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Rex, T.

T. Rex

Rock band

For the Record

Hallucinated Band Name

Went Electric

Pioneered Glam, Embraced by Punks

Selected discography

Sources

Direct predecessor of two important trends in the music of the 1970sglam rock and punkT. Rex was the manifestation of one highly original musicians personal vision. The core of the band was its singer and lead guitarist, Marc Bolan. Bolan employed a series of percussionists, and other musicians rounded out the bands sound on records and in concert; butT. Rex was essentially a vehicle for Bolans songwriting and distinctive stage presence.

T. Rex is perhaps best remembered for its single American hit Bang a Gong (Get It On), recorded in 1971. But at the peak of their popularity in England, in 1972 and 1973, the band attracted fan adulation rivaled only by that of the Beatles in their prime. And the musicians who would create the rock styles of the future were carefully observing the mix of stage flamboyance, concept-album fantasy, eroticism, frenzied guitar work, and mystical poetry that Bolan concocted.

Bolan was born Mark Feld in London on September 30, 1947 (some sources list his birth date as July 30, 1947.

For the Record

Members include Marc Bolan (born Mark Feld, [according to most sources] September 30, 1947, in London, England; married Gloria Jones [second wife; a singer); died in an automobile accident, September 16, 1977), vocals, guitar; Steve Currie (bandmember c. 1971-72; died in 1981), bass; and Steve Peregrine Took (born July 28, 1949, in London; replaced by Micky Finn [born June 3, 1947], 1970; died in 1980), percussion.

Group formed as Tyrannosaurus Rex in London, 1967 (name shortened to T. Rex, 1970); released albums in U.S. on Blue Thumb label; signed with Reprise Records in U.S., 1970.

or September 30, 1948). As a teenager he was drawn to Londons teddy boy and mod fashion scenes, and he even worked, briefly but apparently successfully, as a fashion model. A penchant for unusual outfits would remain with Bolan throughout his career. On stage he often appeared in the striking combination of black stovepipe hat and V-neck sweater, an image captured on the famous cover of T. Rexs album The Slider by photographer and ex-Beatle Ringo Starr.

Hallucinated Band Name

But like many other British young people of his generation, Bolan was also drawn to American rock and roll, and he soon began to aspire to a musical career. He joined a group called Johns Children, which had some success before disbanding in 1967. Then Bolan joined with percussionist Steve Peregrine Took to form Tyrannosaurus Rex. He chose the name after experiencing a hallucination in which a dinosaur pictured on a poster on the wall of his room began to move.

The titles of Tyrannosaurus Rexs early albums, released in the U.S. on the Blue Thumb label, offer pointed suggestions of their content; two examples are 1968s Prophets, Seers & Sages and the following years Unicorn. Bolans compositions from this period had a fantastic air inspired by the quasi-medieval writings of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. But more significant was the duos unique sound. Possibly due to a finance company repossession of his electric instruments, Bolan favored an acoustic guitar on these recordings; the results fit well with the late-1960s trend toward folk rock. And his vocal style was instantly memorable for its drawing out of long notes into a strangled, rapid vibrato. Took contributed a varied palette of bongo drum sounds, and the two musicians created free musical structures that matched the imaginativeness of Bolans lyrics. Indeed, such early recordings as Strange Orchestras and Deborah sounded as novel to many in the 1990s as they did when they were first released.

The latter song was a Top 40 hit in Britain, and, with the support of the influential BBC disc jockey John Peel, Tyrannosaurus Rexs albums gained a strong following. But Bolan hoped for wider success. Took left the act and was replaced by Micky Finn in 1970, also the year that the bands name was truncated to T. Rex.

Went Electric

It was at about this time that producer Tony Visconti, who would later team with David Bowie, began to devise a more elaborate and grandiose sound for T. Rex, including the use of a variety of instruments and even occasional string and orchestra arrangements. Bolan reverted to an electric guitar. This caused a small furor among his folk-oriented fans, not unlike the one American folksinger Bob Dylan had experienced in 1965 when he made a similar switch. But as they did in Dylans case, the changes opened the door to a popular breakthrough.

The new T. Rex sound was displayed at its simplest and most intense on 1971s Electric Warrior and its successor, The Slider, released the following year. Bolan had discarded fantasy themes in favor of short blues and rock forms that frequently bore erotic content. A series of metaphors likening women to automobilesYoure built like a car/You got a hubcap/Diamond-star halo, Bolan intoned in Bang a Gong (Get It On)might have seemed ludicrous coming from someone with less vocal authority.

