All of Marc Bolan’s signatures are here — mystical folk-tinged ballads, overt sexual come-ons crooned over sleazy, bopping boogies, loopy nonsense poetry, and a mastery of the three-minute pop song form. . . It’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in the irresistible rush of melodies and cheery good times.
The television man is crazy
Saying we’re juvenile delinquent wrecks
Oh man I need TV when I got
Oh brother you guessed
I’m a dude now
—All the Young Dudes
Ah, yes. T.Rex. A band which you may love or hate but with which you must deal. I would never call myself the world’s biggest Marc Bolan fan but some of his stuff I really like. And I really like the album The Slider, which was produced by Bowie’s producer and bandmate, Tony Visconti.
T. Rex’ music isn’t in the least complicated. Simple chord progressions, easy to play. It’s like candy, sometimes super sweet candy. But I have a wicked sweet tooth. Marc Bolan and Jeff Lynne were contemporaries, born in fact, within months of each other. And they seemed, to these ears, to have similar DNA.
A little history is in order: The band Tyrannosaurus Rex was formed in 1967 by singer/songwriter/guitarist Marc Bolan. The early albums were standard rock ‘n roll fare that eventually grew – under Bolan’s direction – into lusher more melodic stuff. Reportedly, Visconti got tired of writing Tyrannosaurus on the tapes and shortened it to T. Rex.
T. Rex along with other bands started to fall under the appellation of glam rock. Per Wikipedia, glam rock is a “style of rock and pop music that developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s performed by musicians who wore outrageous costumes, makeup and hairstyles, particularly platform shoes and glitter.
The flamboyant clothing and visual styles of performers were often camp or androgynous and have been described as playing with nontraditional gender roles.”
So in addition to T. Rex, there were David Bowie, Lou Reed, Sweet, Roxy Music, New York Dolls. Were they gay? Were they straight? It took your standard rock jock a while to get his head around it, sexual identity being quite a bit less fluid then than it is today.
In that era, T. Rex, having already had hits such as “Get it On” and “Jeepster” were about as big as you could get in the UK. (And pretty popular in the US too if not garnering the same level of adulation.) The Slider was released in 1972 to some measure of critical acclaim but was actually more popular in the US than in the UK.
What I like about this album is it’s just very tuneful, not serious at all and under its supposed glam rock image, has a decided Fifties and even sometimes, bluesy feel. It features the unmistakable harmony vocals of ex-Turtles Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. (Or Flo and Eddie, who had been working with Zappa.)
“Ballrooms of Mars.” Some blistering guitar here by Bolan who, according to his own words, likes to rock:
With your lizard leather boots on
And pull the strings
That change the faces of men
You diamond browed hag
You a gutter-gaunt gangster
John Lennon knows your name
And I’ve seen his
Next up, “Baby Boomerang,” displaying Bolan’s trademark discretion:
Well, you never spike a person
But you always bang the whole gang
Thank you ma’am
Herbie Flowers, T. Rex bassist in the later years, of Bolan said, “He was the guv’nor.” (We’d say he’s the man here in the States.) “Like Bowie, he stuck to the great tradition, the Shakespearean minstrel, the masquerade. He wasn’t afraid to dress up and get the bird for it. I mean, you don’t go and hear a band, you go and see a band.” (I dunno, I kinda think you do both.)
Of historical note is that around this time, Bolan and crew filmed a live concert that included Ringo Starr and Elton John. Called Born to Boogie, I have never seen it and it appears to have disappeared into the ether or Amazon or someplace.
T. Rex continued on for a few more years hitting heights with songs like “20th Century Boy.” But their run of UK hits had begun to subside and the band started to fall apart.
On September 16 1977 – 40 years ago today – Marc Bolan’s girlfriend Gloria Jones was driving them home after a night of partying. Failing to negotiate a turn, she drove his car into a tree. Jones was injured; Bolan died instantly at the age of 29. The site is marked with a memorial called Bolan’s Rock Shrine.
To which one can only ask the musical question – Are you My Main Man? Are you now? Are you now?