Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Much bigger deal in the UK than he was in North America, Marc Bolan would find a huge audience with "Electric Warrior". Blessed with a face that drove teenage girls wild, he would also be associated with Britain's burgeoning glam-rock scene in the early seventies. Nearly forty years on, separating the music he produced from the glitter reveals a decent song writer who had excellent melodic sensibility. This album saw him strike a balance between the acoustic based material that he had steeped himself in through the late sixties and a newfound move toward amplification.
Stylistically, the song structures owed a lot to 50's rock and roll with the lyrics mixing hippie themes and raw sexuality. Bolan's voice was unique, to say the least, with a prominent quavery delivery that was quintessentially English. These factors may be why you don't hear these tunes in heavy rotation on classic rock stations, save for "(Bang a Gong) Get It On", which is a few steps ahead of its time from a production standpoint.
Top of the Pops, Christmas 1971. The guy miming along on piano had a few hits of his own...
Aside from this, there are quite a few standout tracks. "Cosmic Dancer" has a haunting melody and a fantastic string arrangement, while "Jeepster" is just a pure blast of tribal energy. I used to drink with a Brit who was a teenager when all of this was happening and he told me about a dance that was popular with his crowd at that time. Essentially, you only moved the upper half of your body, feet rooted in place with arms at your sides, as you violently bobbed and thrashed your torso, narrowly missing cracking heads with your partner.
Unfairly labeled as bubblegum due to Bolan's poster boy visage, this is actually a very fine record. Tony Visconti's polished production was in line with the work he did with David Bowie, who was also a friend and contemporary. T-Rex were a great live act and these songs were given a heavier treatment on stage. I would highly recommend checking out "Born to Boogie", mainly for the concert footage shot at Wembley stadium in 1972 by first time director Ringo Starr. It's a great document.
Here's a taste.
Shifting trends saw a decline in the popularity of T Rex, though Marc Bolan would continue to record and tour. He was killed in a road accident just shy of his 30th birthday in 1977. Underrated in many ways, he would, sadly, only find renewed interest in his work after his untimely passing. "Electric Warrior" stands as his best album.