T. Rex, Baby. 

A love song to the immortal Marc Bolan, and critical guide to the new T. Rex reissues

Wednesday, Feb 15 2006

For the curious or devoted, the concert-plus-druggy-vignettes film, T. Rex: Born to Boogie, was released last year on DVD (Sanctuary Classics). “Directed” by Ringo Starr in ‘72, it is, unfortunately, pretty awful. The accompanying documentary about the making of the film, hosted by Bolan’s son Rolan, though, is quite interesting.

Marc Bolan was a glam-rock god. A thunderbolt master, a ’lectronic savior, a gold galactic raver. A choogling boogie-man, a bubblegum busker, a star-stung songster who delivered tight, blistering pop masterpieces like “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” “Hot Love” and “20th Century Boy” in an era lousy with 12-minute songs by denim-wearing, shoes-optional bands like Zeppelin, ELP, Yes and, I don’t know, Uriah Heep or something.

U2’s Bono once said he decided to be a rock star after seeing Bolan, covered in sprayed-on fake sweat and glitter, come out on a British pop TV show with his band T. Rex and lip-synch “Solid Gold Easy Action.” Now, whether or not you like U2 is beside the point, which is this: Marc Bolan makes you feel rock & roll. You want to put on eyeliner and your tightest pants and your bitchinest jacket and go struttin’ up the block, and when the girls start their whistling, you just wave and go into your two-step and hustle on down to the Mexican bakery where they sell Quaaludes under the counter.

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Marc Bolan was the type of rock star they simply don’t churn out anymore: a guy who’s gonna bust out young, savage and handsome, looking like something you ain’t never seen. He’s gonna yawp and dance and blast endlessly durable, instantly memorable tunes from his guitar while wearing lots of makeup and inspired/ridiculous clothes and platform shoes up to here. He’s gonna make some faultless albums, cause mass hysteria, spark a mini-revolution in rock, get all drunk on drink, drugs and ego, make some pretty lousy albums, bloat up real good on booze and bacon and chicken, slowly start to look like Sigourney Weaver, then kinda get it together again, threaten a full return to form, host a children’s TV show, then die in a car crash two weeks before he would’ve turned 30.

For those of us who were too young or not born enough or simply too American to experience T. Rex on the first go-round, getting our hands on the music has historically been pretty frustrating. Loads of cheap and shameful compilations on countless bargain labels you’ve never heard of have made the T. Rex catalog blurry and elusive. The last couple years, however, have brought a happy change with the gradual domestic re-release of the T. Rex albums in proper, semi-deluxe editions: lyrics, decent liner notes, lots of bonus tracks and, in most cases, a bonus disc of alternate takes. (All the reissues covered here are on Rhino Records, except for T. Rex, which is an import on A&M/Universal.) Rhino has also produced a singles set (The T. Rex Wax Co. Singles A’s and B’s 1972–77, a most hot buy for new fans) and a demos collection (Work in Progress, needless to almost everyone but nutjobs).

Here, then, is a little breakdown of the Groover’s oeuvre, if you will. Buckle up, put a black cat on your shoulder, wear a tall hat like the druids in the old days, and grow your hair long, baby, can’t go wrong.

It’s T. Rex, people!

?T. REX (1970)

Okay, so this is the first T. Rex record, and it’s got a lot of the Tolkienesque acoustic-’n’-bongos, let’s-talk-about-elves-with-my-goat-bleat vocals that made T. Rex forerunner Tyrannosaurus Rex’s albums worth only a passing once-over or perhaps a sad, lingering smile. That said, T. Rex’s got splashes of the electric boogaloo and flash songwriting that were soon to thrill starry-eyed kids for real. I mean, he’s still riding his zebra with a “pterodactyl beak hat” on his brow and all that kind of business, and oh sure, he’s gonna spend nearly nine minutes wailing about “The Wizard,” but the rock-to-come is evidenced on songs like “Jewel” and “Beltane Walk.” He nails it with “Ride a White Swan,” his first U.K. hit, included here as a bonus track, a relentlessly infectious clap-along that triggered his move into the optimistic future of glam stardom.

?ELECTRIC WARRIOR(1971) ?This album is effin’ rad. You can just tell by the cover.I remember as a kid looking at my dad’s old records and finding this one and just sitting on the floor and holding it and thinking “ . . . wow.” A man-god with his ax and amp, glowing gold and magical against a stark black void — the image fills one with rock & roll desire. And the music inside, too, seems to have that same halo radiating around it. From the seductive, loitering groove of opener “Mambo Sun” to the mind-losing freakout of closer “Rip Off,” there is something magic, something special about Electric Warrior. There’s a cockiness to the proceedings, a boastful, joyful strut that marries ’50s boogie and futuristic woogie on classics like “Bang a Gong” and “Jeepster.” Yet Bolan’s signature descending guitar lines, duke-of-earl chord progressions, wistful lyrics and breathy, vampiric vocals create an emotional explosion of beautiful, gentle melancholia. It somehow embodies rock & roll as a romantic concept. Plus, it totally rocks. Bonus tracks include “Hot Love,” “Raw Ramp” and other essential sides.

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