Saturday, 6 April 2013

Bolan's Best

Born Mark Feld in 1947, he was expelled from school at the age of 15, and promptly signed up to a modelling agency and was soon featured in a magazine phot-article about the Mod movement.
He changed his stage name to Toby Tyler and made his first studio recordings (Bob Dylan's "Blowin In The Wind" and Betty Everett's "You're No Good").
Toby Tyler didn't set the world on fire, but Mark Feld wasn't beaten yet.
Changing his name to Marc Bolan (belived to be a contraction of BOb dyLAN), he turned up on the doorstep of Simon Napier-Bell in 1965 and declared that he was giong to be a star, he just needed a bit of help with the arrrangements.
Napier-Bell managed both The Yardbirds and John's Children - there were no vacancies in The Yardbirds, so Marc joined Johns Children.  Thier third single, and the first written by Marc Bolan, was "Desdemona" which was promptly banned by the BBC due to the lyric "lift up your skirt and fly" (quite shocking, and obviously a threat to the establishment , in 1967).
Bolan left John's Children to seek success on his own, and formed Tyrannosaurus Rex with drummer/bongo player Steve Pergrine Took.  The music performed was a hippy-dippy coalescence of neo-romantic songs, influences from psychadelic and folk music, wizards, demons and The Lord of The Rings. 

Tyrannosaurus Rex released four albums in 2 years, one of which was listed in the Guiness Book of British Hit Albums as "Longest Title for a Number One album" (albiet when it was re-issued in 1972).  The albums were:
'My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows'
'Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages'
'A Beard of Stars'

Certainly, the first two albums comply with my previous description, but the last two were moving away from the acoustic sound into a more electric based direction (more Chuck Berry, less J R R Tolkien).

The story goes that producer Ton Visconti would abbreviate the band's name in his diary when he was scheduled to work with them, and Marc Bolan adopted the re-naming.
The first fruits of the shoter named band were released in October 1970.  The single "Ride A White Swan" climbing to Number 2 in the charts, followed in December by the album 'T.Rex'.
The next single "Hot Love" was released in February 1971, got to number one and stayed there for 6 weeks.  A performance on Top Of The Pops with glitter on his cheeks is said by many to be the beginnings of Glam Rock.
Marc Bolan was now the star he said he was.  But there was more to come.  A further 3 number 1 singles (it could've been four, but for Benny Hill in 1971) and 6 more Top 10 singles until "Truck (on Tyke)" stalled at number 12 in late 1973.

The next album was released in late 1971. 'Electric Warrior' is generally accepted to be the bands master-work, and I do not disagree with that stance - ranging from the whistfulness of "Cosmic Dancer", the electrictiy of "Monolith", the ambiguity of "Life's A Gas" (a celbratory song done in a minor key (it's the minor key that gives over the ambiguity) to the power, almost proto-punkiness of "Rip Off".  The album also contains the pervious number 1 single "Get It On" and  the soon to be number 2 single "Jeepster".
In late 1971, Marc Bolan moved from Fly Records to EMI,  Fly's response was to release "Jeepster" as a single, and to assemble a compation album 'Bolan Boogie' (a collection of singles, B-Sides and a couple of earlier album tracks) which swiftly went to number 1.

On EMI, T.Rex had their own label (The T.Rex Wax Company - although this label was only truly used on "Telegram Sam", all future singles and albums were released through EMI, but the singles were in a T.Rex branded sleeve).

T.Rex released an album a year from 1972, starting with 'The Slider', which although stopping at number 4 in the UK, was his best selling album in America.
An album containing both "Telgram Sam" and "Metal Guru" can hardly be considered a failure - this is the sound of a band at the absolute peak of their popularity.

'Tanx' in 1973 was probably the last great T.Rex album, but listening to it again recently you can hear that the cracks are beginning to show.  The album picks up where 'The Slider' left off, and for at least half the album could be considered as 'The Slider Part 2'.  Songs like "Shock Rock", "Country Honey" and "Mad Donna" show that 1972-vintage T.Rex is still alive in 1973.  Conversely, songs like "Electric Slim and the Factory Hen", "The Street and Babe Shadow" and "Highway Knees" need a tad more quality control applied.

'Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow' from 1974 is a proper Curates Egg of an album - when it's good it's very good ("Venus Loon", "Interstellar Soul", "Teenage Dream"), but when it was bad ... ("Painless Persuassion vs The Meat Hawk Immaculator", "The Leopards Featuring Gardenia and the Mighty Slug")

'Bolan's Zip Gun' (1975) as sometimes spoken as "the album of lost interest", but to these ears theres some good stuff here, if slighly under-performed ("Think Zinc", "Till Dawn", "I Really Love You Babe")

'Futuristic Dragon' from 1976 is a funny album - it's not an immediate attention grabber, and could easily be discarded after first listening.  But, the production on the album, the little musical instrumental embellishments here and there, and (most importantly) the strenth of the songs make this the best (if not equally as good) T.Rex album since "Tanx".  Sadly, it pretty much sunk without trace when released in early 1976, despite containing "New York City" his first Top 20 single for 18 months.  Shame really, because songs like "Chrome Sitar", Calling All Destroyers" and "Sensation Boulevard" are some of the best contributions to the Marc Bolan songbook

'Futuristic Dragon' appeared to give Marc Bolan the proverbial "kick up the backside" - he'd rediscovered his love of music, the insecurities and cocaine dependency were now banished, and he was out on tour with The Damned in a sort of "Godfather Of Punk" type way.

In the light of this new-found/restored adulation, 1977's 'Dandy in the Underworld' is perhaps his most cohesive work since the high popularity of 1972.  The pre-album single "I Love To Boogie" had once again gone into the Top 20.
Tracks like "Groove a Little",  "Teen Riot Structure", "The Soul of My Suit" and "Dandy in the Underworld" carried a sound of happiness, joy and urgency to work hard and deliver the goods.

One further single "Celebrate Summer" was released in August 1977, and the future looked to be bright for the once fallen star.

On 16 September 1977, two weeks before his 30th birthday, the car driven by his girlfriend Gloria Jones left the road on Barnes Common and struck a tree.  Marc Bolan was killed instantly.
It will never be known if 'Dandy In The Underworld' was an actual re-birth of Marc Bolan, and no-one would ever get to hear what might come next.
In the musical history of the 1970s, Marc Bolan is often forgotten, or added as an afterthought, when up against artists such as Roxy Music, Slade, Gary Glitter (am I allowed to say that name?), Sweet, Elton John and the chameleonic David Bowie (his one time Mod Mate from London, who appeared with him on his last TV appearance (recorded 7 Sptember, shown 28 September).
Considering his recorded legacy and his ongoing his influence (belived to be artists as diverse as Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Goldfrapp, Placebo, Slash, Bauhaus, Billy Idol, The Polecats and SLF guitarist Henry Cluney.

In summary (and to comply with the title of this post) ...
Bolan's Best - A Rigid Digit Top 5 Recommendation List:
  1. Electric Warrior
  2. Futuristic Dragon
  3. The Slider
  4. Tanx
  5. Bolan Boogie
from 'Electric Warrior' - "Rip Off"

from 'Futuristic Dragon' - "Calling All Destroyers"

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