What nonsense, this slagging of Marc Bolan!
Couldn’t you take the sentence “Honestly, the T. Rex catalog can be arguably defined as ‘Get it On (Bang a Gong)’ and 60 or so other tracks that are more or less ‘Son of Get It On (Bang a Gong)'” and substitute “Chuck Berry” for “T. Rex” and “Johnny B. Goode” for “Get It On (Bang A Gong)”? The only flaw in that is that Marc Bolan had more variety in his songs than Chuck Berry did.
I won’t argue that Bolan did mostly one thing. One overall thing to keep in mind is that he died at age 30. It’s an incomplete career that was actually over 4 years before his death when the cocaine and champagne stagnated him; he was only rounding back into shape months before the car crash.
Another overall thing to keep in mind is that the statement isn’t really true. He started out as Dylan folkie, then switched to the Incredible String Band-ish Tyrannosaurus Rex, then to T. Rex. With T. Rex, he had hit on the sound that made him a superstar (at least outside the US), and that’s what he wanted to be and he rode it.
Rode it like Eddie Arcaro! But, wait, that Eddie Arcaro, he was a one-trick pony (yes, I confess, I used Arcaro just so I could use that line), he really wasn’t that good, all he ever did was ride horses, never won the home run crown, never was NBA MVP.
Silly, huh? Arcaro was the greatest ever at what he did; you don’t criticize him for what he didn’t do. Likewise with Bolan. While he wasn’t the greatest at what he did, he was great. He wasn’t Chuck Berry (although he nicked a whole lot from Berry), and we don’t criticize Berry for writing the same song over and over.
Bolan realized before the punks, at a time when rock & roll was splintering into prog and metal and Laurel Canyon and all the rest, that rock & roll at its birth was about boys & girls & love & sex married to a great riff and that’s what he did. Yep, over and over, but it sure is a good formula, isn’t it?
He has never gotten the credit he deserves. Not for returning to the roots before The Ramones or the New York Dolls or punk ever did, not for paving the way for Bowie with glam (and later, Marc shifted into soul-influenced music due to his relationship with Gloria Jones of “Tainted Love” fame before Bowie as well), not for embracing “stardom” before Elton John. [Side note apropos of nothing: Marc, David, and Elton were all born in 1947.]
Here is a playlist, if not exactly a UK 14 track best of. No “Get It On,” no “Telegram Sam,” no “Jeepster.” You all know those anyway and that’s probably all you know. Be honest EPG, you couldn’t name 10 T. Rex songs, never mind 60.
I promise, I will make the time this weekend to try – once more – to like any more than the likely 3.5 T. Rex songs I have liked after all these years of trying. I’m thankful that a trusted friend with good taste has recommended these 10 songs. Before I get to listen to them, let me first give you a glimpse into my prejudiced brain, to help solidify so many of the things you point out as likely objections from us. Let’s call this a “pre-review.” I look forward to being proven wrong!
– These strike me as songs even “progressive” Donovan would have had the good sense to put aside…for Jon Anderson to fish them out of his rubbish bin.
– I’m hoping this is a cover, because that song is hard to mess up.
– This sounds dirty. I’ll wait until my Mom is not around to play this track.
– This sounds dirty, in a juvenile Kiss sort of way. I doubt I will like this song.
– This trio of songs promises to be really hokey, in a “What’s your sign, baby? I’m a Gemini” kind of way.
“Children Of The Revolution” (a non-album A-side)
“20th Century Boy” (a non-album A-side)
“The Groover” (a non-album A-side)
“Midnight” (B-side of “The Groover”)
– “Children of the Revolution” is the 0.5 T. Rex song I already like. The version by the Violent Femmes, on their third album, which I like better than the first two, is what made me pay attention. I sense I will vaguely remember the other songs and start thinking all those things you thought we would think. (For years, by the way, I complained that Chuck Berry’s songs were all the same.)
“The Street & Babe Shadow”
– Without even remembering that there was an album called Tanx, I would imagine this would be the beginning of my liking his music even less. “The Street & Babe Shadow” sounds like it’s going to be one of those 12-rate early Springsteen songs that Mink Deville specialized in.
“Solid Baby” and “Teen Riot Structure” sound promising, like a return to his one successful template!
Al, you may punch me in the arm next time we’re in the same place at the same time! More later, after I actually listen to this stuff.
Mr Mod, I would say “Listen without prejudice” but that ship may have sailed.