Bolans lyrics were obscure, seemingly more concerned with the sound of the words than with their meaning. To be sure, we may never know what Bolan intended by Shes got luggage eyes, from 1970s One Inch Rock. But he had an undeniable gift for simple, alliterative images of great power, like the fragment Youre windy and wild, from Bang a Gong (Get It On), or even the bacchanalian refrain that gave the song its title.

Pioneered Glam, Embraced by Punks

Certain junctures in these songs were augmented by producer Visconti with backing vocals that mirrored Bolans singing one octave higher, which created an eerie, gothic atmosphere that greatly influenced socalled glam rockers like David Bowie in the ensuing years. Bowies early music, described by Scott Isler in the New Rolling Stone Record Guide as heavy metal with an art-school education, owed much to T. Rex. But the influence of Electric Warrior and The Slider led in another direction as well. Electric Warriors Rip Off featured full-throated screams of barely coherent complaint (The Presidents weird/Hes got a burgundy beard/Its a rip-off/Such a rip-off) from Bolan, with loud rudimentary guitar accompaniment, frenetic drumming from Finn, and a swirling, abrasively blown saxophone. Offerings of this sort earned T. Rex the respect of musicians in the nascent punk movement. On tour shortly before his death in 1977, Bolan featured a punk band, the Damned, as his opening act.

The effect of all this on youthful English audiences was extraordinary. Michael Thomas of Rolling Stone quoted an English newspaper account as having reported: Girls, mostly young, went mad. Their eyes glazed in delirium. They danced adulatorily in the aisles. They emitted falsetto shrieks. It was all rather reminiscent of Beatlemania. T. Rex notched a total of 11 Top Ten hits in Britain. Bang a Gong reached the same level in America, but despite an extensive television advertising campaignthe first of its kind, on the part of T. Rexs American label, Reprisethe band never really achieved mass success in the U.S., though they did cultivate a die-hard cult following there.

Even in Britain, Bolans period of real stardom was brief. Ringo Starr directed a 1973 documentary on T. Rexs career called Born to Boogie; but even by that time public attention had shifted elsewhere and the film was a commercial failure. Later T. Rex albums were panned by critics and generally ignored by the public, and Bolan descended into what he described to Rolling Stone as a twilight world of drugs, booze and kinky sex. He died on September 16, 1977, when a car driven by his second wife, an American soul singer named Gloria Jones, crashed into a tree. Took died in 1980, and Steve Currie, who had played bass on Electric Warrior and The Slider, met his end in 1981.

By the early 1990s there were signs that Bolans talent and T. Rexs immense historical significance were beginning to receive their proper appreciation. The Power Station released a hit version of Bang a Gong in 1985 (arguably that short-lived groups best work), and in 1993, heavy metal superstars Guns N Roseswho began their career with a decidedly glam lookcovered 1972s Buick Mackane, the cutting of which guitarist Slash said finally got the song out of his system. A boxed-set compilation of the bands recordings was made available, as were individual CD reissues of some of their albums, though the early Tyrannosaurus Rex folk-rock albums remained mostly unavailable. (Electric Warrior is among the handful of classic rock albums that have remained in print continuously since their date of release.) Perhaps most telling of the bands influence, though, was the emergence in 1993 of the much-hyped British group Suede, which made a splash with an admittedly T. Rex-inspired sound; it seemed the glam movement that Bolan had largely created was on the verge of a full-blown revival.

Selected discography

Prophets, Seers & Sages, Blue Thumb, 1968.

Unicorn, Blue Thumb, 1969.

Electric Warrior (includes Bang a Gong [Get It On] and Rip Off), Reprise, 1971.

The Slider, Reprise, 1972.

The T. Rex Collection, Relativity, 1991.

20th-Century Boy/The Best of T. Rex, Relativity.

Bolans Zip Gun, Relativity.

Futuristic Dragon, Relativity.

Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow, Relativity.

BBC Live, Windsong.

Sources

Books

The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, edited by Colin Larkin, New England Publishers Associates, 1992.

Jahn, Mike, Rock: The Story of Rock From Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, Quadrangle, 1973.

Marsh, Dave, and John Swenson, The New Rolling Stone Record Guide, Rolling Stone Press/Random House, 1983.

The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.

Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martins, 1989.

Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1986.

Periodicals

Rolling Stone, July 23, 1970; September 16, 1971; March 16, 1972; September 26, 1974.

James M. Manheim

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