weight, together with a few of his excessive rock ‘n’ roll habits and he put together a new T.Rex line-up, which he took out on the road with The Damned in support. A strong new LP, ‘Dandy in the Underworld’ was released in March of 1977 and a batch of new songs were demoed for its follow up. Invigorated by the birth of his son and the energy of the nascent punk scene, the future looked bright. The mighty ‘Teen Riot Structure’ is the final track on ‘Dandy in the Underworld’, the last LP issued in Marc’s lifetime.