I will say that some of your comments may well e the same after you listen but that’s because if you go in with the preconceived notion, that is what you will find. On others, your notions are wrong (“The Street & Babe Shadow”).
And yet still I will value your opinion and trust that you will leave the door a little ajar even with those prejudices.
Hey Al, this whole thing comes off not unlike something my sister would have sent in to 16 Magazine, when she was still pining for Donny after everyone else her age moved on and left him and the rest of the Osmonds for something with a little more meat on the bone, like field hockey.
Not a whole lot of objectivity here. And I think the parallel with the Osmonds isn’t that much of a stretch, except for the fact that they took better care of their teeth.
EPG, you are forbidden to comment further until actually listening to at least several of these tracks. This thread was put together at your request and for you.
Al, my wife and I lined up as many of your picks as we could find on Spotify and listened to them today, during our daily rummy game. I don’t want to drag the lovely Mrs. into this, but neither of us heard anything that one could define as interesting. And just for the record, Chuck Berry is to T. Rex as the Beatles are to Brian Poole and the Tremeloes.
The idea that Bolan discovered that simplifying rock&roll and returning it to its roots before anyone else is silly. There was a plague of ‘return to the roots’ rock in the early 70s. I have three words for you — Sha Na Na. There’s also the Mod’s beloved Roy Wood. I had the misfortune to listen to a best-of by the third tier glam band Jet, and it was mostly lame Buddy Holly retreads.
Bolan’s main innovation was the focus on his pixieish image. That’s what sold him to the masses. To me his secret weapon was his singing style. That kind of fast but shallow vibrato is rarely heard, and I don’t know of any of the people who claim they were influenced by him picking up on that vocal style. Bolan’s weakness was lyrics. You’ve got the teeth of the hydra upon you” Puh-lease.
Btw the comparison to Eddie Arcaro must be a first for RTH. I have no idea who that is, and even after googling him I still have no idea who that is.
I never rally had much time for T-Rex, but about 15 years ago, I started hearing records that reminded me of T-Rex, and I really liked them. One of the first was “Nothin No” by David Vandervelde, which I really dug.
Another was “Bear” by the Frogs.
These sent me back to the shelf to retrieve a leftover vinyl copy of Electric Warrior, which Al excessed to me years ago. I’m not chasing down the catalog, but I’ve really come to enjoy most of the hits, particularly “Mambo Sun,” “Children of the Revolution,” and “20th Century Boy.” I also came to appreciate the weirdly artificial sounding Boogie grooves with the overlay of sweetening strings and Flo and Eddie dog whistle harmonies.
What BigSteve mentioned about Bolan’s vocals is interesting. I find it hard to place what it is about his voice, but I think both of the tunes I linked above had a similarity in the vocals even more than in the sound of the band or the production.
Al, well done, mate. I hear you and know where you’re coming from. T Rex, Gary Glitter, Slade, Sweet and Bowie, in that order, on Top of the Pops were what made life in early seventies Britain worthwhile when you weren’t even sure the power was going to stay on until the end of the show.
By the time The Groover came out, we pop kids saw the game was up. I remember the sense of disappointment, betrayal even, and knew we’d never get him back, not without having to forgive him first.
He was as important to me as the Grateful Dead are to their disciples, and from that alone stems my understanding that persuading EPG there’s anything here is as futile as asking me to listen to anything by them or Joni Mitchell. Whenever I don’t get music, I perceive it as my loss.
That’s a worthy fourteen, mine would be quite different while knowing listening to your list would give me nothing but pleasure.
Off the top of my head, without giving it much thought, I’d suggest the following ten to start with. Any random four from your list would make up the numbers.
King of the Rumbling Spires
She was Born to be my Unicorn
Desdemona (John’s Children)
The Misty Coasts of Albany
By the Light of a Magical Moon
Ride a White Swan
Life’s a Gas
20th Century Boy
As for the vocal style, legend has it he perfected it by playing Anthony Newley singles at 78rpm and singing along. Rather than playing them at 45rpm and singing along as Bowie had. The two were great friends, their music is chalk and cheese after about 73. He thought punk was brilliant and went out of his way to help bands like the Damned and Generation X. The news of his death broke while I was in a double maths class. It’s the only maths lesson I remember, just as I remember where I was when Elvis and John Lennon died.
Just for the record, I’m on board with the whole “for sentimental reasons” thing, i.e my fondness for Deep Purple. That crew more or less served as an emollient that helped make a bond with my super cool older brother possible.
Well, it’s hard to know which to tackle first.
