Friday, September 23, 2011

Life's A Gas: T.Rex's Electric Warrior at 40

 T. Rex - Electric Warrior
T. Rex
Electric Warrior
Rating: **** 1/2

Some people wonder who started glam rock. Some might say David Bowie. Others may say Alice Cooper or Kiss. We’ll probably never know but if there was an album that could pinpoint where the explosion began, it would probably be T. Rex’s Electric Warrior. Electric Warrior was released on September 24, 1971. It became the band’s first hit album but Electric Warrior wasn’t T. Rex’s first album. The release of Electric Warrior catapulted T. Rex and their leader, Marc Bolan, into rock n roll superstardom.
            T. Rex actually started out in the late 1960’s. Marc Bolan was born Marc Feld on September 30, 1947. Feld would later change his name to Marc Bolan and become a skiffle musician. Sometime in the late 1960’s, Bolan joined a band called John’s Children. John’s Children were a loud, electric rock band but they broke up after a very short tenure. After the band’s split, Bolan became attracted to the folk rock scene. He decided he’d form his own little psychedelic folk group. With him on guitar and Steve Peregrine-Took on percussion, Tyrannosaurus Rex was formed in 1967. The duo later met Tony Visconti, a producer from New York who was living in the UK at the time. Visconti would later play a vital role in the music of Marc Bolan and T. Rex. In 1968, the band released their debut album My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair…But Now They’re Content to Where Stars On Their Brows. The album had little success but BBC radio DJ John Peel was one of the group’s early supporters. The group released two more albums: Prophets, Seers, Sages: The Angels of the Ages in 1968 and Unicorn in 1969. In 1969, there were tensions between Bolan and Took. As a result, Bolan fired Took that same year. Quickly, Bolan and Visconti looked for a replacement. They ended up picking percussionist Mickey Finn. As Visconti remembers, Finn wasn’t that good of a percussionist. Finn was, however, very good looking and seemed to pair up with Marc perfectly. With Finn in the group, A Beard of Stars was released in 1970. The album’s last song, “Elemental Child”, was different from anything else the group had recorded: Bolan was playing an electric guitar. Fans feared the worst.
When the time came to make the next album, it became clear that the band’s name was too long. Visconti remembers one day when he was putting labels on master tapes, he couldn’t write out Tyrannosaurus Rex. Instead, he wrote “T. Rex”. Bolan noticed this and reminded Visconti “It’s Tyrannosaurus Rex, man”. However, it must’ve entered Bolan’s mind: the name was too long. Therefore, the name was changed to T. Rex and in 1970 a self-titled album was released. Before the album’s release, the band had a hit single with a song called “Ride a White Swan”. It charted at #2 in the UK. Towards the end of 1970, Bolan decided to expand the band’s line-up. First, he hired bassist Steve Currie. In March 1971, Bolan met drummer Bill Fifield from a Visconti produced band called Legend. Bolan hired Fifield as the drummer but told him “I’m going to call you Bill Legend from now on”. The name stuck. By 1971, T. Rex’s line-up was complete after drummer Bill Legend joined the group. The month before, T. Rex released the single “Hot Love”. It reached #1 in the charts and stayed there for six weeks. In March 1971, recording began for Electric Warrior. Sessions ended in June 1971.
Electric Warrior opens up with the galactic rocker “Mambo Sun”, a great song. Marc Bolan’s voice suites the song and the rhymes are just brilliant if silly. It’s basically Bolan just trying to find words that rhyme. The lyrics all rhyme but they’re quite random. Some of my favorites: “My life’s a shadowless horse/And I can’t get across, to you” and “I got stars in my beard/And I feel real weird”. With lyrics like this, Bolan could possibly be the Dr. Seuss of rock music! The back-up vocals spice things up too. The next track, “Cosmic Dancer”, is one of the best songs Marc ever wrote. Bolan works his magic on this song with the lyrics: “Is it wrong to understand/The fear that dwells inside a man/What’s it like to be a loon?/I liken it to a balloon”. The string section makes the song even better. In a word, “Cosmic Dance” is amazing.  Meanwhile, “Jeepester” is another T. Rex classic. The tapping in the beginning of the song is actually Bolan stomping his shoe heels on a hardwood floor. Again, the lyrics are just great. The chorus: “Cause you’re my babe/Yes, you’re my love/Oh girl, I’m just a jeepster for your love.” You have to love it when Bolan sings the lyrics: “I said girl, I’m just a vampire for your love/And I’m gonna suck ya!” Bolan shouts, with his tongue firmly in his cheek. The grunts at the end are corny were lustful enough to make teenage girls cry their eyes out for Bolan. “Monolith” slows things down with a funk-riddled rhythm that is oh so catchy. Bolan seems to be having a lot of fun with the wah-wah pedal on this one and I don’t blame him: it sounds awesome. Side one ends with the twelve bar glory of “Lean Woman Blues”, featuring some more Bolan guitar work.
