Today marks the birthday of the late Marc Bolan, glam child who took that rock genre and amped it up several notches with his main musical ensemble, T-Rex.
The British-born Bolan fused together the sounds of the early Elvis-Sun-Records era coupled with some Chuck Berry and Gene Vincent, and electrified up with glam arrangements to become one of the genre’s forerunners. He had spectacular success in England during the early 1970s on par with The Beatles, in fact, even being immortalized on film about the whole escapade in the motion picture Born to Boogie directed by none other than the drummer for The Beatles, Ringo Starr.
With his wild, curly, large Adonis-style long hair, glitter affixed to his face, and a kind of star spangled multicolored fashion sense alongside the great rock and roll on amphetamines sounds, Bolan and T-Rex became a sensation in what seemed like overnight. In truth, Bolan had been kicking around in musical groups for a while prior to the success of T-Rex, some much quieter and more baroque sounding, almost like pagan style sounds which was the norm during that British folk rock era which was during the windup of the 1960s. With songs like the jaunty, fried blues “Jeepster,” the dreamy “Ride A White Swan,” “Telegram Sam,” the chrome fetishistic “Metal Guru,” and the grooving on a neon stick “Get it On (Bang a Gong), Marc Bolan and T-Rex were the most popular band in England by far, untouchable really during their heyday. Many of the aforementioned songs were number one smashes in England for Bolan and T-Rex when first released, and the band enjoyed success in America as well, although more limited than the frenzy of T-Rexmania on the other side of the pond. “Bang a Gong” became a hit, but Bolan remained, and still remains, more of a cult figure here stateside.
The success of T-Rex had as much to do with Marc Bolan than anyone else in the group. His vocals, kind of trebly sometimes, quavering high and then sometimes getting rather gritty low, already set the tone of the music upon first listening of it. Bolan sported much range and versatility in the sounds he mustered up from his guitar, which he played masterfully; he could hold his own with some of the best guitarists, in terms of rhythm, arrangement of songs, and lead playing. His spacey production direction, more grounded than fellow Glam cohort David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust rendition and also produced for the most part by legendary producer Tony Visconti, gave just the right attitude and gruff style to the songs. Albums like Electric Warrior, The Slider, and T. Rex remain as first rate sonic recordings which are equal parts boogie, spacey arrangements, boot through glass monster riffs, and extra terrestrial-manifested vocal passages.
Bolan continued on but the success train that went dazzlingly out of control during T-Rex’s wild success started to slow down a bit, more and more with each subsequent release Bolan put out after The Slider. He juggled T-Rex lineups and tried to desperately find a stable musical direction. He coasted through the mid-1970s still releasing albums very much in the T-Rex vein, but most audiences shrugged their musical shoulders, deducing that maybe Bolan was a one-trick glam pony.
By 1977 however, his fortunes turned around as the burgeoning punk movement in England, which was starting to reach its peaks, was instrumental in rejuvenating Bolan’s career, citing him and T-Rex as an influence on their current sounds. The Damned in particular were a catalyst which helped spearhead the return of Marc Bolan and T-Rex to some sort of prominence, as they opened for him on his tour during 1977, thus exposing Bolan to the new, safety-pinned, mohawked, black leather punk crowd that was becoming its own genre as the year progressed. He also had gotten a television deal to do a sort of musical program in his native England, in which known and unknown bands were showcased, as was Bolan’s music. He had grown rather paunchy during the low-end of his career, but here for the program, he looked as trim as he did when he sauntered around the stage growling how he was the “20th Century Boy,” looking positively ebullient and magnetic, as much as the music was.
The light of all this newfound success was snuffed when Bolan died of injuries sustained in a car accident on September 16, 1977. This year marks the 30th anniversary of that tragic moment. One of the ironies of the accident was that Bolan had an aversion to driving cars. Bolan was only 29, just two weeks shy of his 30th birthday, when the accident occurred.
35 years after his death, Marc Bolan continues on in his recordings, in which he and T-Rex remain vivid and sonically fresh, a rock out with your cock out style seen only in the likes of Iggy Pop and his Stooges, David Bowie, and Lou Reed. Pretty good company to be in indeed. So here’s to remembering Marc Bolan today on his birthday, musical showman, creative force of nature, charismatic once-in-a-lifetime vibe. Get it on. Bang a gong.
Marc Bolan September 30, 1947 – September 16, 1977