Let’s go with the quick and easy and expected. EPG, you still couldn’t name 10 songs, never mind listened to them, even after I gave you a list. All those T. Rex songs are on Spotify; you aren’t even trying (no surprise there) but your attempt to cover your trail is laughably Trumpian.
Now, on to the surprising BigSteve.
First, you say you googled Eddie Arcaro but still don’t know who he is. I guess, then, you are using the generic term “google” but actually used, I don’t know, the Alta Vista search engine?
Second, you are going to respond with Sha Na Na? You are treading EPG troll territory with this one. They were clearly a joke. Or are you contending the Ramones offered nothing different from them also?
Yes, Jet was a third-tier glam band. And third-tier almost by definition here refers to T. Rex as the first-tier. Knocking the first-tier by criticizing the their-tier?! What next, the Beatles weren’t special, because, you know, look at Gerry & The Pacemakers?
Now, Roy Wood, I’m happy to talk Roy Wood. Mr. Mod has to line up behind me in the Roy Wood Fan Club. If you are talking his guise as Eddie & The Falcons, maybe you have something there. Except that came in 1974, a rock & roll lifetime after 1971’s Electric Warrior. Otherwise, Roy Wood didn’t so much return to the roots as take those roots, twist them up, rotate them like a Rubik’s Cube and end up with something quite different. Different from the origins and different from Bolan.
Roy Wood in one way is an anti-Bolan. He was another branch into which rock & roll was splintering around 1970. Hard rock, heavy metal, singer-songwriter. These are all the branches Bolan avoided by returning to the basics. Roy Wood took another branch, so distinctive in its lack of success (at least here in the US) that it doesn’t even have a name. It’s also distinctive in that I much prefer it to the others.
EPG, you performed as chalk might. BigSteve, you were the nag here. (More horse-racing references; look them up in a Lycos search).
I think my post came out ruder than I had planned. I shouldn’t post so late at night.
I just meant that comparisons are supposed to illuminate. “Just like a famous jockey” doesn’t add anything that I need. But then there are few things in the world I care about less than horse racing.
It seemed to me you were building a case for Bolan that his ‘return rock to its roots’ approach was somehow novel or unique. My point was that early 70s were awash with people who wanted to ‘return rock to its roots.’ I feel like Bolan was just one version of that trend but with hippy-dippy lyrics. The records certainly SOUND good, and that sound must have been well-suited to the radio, but the sound wears thin for me after a few listens.
BigSteve, one thing I didn’t think is that you were rude…just way off the mark.
Not sure why I picked Eddie Arcaro, I could have picked anything. The point was you don’t criticize arguably the greatest jockey ever for what he didn’t accomplish in other fields. Same with Bolan. He had tried other sounds – Dylan folkie, Incredible String Band copy – but when he hit a formula that was successful he stuck with that and rode it to megastardom while it lasted. He started to incorporate soul into it but that was when rock & roll excesses were taking their toll.
I don’t praise him for hitting a formula that sold – although I don’t fault him just because it was successful – but because I think he did it magnificently. He had a very basic formula – ’50s rock & roll – and within it he crafted great songs. Catchy as all hell and arranged and produced by Tony Visconti superbly. For me, that have not aged at all because they are that classic formula done so well.
I get your (and others’) criticism of the lyrics but I don’t really agree with them. They sound good to me in a literal sense – the consonant and vowel sounds. Dylan does that all the time; the words just go together well regardless of any meaning. Sure they are silly when you recite them/read them (Bolan’s not Dylan’s) but now you are getting into Steve Allen mocking “Rockin’ Robin” territory. Your Nobel Prize for Literature winners aside, not too many rock & rollers have lyrics that read or recite so well absent the music. (Does that sound like another thread for someone to take up?) Dylan famously called Smokey Robnison America’s greatest living poet but I doubt it was because of how “Mickey’s Monkey” scanned.
I’m sure this is not an original insight, but it’s funny that the guy who worked the car=sex trope so extensively never learned to drive.
You are right in that it is not original but you probably knew it before me because I only learned of it recently.
And it is funny. Or something.
Al is spitting gems of fire! If you come at the king, you best not miss.
A couple of things, as Al bravely and admirably stands his ground:
First, I have been trying to find all those songs on Spotify. So far, no dice. Spotify has so few T. Rex albums, unless their stupid search engine can’t tell that variations on that band’s name. It is “T. Rex,” right? I’ve got about 6 or 7 of those songs in a playlist and will have a second listen on my morning walk.
