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T. Rex (band)

From Academic Kids

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This article is about the rock group T. Rex. For the dinosaur, see Tyrannosaurus rex.

Before finding teenybopper adulation as a 1970s glam rock pop group T. Rex began life as Tyrannosaurus Rex, darlings of the hippy/lighter weight end of the UK Underground scene in 1960s London. The band was founded by Marc Bolan in 1967 and gave one performance as a five-piece rock band at The Roundhouse before immediately breaking up in disarray. Bolan retained the services of percussionist Steve Peregrin Took, and the duo began producing eccentric pastoral and folk-tinged ditties steeped in Tolkienian mythology, with spiritual homages to Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran thrown into the whimsical mix for good measure.

The combination of Bolan's guitar and cat-like wail with Steve Took's bongos and assorted percussion (often including such children's instruments as the Pixiephone) gained them a devoted following on a thriving underground scene that included the Incredible String Band. Disc jockey John Peel befriended the band and ferried them to and from gigs in his mini; he later appeared on record with them, reading stories written by Bolan. Another key pairing was with producer Tony Visconti, who went on to produce all of their albums well into their second phase.

Contents

Tyrannosaurus Rex

The reverse cover of Unicorn follows a convention begun by Bob Dylan with Bringing It All Back Home: the pair are pictured lurking in a Bayswater flat surrounded by their influences – LPs, books and objets d'art. These range from the modish to the obscure – Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, The Bible, works of William Blake, a Muddy Waters LP, tabla drums and toy cymbals, etc. The photo sums up Bolan's earnest playfulness and the duo's position as both typical within their scene and a unique proposition, and the music on Unicorn, with its melancholic grandeur, marks the high water mark for pixie-rock.

By 1969 there was a clear rift between the two halves of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Bolan and his girlfriend June Child (ex-girlfriend of Syd Barrett) were living a quiet life, while Took had fully embraced the anti-commercial/community spirited/drug-taking ethos of the UK Underground scene centered around Ladbroke Grove. Took was also attracted to the most anarchistic elements such as Mick Farren/Deviants and members of the Pink Fairies Rock 'n' Roll and Drinking Club.

By now Took was writing his own songs and wanted the duo to perform them. Bolan refused. Probably the final straw for Bolan was when Took 'donated' two songs to Twink's Think Pink album and ignored warnings by the management to stop seeing members of the UK Underground.

Bolan sacked Took after Unicorn, prior to their first US tour, although Took was contractually obliged to go through with the tour. The tour was poorly promoted and planned, and because the acoustic duo were billed alongside loud electric acts (Took commented) later that the audience often didn't even notice they'd started -- so in an Iggy Pop manner he stripped to the waist and whipped himself.

Final Tyrannosaurus Rex Album

As soon as he returned to the UK Bolan replaced Took with bongo player Mickey Finn (his real name), who would remain with Bolan until 1975. They made A Beard of Stars, the final album under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex. Finn had no songwriting aspirations.

As well as progressively shorter titles, the albums began to show higher production values, more accessible songwriting from Bolan, and experimentation with electric guitars and a rock sound. The breakthrough was in "King of the Rumbling Spires" (recorded with Steve Took) which used a full rock band. This era also saw the publication of The Warlock of Love, a book of Bolan's poetry; derided by critics, it nevertheless became the best-selling poetry book of its time.

T.Rex

The next album, entitled simply T. Rex continued the process of simplification by shortening the name and completed the move to electric guitars. (Legend has it the Tony Visconti got fed up with writing the name out in full on studio chitties and tapes and began to abbreviate it. When Bolan first noticed he was furious, but later claimed it was his idea.) The sound was altogether poppier and the first single, Ride a White Swan, provided the first hit reaching #2 in the UK chart in late 1970.

Glam Rock is Born

"Ride a White Swan" was quickly followed by a second single, "Hot Love". A band was hastily formed and began to tour to increasing audiences, with teenage girls (teeny boppers) replacing the hippies of old. Chelita Secunda (wife of Tony Secunda, manager to The Move and for a brief period T.Rex) added two spots of glitter under Bolan's eyes before an appearance on Top of the Pops, and glam rock was born. It would sweep the United Kingdom and many parts of Europe during 1971/1972, producing acts of varying worth. (See: glam rock.)

