Written by: Young Coconut
Let me just start out by saying that I fucking love Marc Bolan, otherwise known as Tyrannosaurus Rex, AKA (and perhaps best known as) …T-Rex!
Who Is Marc Bolan?
For those who aren’t familiar, Marc Bolan (né Marc Feld) is a rock ‘n’ roll and glam rock god from England who, for a time in the early ’70’s, was the biggest thing going. For a time, he was even bigger than the late great Ziggy Stardust, AKA David Bowie. As T-Rex, Marc released 9 proper studio albums, with 4 other more folksy records as Tyrannosaurus Rex (which came before T-Rex), and one self-titled T-Rex album which bridged the gab between his folk and rock efforts. He also has countless other compilations, stripped down affairs, and demo discs available as well. One of my prized possessions I used to have on my wall was an old tattered poster similar to the picture below.
Personally, I’ve been listening to this guy’s music for a couple of decades now and my appreciation is still going strong. T-Rex music is of the sort that when the mood strikes, it always sounds perfect to me. Some music gets dated very quickly, while some mysteriously stands the test of time. T-Rex, I find, always sounds fresh to my ears. This is partly why, I’d say, that out of all the rockers, I like Marc Bolan the best – there I said it. He had such panache both musically and stylistically, he was (and still is) a force to be reckoned with.
Choosing your favorite rocker is never a decision that one should ever have to make, but, if I had to choose one, I don’t think I could go wrong with Marc. As great as many bands and artists undoubtedly are, I will always hold a special place in my heart for the music of Marc Bolan and T-Rex. Sometimes I wonder, why do I like Marc’s music so much? Why am I still experiencing “T-Rextasy” (the equivalent of Beatlemania for T-Rex fans) a few generations later in 2017? It is video footage like this one of “Buick Mackane” live (below) that always give me a little reminder of the magic that is Marc Bolan and T-Rex.
I must confess, I wasn’t at first blown away when I heard T-Rex music. Besides hearing “Bang A Gong” on the radio for my entire youth and not really thinking twice about who wrote it, I think I first heard T-Rex when I had the inclination to pick up a “best of” album back when I was 21 years old and living with 3 of my university pals in a duplex. I came to Marc’s music late, not just in terms of when he was popular (or even alive), but relative to my own age at the time.
Around this time in my musical appreciation, I was discovering a lot of new music including many of my now-favorite bands, such as Big Star, and The Velvet Underground to name just a couple. Basically I was getting into the type of bands that I think you kind of have to dig past the mainstream to discover, unless you have cool parents or an older sibling that listened to Lou Reed records. I did not.
So, me and my friends were avid fans of all types of music and always turning each other on to new music all the time. Plus, all my roommates were college radio DJ’s, and so we also had access to the local college radio station’s collection of old records as well when it came to investigating a previously unheard artist.
At our apartment, we used to play music down in our basement, which doubled as our jam hall for our band guard! and was partially flooded and rather musty most of the time. Little tiny toads used to hop around down there by the baseboards (as chronicled in our song, “Sabrina”), but it was still a pretty chill crib and we’d blast music down there for our own enjoyment, sometimes pissing off the neighbours on the other side of the paper thin walls that separated our two units. The toads looked a lot like this…
That said, no one at the time was too keen on glam rock, and T-Rex was not on anyone’s radar…except mine. But, like I said, the T-Rex “best of” that I got a hold of did not float my boat. I’m not sure why, but in retrospect I think it (the compilation) was actually not very well put together. Almost like bootleg quality, and just had a weird track listing that didn’t appeal to me, choosing to highlight Marc’s later and cheesier output. I listened to it once, and then just assumed T-Rex wasn’t my thing. My roommates concurred that glam rock (of which Marc was king) wasn’t that cool, being more into obscure college / indie rock bands. Glam rock was closer to stadium rock, and no one thought that was cool at the time.
But something about T-Rex must have grabbed me, because soon after, I was rooting through the used compact discs at our local record shop, when I came across this B-sides compilation by Marc Bolan and T-Rex called Messing With The Mystic.
This was around the time when I was still making mix tapes on actual cassettes, and I recall making a copy of the album on tape to play in my grandpa’s old Mercury Topaz which I inherited and would play my tapes in. I went to the beach that summer and listened to Messing With The Mystic a lot, and really got into it. Maybe it was the positive associations of all the babes at the beach that summer, or just the smell of the breeze while I was cranking the tunes – who can say?
Messin With The Mystic
The thing I really like about the Messing With The Mystic is how it highlights a few different sides of Marc Bolan, including his more acoustic side, his rock ‘n roll side, but also his more experimental side. Obviously this was released posthumously, so its not something that Marc might have approved of, but hey – it got released. Messing With The Mystic acts as a true retrospective for Marc, but using mainly demos and outtakes from various points during his career. I felt like I was really getting a behind-the-scenes look at a very creative person’s thought process, and it had a big impact on me.