Second, Al has been taking a lot of crap for his Eddie Arcaro reference. It’s totally unfair. I don’t like it when Townspeople take unfair shots at each other. Clearly I’m joking. I was raised on horseracing, however, so I got it right away. I’ll come back to how much I agree with that analogy after I take more time to absorb these Bolan deep kutz.
Finally, I finished that Bowie oral history last night. I want to punch the author. What a shitty way to reduce a great artist (there, I said it, even though I still have trouble liking any of his albums except for Hunky Dory and Ziggy, the latter which I only “like”). Bolan is reference throughout this shitty book, yet we never get a sense of who he is. We’ll, I shouldn’t expect much because the 192 people who talk about Bowie have trouble saying anything that wasn’t already said in the first 50 pages.
A couple of telltale signs that any rock bio has reached scanning stage:
– The appearance of early ’80s Pete Townshend
– Live Aid and other ’80s festival shows
– Passages on the artist’s efforts to build an art collection
– The 1980s
These rock bios actually get slightly better by the mid-’90s, when our hero has run out of steam and is settled down with an independently wealthy partner and a dog.
My apologies to Happiness Stan, as I make a sports analogy that is rooted on US culture, but if I had a rock ‘n roll basketball team, I would be happy to have T. Rex come off the bench for some instant offense. He’s like that guy who had the nickname Microwave: he heats up the game in a hurry. Can’t leave him on the court for too long, though, because he plays no D.
If I clear my palette in between each of these songs, I can enjoy almost every one of them, even “The Street & Babe Shadow.” These sax-heavy songs are a bit of a strain, though.
I love his disciplined, 100% artificial production. I’m a big fan of the boogie. I wish he and Visconti could have produced Roy Wood, in all his overly ambitious glory.
That’s my main beef with Bolan: he displays no ambition, no humanity. He simply put a human face to bubblegum, which isn’t the worst thing anyone’s done, but after a song or two, I need to get off the couch and step away from the bowl of chips/crisps.
Bless you T. Rex fans!
I know what you mean by 100% artificial production. It makes these songs, many of which can be reduced to the most basic form of E string boogie, seem almost otherworldly. It also allows allows the fey whispered vocals to sit front and center in a musical genre that typically features full throated blues shouters.
I don’t think I’ll ever become a big T-Rex fan, but I do quite enjoy Electric Warrior and can’t think of another glam act that I’d rather hear. New York Dolls maybe, but they never put a full album as good as EW.
I just remembered something I really, really love on Bang a Gong. When the song breaks down to just the rhythm guitar, and then right before the band comes back in the drummer goes snare-kick(pause)snare-kick. Brilliant!
Don’t f&^k with me BigSteve; didn’t you read what chickenfrank said? 🙂
Just kidding; the king resigns.
But seriously, how can you not love that he throws in the Chuck Berry quote at the end? And as far as I know, he wasn’t sued. Lennon should have thought of this and avoided the lawsuit.
Meanwhile I’m still thinkin’…that T. Rextasy lives (just not ’round here)!
Mr. Mod, your considered thoughts are appreciated. I get them, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them.
I’ve been thinking about this “ambition” question you raise. You say “ambition” and you say “humanity”. Are they two different things or the same? Those terms are pretty subjective and vague. Which isn’t meant as a criticism at all.
I’m going to guess that you mean these terms in the sense of ambition to achieve more artistically
The first definition that comes up when I google ambition is “strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work”. Post-“Hot Love” I don’t know that Bolan did have ambition in the sense that he had hit the formula that worked, he became the star he wanted to be, and, as I said, he rode it.
But there is something overly harsh to me about this criticism as I alluded to in my opening post. Pre-“Hot Love” he had been a folkie and a whatever you want to call the Tyrannosaurus Rex stuff. Then he hit mega-stardom at the age of 24 and was dead weeks shy of his 30th birthday.
So let’s talk Bowie now and let’s talk about his first 30 years. He meets with little success pre-1968, wandering from band to band, starts to meet with a little success outside the US, finally breaking it here in 1973 with the re-issue of “Space Oddity”. Then mega-stardom with Ziggy; his stardom is worldwide unlike Bolan’s which does not include the US. He rides that glam horse for a few years with Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs.
And then, he dies at the tender age of 28.