Side two begins with what might be T. Rex’s best known song and sadly, the only thing they are remember for in the United States. That song is, of course, “Get It On (Bang A Gong)”.  Bolan was quoted to saying in an interview that the song was a result of his desire to cover Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie”. Still, Bolan made “Get It On” his own with lyrics that could define what glam rock was all about in the 1970’s. Listen carefully in the end for Bolan’s ode to “Little Queenie” (“And meanwhile, I’m still thinking…”). Next up is the acoustically driven “Planet Queen”, a pretty deep cut from the album. How can you not like the chorus: “Well it’s alright/Love is what you want/Flying saucer take me away/Give me your daughter”. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo and Eddie) of the Turtles sing the spine-tingling ending lyric of “Give me your daughter now”. “Girl” is simply Marc strumming on his guitar. Bolan sings lyrics of what seem to be some sort of a ballad. The album moves on with the sexually driven “The Motivator”. It’s certainly an electric glam rocker, with Bolan playing around with a wah-wah pedal again. Also, I like the bongo playing here from Mickey Finn. It fits in perfectly. “Life’s A Gas” is another favorite off the album. The song title is pretty funny but the lyrics are wonderful. Once again, Bolan seems to have written a poem: “I could have loved you girl/Like a planet/I could have chained your heart”. Just brilliant. The album ends with the hilarious “Rip Off”.   Bolan sounds frustrated in this song as he sings about how he can’t do the things he wants to do. My personal favorite lyric: “Rocking in the nude/I’m feeling such a dude/It’s a rip off”. The song and album end with a fitting saxophone solo.
Electric Warrior was T. Rex’s most successful album at that time. It charted at #1 in the UK and #32 in the US. In the US, “Get It On” was able to peak at #10 in the Billboard charts. In the UK, the band had become even bigger. “Get It On” had reached #1 and “Jeepster” reached #2. The band was selling out concerts and thousands of teenage girls had pictures of Marc Bolan hung up in their bedrooms. The follow-up album, The Slider, was also a hit as it charted at #4 in the UK and #17 in the US when released in 1972. The new presses had not seen this much hype over a band since the days of the Beatles and Beatlemania. The papers called it “T-Rextasy”. In 1972, Ringo Starr directed a concert film of the band. The movie, Born to Boogie, received mixed reviews from critics but does give a glimpse at what T. Rex was all about in the 1970’s. T. Rex’s 1973 album Tanx was another hit album but was a disappointment to some critics. Some believe that it was in 1973 when the band lost their sizzle. Bolan tried expanding the band’s line-up with another guitarist (Jack Green) and some back-up singers, such as Gloria Jones. In late 1973, Bill Legend and Jack Green left the band. Bolan kept T. Rex going with new members and albums, even when Mickey Finn and Steve Currie had left. Meanwhile, Bolan and Jones had begun a serious relationship. In 1975, Jones gave birth to Bolan’s son, Rolan.
In March 1977, Bolan and T. Rex (which now consisted of session musicians) released an album called Dandy In The Underworld. The album was a sort of comeback for both the band and Bolan. Bolan even got his own TV show in the UK, which only lasted for a few shows. Things were looking great for Bolan but unfortunately, it ended there: On September 16, 1977 Marc Bolan was killed in a car accident at the age of 29. He and Jones had been driving back from a party. Jones was driving the car and had crashed it into a tree. Tributes poured out in the papers and the music world mourned the loss of Bolan. Over the years, other members of the band have passed away: Steve Peregrine-Took, Steve Currie, Mickey Finn, and keyboardist Dino Dines. Despite his untimely death, Bolan’s music with T. Rex continues to live on in re-releases and even movies. Today, Bill Legend is the sole surviving member of the classic T. Rex line-up. He currently lives in the United States and continues to perform. Meanwhile Marc’s son, Rolan Bolan, has become a musician just like his father. Rolan had a major part in the DVD release of the long lost Born to Boogie movie in 2005.
Electric Warrior is simply one of the greatest albums ever made. It’s also one of my favorites. I have it ranked at #39 in my top albums list. It’s just a really great album that possibly could’ve been a blueprint for glam rock, which would also be made famous by Bolan’s buddy David Bowie. Electric Warrior is an example of good music. The reason why people and things, such as the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, choose to snub Marc Bolan and T. Rex is a mystery to me. It’s timeless music.

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