Marc Bolan Biography


T Rex started out as Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1968, back in the days when you could get away with album titles like My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair . . . But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows. Guitarist and vocalist Marc Bolan (born Mark Feld, London 1947) had recorded a couple of singles earlier in the decade but it wasn't until he hooked up with the improbably named Steve Peregrine Took (bongos/vocals) that he created any sort of ripples in the UK hippie ooze. "Deborah", the first Tyrannosaurus Rex single, backed with the beautiful "Child Star", attracted the attention of DJ John Peel, who boosted the single and the band's subsequent four albums on his radio shows - as well as making a guest appearance on the debut album, reading a poem.

Bolan's cute looks (he'd previously worked as a model) and the unadulterated nonsense of his early lyrics were sufficient to make him an underground hero, and there were many concerts played to audiences of denim and afghan before Bolan cut the name down to pop size, ditched Steve Took (who slunk off to play with the Pink Fairies), strapped on an electric guitar and made his bid for stardom. His new bongo-playing sidekick, the equally unlikely monickered Micky Finn, helped out on A Beard Of Stars (1970), the album with which Bolan moved from acoustic LSD-tinged ramblings about prophets and magic to roaring rock'n'roll ramblings about prophets and magic. The stardom kicked in soon after with "Ride a White Swan", a bouncy, basic little rocker that encouraged Britain's pop kids to wear a tall hat and a tattooed gown. It went to #2 in the UK and with a puff of magic powder Bolan was the most gorgeous, pouting, corkscrew-haired pop star in town.

Drafting in Steve Curry as full-time bass player and Bill Legend as drummer, Bolan followed the hit single with a fairly uninspiring album, T Rex (1970), that looked back to Summer of Love folderol. Never mind, the new band knocked out two smash singles "Hot Love" and "Get it on" (released as "Bang a Gong" in the US where it charted at #10), both selling ridiculous quantities and hitting the top of the UK charts. Electric Warrior (1971), the first real T Rex album in most eyes, had loads of strutting guitar boogie, breathtaking vocals and meaningless lyrics, and sold everywhere by the truckload.

During a period when bands were either serious 'album musicians' or were written off as singles-based chart fodder, Bolan managed to sell both. The early 70s albums - Electric Warrior, Slider, Tanx and the thrill-has-gone-tinged Zinc Alloy and the New Riders of Tomorrow, were all proper albums, with themes and extended compositions, quite different from traditional pop industry cash-ins. That said, it was the singles that kids waited and saved their pocket money for. "Jeepster", "Telegram Sam", "Metal Guru", the sub-metal raunch of "Children of the Revolution", the driving, guitar-exuberance of "Solid Gold Easy Action", the magnificent "20th Century Boy" and "The Groover" all went to the top end of the UK charts.

Pop groups, if they're very lucky, canny and well managed, can extend the mania that surrounds them to a around three years. Bolan had three years as a pop idol. He had the whole range of rock-hero postures, he sang, he danced, he played guitar, and he slapped on the makeup and sparkle, thus virtually inventing 'glitter pop' and thereby being ultimately responsible for innumerable sins against taste. He starred in a film about the band, Born to Boogie (once again, a better-quality product than normally produced by pop bands), did interviews and photo-shoots, told countless teenagers his deepest secrets (like 'favourite colour', 'what do you look for in a girlfriend', 'what makes you sad') and generally played the Star.

It ended in mid-1973, as "The Groover" slid down the charts. It was around this time that he split with his wife, June Child, taking up instead with the powerfully voiced Gloria Jones, who had recorded the original version of "Tainted Love" (later to be covered by Marc Almond's Soft Cell) and been working with the band as a backing vocalist for some months. T Rex's next single, "Truck on Tyke", did respectably but not well enough to prevent Marc and Gloria opting for exile in the US.

T Rex - or Marc Bolan & T Rex as they were often marketed - produced a few good songs in the mid-70s: "New York City" was fine, old-style raunch; "Dreamy Lady" had enough reverb to carry it along; and "I Love to Boogie" was no sillier than many other of his lyrics. But what really relaunched Bolan's career , alas, was his death in 1977. Gloria wrapped a yellow mini round an old oak tree on September 16 and Marc attained instant pop immortality.

The cult of Marc shows no sign of dying out. Since 1977 there have been TV documentaries, innumerable compilations of 'greatest hits', and a couple of peculiar 'tribute bands' featuring lookalike singers and ex-band members.

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