Oh wait, that didn’t happen. Instead he spends four decades in what Wikipedia defines as
1974–1976: “Plastic soul” and the Thin White Duke
1976–1979: Berlin era
1980–1988: New Romantic and pop era
1989–1991: Tin Machine
1992–1998: Electronic period
1999–2012: Neoclassicist era
What was he during these decades? Ambitious? Artistically ambitious? A dilettante? ADHD? I don’t know I just know, Berlin-era aside, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a greatest hits EP never mind album.
What would Bolan have accomplished if he lived to age 69 as Bowie did? Who knows? Surely not me. But if I were heading to the window and had to place one bet, I’d say “Not much”. In other words, he’d be David Bowie.
Which is better? Neil Young said “It’s better to burn out than fade away” and Townshend said “I hope I die before I get old” (and he’s still singing it at the age of 76).
As far as artistic ambitions go, there is something to be said for “Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse”.
Al, I meant the ambition to reach people on some kind of meaningful, humanistic level, be it any combination of or even solely emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical. For a guy who practiced in plastic boogie, I don’t think Bolan even tried to hard on that level. Some of those songs would have been a full grade higher if anyone in the backing band had a modicum of personality.
Who plays lead guitar on that stuff? Is it Bolan? The solos are OK, but they never reach for something extra. The bassist never does an octave leap. The drummer(s?) does/do some great fills, such as the one BigSteve pointed out.
So, for a guy who made no efforts at moving me emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually, you’d think he could at least deliver on the boogie. I’m not feeling it.
If I need to defend Bowie on the levels I’ve just listed, let me know. Thanks.
Checking in after a week of sitting on a beach doing sudoku puzzles during the day, playing rummy at night, and playing guitar with Townsman Garlic Salt in between.
I tried to create a Spotify list that has the songs that Al mentioned. I’m not sure if these are the correct versions. As with EPGs Herman’s Hermits song list, I will do my best to listen with an open mind, although I will remind you that I am completely fine with saying I like a band just based on liking their three biggest hits and not really knowing anything else by them (hello Blue Oyster Cult).
Going forward, I would encourage my fellow towns folks to actually create and post a Spotify list when advocating for a band. I appreciate the impassioned defense of T-Rex by Al, but if you bear the burden of providing the evidence of you’re trying to persuade the group of an artists worth.
I’m a few songs into the T-Rex playlist and will have more comments later but I don’t want to forget to mention how much I hate the way Bowie and Bolin pronounce the word ‘Boogie”.
Observations while listening to the T-Rex mix while walking around Fancisville in 95 degree heat:
T-Rex is more about a vibe and a Look than songs. Sure, Bolan managed to strike gold twice with Bang a Gong and 20th Century Boy, both of which are undisputed classics in my eyes (even if the one has been so overplayed that I would be fine never hearing it again). But when I listen to a bunch of his stuff at once, those hits seem almost accidental. I think he’s a triumph of ambition, timing, and good looks over actual talent. He cobbled together a pretty good act but he’s a one trick pony. He’s kind of like the Mickey Finn of songwriting, and if he looked like, say, the bass player from the Atlanta Rhythm Section, we would not be having this conversation because we wouldn’t know who he was.
I know that this all sounds negative, but here’s the thing: I love about three Thin Lizzy songs. There are 3-4 others about which I think, “oh, cool,” if they come up in a mix, even though it would rarely occur to me to put them on. But I consider myself a fan of Thin Lizzy. Isn’t being a pretty good third tier band be enough? You can’t pour a pint of beer into a shot glass, but that doesn’t make me dislike the shot glass. It serves its purpose.
Bowie, on the other hand, had a huge stylistic range even across a single album. His Anthony Newly/Broadway voice can wear out it’s welcome sometimes, and there is a lot of Bowie that I don’t really care for but it almost always sounds like he’s pushing himself creatively and he has the talent to back up his ambition.
Also, Bowie was not afraid to walk away from a sound and image that was working for him. How many aspiring artists can cobble together one decent identifiable sound and Look? Bowie kept creating new musical personas and then abandoning them before they got too old. Sometimes his vision either didn’t work for me, or flat out didn’t work (the only time I saw him live was with Tin Machine), but I really admire that he never seemed to stop looking for something new and artistically interesting.
Bolan’s artistic growth, such as it was, seems to be moving from the Suzi Quatro-style production that was so prevalent at the time and more towards a new wave style sound (the song from Zip Gun was another song that I thought stood out), but the songs remain the same.
Tony Visconti on Bolan’s guitar playing: https://www.guitarworld.com/features/tony-visconti-remembers-marc-bolan-t-rex