The second T.Rex album, Electric Warrior, added bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend. Considered by many to be their best, it brought great success. Publicist BP Fallon coined the term "T.Rextasy" as a parallel to "Beatlemania," though it accurately described the atmosphere that quickly surrounded the band. A couple of years of regular chart success followed, with hit singles such as "Metal Guru" and "Telegram Sam" pouring off what came to resemble a production line.

Electric Warrior produced T.Rex' best-known song, "Get It On", which hit number one on the British charts, while becoming a Top Ten hit in the U.S., where the song was retitled "Bang A Gong (Get It On)" to avoid confusion with another song called "Get It On", also released in 1971, by the group Chase.

Disintegration and recovery

Original members of the band began to leave in 1973, alienated by Bolan's increasingly egotistical behaviour, which resulted in part from the absence of Bolan's regulating factor (wife June Bolan) from 1973 onwards when he began his relationship with Gloria Jones, the mother of Bolan's only child, Rolan Bolan (born September 1975). Finn left in the band in 1975, the second bongo player to be sacked by Bolan. Sadly, too much money, success, cocaine and brandy resulted in Bolan, always the fantasist with a Napoleon complex becoming more narcissistic and egotistical. His success made him isolated from the 'real world' and high UK Tax rates drove him and many other successful musicians into exile. No longer a vegetarian Bolan piled on the weight on a diet of hamburgers and alcohol (His 'Fat-Elvis phase'). Many of those who had suffered at the hands of his hard-nosed drive to become a Star took the opportunity for revenge and he was ridiculed in the Music Press.

By 1977 Bolan had hit rock bottom and much of his wealth had gone, but he had managed to lose some weight. In March 1977 he performed what would be his final tour, with the punk rock band The Damned as support.

In September 1977 he recorded six programmes for Granada Television to be screened during the Children's Tea-Time slot. Bolan looked fit, if perhaps a little too thin, and mimed through a number of old T.Rex songs with a group of disinterested session musicians. His links were exquisitely campy: One example was his introduction for the punk rock band Generation X -- after announcing that the lead singer was supposed to be as "pretty as me," he sniffed a carnation he had been delicately holding.

Death

Bolan was talking of getting back to his roots and performing with his two original partners Mickey Finn and Steve Took. This was not to be: a few minutes before 5:00 am on September 16, 1977, Bolan died when the car (a Mini) driven by Jones hit a tree in Barnes, South West London, less than a mile from his home in Richmond. Jones survived the crash and shortly afterward returned to her native America with Rolan.

Discography

As Tyrannosaurus Rex

Albums

My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair ... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (7/7/68) Best Chart Position: #15

Prophets, Seers and Sages, the Angels of the Ages (14/10/68)

  • Marc Bolan Vocals, guitar
  • Steve Peregrin Took bongos, African drums, kazoo, pixiephone, Chinese gong

Unicorn (18/5/69) Best Chart Position: #12

  • Marc Bolan Vocals, guitar
  • Steve Peregrin Took bongos, African drums, kazoo, pixiephone, Chinese gong

A Beard of Stars

  • Marc Bolan: vocals, guitar
  • Mickey Finn: percussion

Singles

  • "Debora" b/w "Child Star" (19/4/68) Best Chart Position: #34 ~ Weeks in Chart: 7
  • "One Inch Rock" b/w "Salamanda Palaganda" (23/8/68) Best Chart Position: #28 ~ Weeks in Chart: 7
  • "Pewter Suitor" b/w "Warlord of the Royal Crocodiles" (14/1/69)
  • "King of the Rumbling Spires" b/w "Do You Remember?" (25/7/69) Best Chart Position: #44 ~ Weeks in Chart: 1

As T. Rex

  • Notable posthumous releases include the reissue of the expanded The Beginning of Doves, in 2002 which is a very interesting collection of early songs and demos recorded in between John's Children and Tyrannosaurus Rex, and The Children of Rarn, demos for the sub-Tolkien concept album that Bolan and Visconti had been talking about for years as the project that would re-establish Bolan as a creative force to be reckoned with.

See also

Blackhill Enterprises (Peter Jenner and Andrew King)

Reference

"Mark Bolan: T.Rextasy" by Mark Paytress (MOJO, issue no. 138, May 2005)

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