Looking back at the track list for this album, more than half of these songs are some of my absolute favorites of Marc’s, despite being demo quality, or alternate takes. Have a listen!
A Lifelong T-Rex Fan Is Born
Some of the first songs I learned to cover on guitar are from this album, including Over The Flats and Mr. Motion, and there’s a version of (By The Light Of A) Magical Moon on here that I never found anywhere else, and its my favorite – so funky. In addition, Is It True? is probably what first grabbed me, being such a stripped down and melancholy little ditty with a very cassette recording vibe to it.
I could really just keep listing off virtues of this album…ok, why not? Hope You Enjoy The Show is amazing because it just lopes along in a shambolic groove (I love shambolic grooves) and refuses to stop, and has some wicked raw vocals in it. Saturday Night is another one of those songs that I smile every time I hear it (also has a shambolic groove). Its just so over the top and somehow hilarious I almost have to laugh when I hear it – just the combination of the zany lyrics combined with Marc’s passion for singing such off-the-wall stuff, with the band rocking out in kind of a sleazy way. Bolan’s Zip Gun (Theme For A Dragon) is maybe my favorite T-Rex song of all. The album version of this song actually has no vocals, which I think is pretty criminal, because the vocals make the song for me.
Anyway, I could write a whole thing on Messing With The Mystic by itself, because I love it so much. It just seems to inadvertently capture everything I love about T-Rex, and its basically just a weird-ass album that someone felt it necessary to put together for some unknown reason. Well, thanks to whoever thought it necessary compile that one! Maybe they knew what they were doing, after all…
So after listening the shit out of that album, I was officially a fanboy – primed and ready for more T-Rex…
T-Rex – The Slider
I think the next one I picked up was The Slider, which was a good choice because its an epic album with tons of crazy-ass songs on it that caught my attention immediately. The cover, also, is really cool and odd. At first, I thought he was wearing a large cooking pot on his head, but it turns out it was just a giant hat that a wizard might wear.
The Slider definitely continued to nurture my growing T-Rex fandom, showing me for the first time what Marc was capable of in terms of creating an album that basically has everything I want to hear in one package. Of course, everyone knew that already (for decades), but I had started out getting into an outtakes album, so I didn’t necessarily expect love the The Slider as much as I did. I thought maybe it would be too “mainstream” and dull. Boy, was I wrong.
I generally dislike generic sounding music (which is in no short supply these days), but originality was never an issue with Marc Bolan. I loved pretty much everything about T-Rex’s The Slider from the moment I heard it. Things that caught me right away were how great the rhythm section was (tight / loose / groovy), and also how wonderfully weird his lyrics are. And I especially love how Marc really gets into his lyrics. Marc sort of embodies his lyrics more than your average rocker – he just seems to sing about things that no one else would ever think to say. There’s something also comical about Marc’s lyrics, but not so much like he’s joking – he’s just very whimsical when he writes, like Dr. Seuss or J.R.R. Tolkien. He takes you to another land, that’s for sure…
The opening salvo on The Slider – Metal Guru, Mystic Lady, and Rock On, are pretty undeniable, but I think when I first heard that opening drum fill on The Slider – that’s it, I was sold. I think he stole a neat trick from Os Mutantes by using a spray can as a percussive instrument. A song like Buick Mackane, when I first heard it, I was just like “Who writes a song like this?” I get a kick out of the title on its own, not to mention the song itself. Telegram Sam, which I was already familiar with from hearing it on the radio, finally made perfect sense to my ears and sounded great. I’m a huge fan of Rabbit Fighter because of its weirdness and I have put it on many a mix tape, not to mention Baby Strange which is an all time classic of his. I’ll also mention Chariot Choogle as being a personal fav because its heaviness and groove. The whole album just kicks ass, would you agree?
Buying Up The Catalog – Electric Warrior, Unchained, etc.
After The Slider, I picked up Electric Warrior, and at the same time I started getting into Marc’s Unchained series, which is a largely acoustic affair of rough demos. That said, when Marc records a demo, it always has its own special value, and that’s why I appreciate this album series so much.
The Unchained series offers a fascinating glimpse into Marc’s creative process. As a songwriter, this is invaluable to me. But also, the songs themselves are usually quite enjoyable. I think I managed to get a hold of all of them (the Unchained volumes) eventually, and it really helped me to appreciate T-Rex’s rock side even more as it is a very stark contrast.
I would be remiss to simply gloss over T-Rex’s Electric Warrior, which was Marc’s first big splash as a glam rocker, but to me that album is just the one that everyone seems to have and there’s not much more I can add about how awesome it is than has already been said.
