How Marc Bolan plugged in T.Rex and invented glam rock
Much of the talk of the music world today has been largely about Nirvana’s Nevermind, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory and Blood Sugar Sex Magick by the Red Hot Chili Peppers all being released on the same day 30 years ago.
But as Tony Visconti reminded me on his public Facebook page, September 24th also marks the 50th anniversary of one of his crowning achievements as a producer: Electric Warrior by T.Rex, the Genesis of glam rock.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
“It is the 50th anniversary of the T. Rex album Electric Warrior,” Visconti wrote. “The band was on tour in America when we heard we had a massive hit with Hot Love and were told to make an album quickly. We recorded in three cities and four studios to make this happen. I think it still sounds as fresh and bold as ever. Marc Bolan found his Pop muse and we had some great times over the next few years.”
Unlike Bob Dylan in ’65 at Newport, the English folk duo of singer/guitarist Marc Bolan and percussionist Mickey Finn plugging in and going electric was met with mainstream success and critical accolades. From The Jam to the New York Dolls to the Bay City Rollers to Rocky Horror to Ziggy Stardust himself, none of it would have sounded the way it all does through the spyglass of time. The addition of the late Steve Currie on bass guitar (and who died far too soon in 1981 at only 33) and drummer Bill Legend gave songs like “Mambo Sun,” “Jeepster” and the album’s smash hit “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” such a groove that regardless of where Mickey went on the bongos or Bolan on his modified Gibson Les Paul standard they were always able to keep them earthbound.
VIDEO: T.Rex “Bang A Gong (Get It On)”
“It’s probably the loosest album I’ve ever recorded,” Bolan told legendary British rock journalist Keith Altham in a 1971 interview for Record Mirror. “Because it was done between gigs in America and I was essentially concerned with putting down rough tracks to establish a sound but they felt so good that we kept them after for the finished track. It’s a highly communicable album and that is the name of the game as far as I’m concerned.”
Electric Warrior also revealed the full spectrum of Bolan’s genius on the electric guitar. “Lean Woman Blues,” for instance, takes a “Thin Wild Mercury” approach to British blues rock and winds up mopping the floor with Eric Clapton once he peels off a slow burning solo in the song’s second half. Of course, there’s no denying his mastery at riffs with the album’s biggest hits. But don’t overlook deeper cuts like “The Motivator” and the ramshackle “Rip Off,” which finds Bolan going toe to toe with King Crimson saxophone colossus Ian MacDonald.
“I think Electric Warrior, for me, is the first album which is a statement of 1971 for us in England,” Bolan told Altham in that famed Record Mirror interview, which was included in the essential expanded edition of Electric Warrior on Rhino. “If anyone ever wanted to know why we were big in the other part of the world, that album says it, for me.”
This is one of my absolute favorite albums from this era of English rock, right up there with Hunky Dory, Sticky Fingers, All Things Must Pass, Meddle and Ram. Actually, Electric Warrior might very well be better than all of them put together…
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