Ah, heck, I may as well give my two cents on Electric Warrior. The thing I probably most appreciate about T-Rex, which is central to Electric Warrior in particular, is groove. From the moment Mambo Sun kicks off, you know you’re going to a groovy place. Even Jeepster, with its simple boom-bap rhythm, still have a great groove to it. Because of the lyrics, I always thought that a jeepster meant a vampire, but I think I read later that Marc was just referring to an actual jeep. I could make the same comment about all the songs on Electric Warrior – the groove is deep. Planet Queen is probably my favorite, with I think the best groove on the album, if I had to pick. This “groove” element is something that I think was kind of ignored on a lot of rock records over the years, usually in favor of sounding “heavier”, but of course, all the best bands have that feeling of movement. Marc managed to imbue this better sensation into music more effectively than most, I think.
Back to the subject of originality, here’s the very funky John Frusciante admitting that he nicked Marc’s lick from Rip-Off to use in Under The Bridge. If you ever wondering what the recipe for the RHCP’s success is, whatever it is, its definitely got a smidgeon or two of Marc Bolan in the mix!
Over the next couple of years, I slowly started buying up pretty much any T-Rex album I’d come across, such as Tanx, Futuristic Dragon, Zinc Alloy, and then Dandy In The Underworld.
At this point, I still hadn’t heard Tyrannosaurus Rex yet, and so I had no idea that Marc had yet another persona of medieval minstrel that was completely different and unique, and preceded all of the others to boot.
Dandy In The Underworld
I remember one time driving around Toronto and listening closely for the first time to Dandy In The Underworld. It was around Christmas time and I think I was heading to the mall to do some shopping, with Dandy cranked in the car as I absorbed it. It was around this time I was realizing that all T-Rex wasn’t created equal, and that latter-day T-Rex had a stigma among fans of being “not as good” as the earlier stuff. That said, I’ve always been a big fan of Dandy In The Underworld. I think it just proves how much staying power Marc actually had, before his untimely death.
In fact, Dandy is such a good album that I definitely would say I enjoy it at least as much as Electric Warrior. I think the rhythms are tighter and often funkier, with that disco influence being fairly evident. I’m A Fool For You Girl is still one of my Top 5 T-Rex tracks, and I’d have to include Universe in there too. For a while I couldn’t get enough of Teen Riot Structure, even though its a really weird song and its kind of repetitive. You could also hear Marc’s voice had changed by this point, I think becoming even more of a unique instrument than it already was, which is why I think this album is somewhat underrated – he was still bringing in new elements to the songs. Had Marc not died, who knows what kind of music he would have made…
Obviously, I didn’t listen to any of Marc Bolan’s music in chronological order. For some reason, after listening to T-Rex for 5 years, I still wasn’t aware that he had several albums under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex, until my friend bought me Unicorn for my birthday one year.
I was quite taken aback that I had missed all of Marc’s seminal albums, so I went out and purchased all of his Tyrannosaurus Rex stuff – the first four albums, and then the first T-Rex album which was the bridge to his more electric work. To me, this was like finding out that Jackson Pollack had a secret stash of surrealistic portraits, that were equally as good in their own way to his splatter paintings. It was confusing to hear this “new” sound (actually his “old” sound), but it slowly grew on me. I should really give full credit to Steve Took here, who was such a big part of that early sound.
I would have to say that Marc’s songs with Steve struck me as even more unusual than the later T-Rex stuff. Tyrannosaurus Rex took some getting used to, just because it actually sounded music from a different century, but eventually I could see Marc’s genius at work here as well. There are plenty of songs I could list off as being great. Woodland Bop? Dwarvish Trumpet Blues? Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart? The style of music here is so different, I needed to change my whole head around to even gauge it properly. I think the first song I really got into was Chariots of Silk, which kicks off the album Unicorn.
10 Years Pass…Discovery of John’s Children
After about 10 years, I thought I had finally gotten a grasp of everything that Marc Bolan had done musically. Between Tyrannosaurus Rex and T-Rex, I figured there couldn’t be much else, since both of those acts were both so unique and experimental. In my 30’s, once the Internet was in full swing, I became aware of John’s Children, which pre-dates both of Marc’s major projects.
I ended up finding a copy of the Legendary Orgasm Album / Smashed Blocked compilation album which had both the album Orgasm along with some extras songs, such as Desdemona and a few others. It took a while to figure out that Marc had briefly joined the group as their new guitarist and then left after a few months, although he did contribute some material to the band and go on tour with them in ’67. Here’s that Orgasm album, although I don’t think Marc had anything to do with these songs…still, its a great pioneering psychedelic album, so check it out!
My musical journey of listening to Marc’s music over the years seemed to start at the end, and voyage back to the very beginning. Now, in 2017, I can see very clearly why Marc’s music has always drawn me to it. There are different types of musicians. Some treat music as merely a passing fancy, or as a way to get other things out of life – money, women, etc. The usual stuff. And then there are musicians who literally represent a creative force in the universe, and while they might encounter the same trappings as other more typical artists, they can’t help but encompass so much more, because they are so creative, it just bursts through the seams and is painfully obvious that music for them is life itself.
Even to this day I’m still learning new things about Marc Bolan’s music, and I hope that as I grow older (and presumably wiser), I will continue to overturn stones and discover something new. In any case, long live Marc Bolan and T-Rex!