The 1970s seemed to have only two sides to music at the time. There was rock ‘n’ roll. Then there was disco. It felt like a Tale of Two Cities as neither side agreed with the other. But at the middle, a hybrid scene appeared that embraced both cultures to carve out its place in history. Glam rock became the latest trend of music psychedelia as artists were now flashier and sporadic. The loud costumes and intense hairstyle of disco were paired with thundering rock sounds in a pop beat. Its complexity on being superficial struck a younger, wilder generation who embraced the mania. The capital of this movement would start where every other music mode took place. The UK would star out more then just a new inclination, it would launch a career of one of its most iconic bands. T. Rex’s legacy is built on the backbone as the forefathers for a plethora of music genres. But their establishment on rock with essential hit records all stem from the mind of an artist who just wanted to play folk music.
Marc Bolan led a creative lifestyle in England as a model and a musician. Fashion and music played into his choice of appearing in clothing catalogues and moonlighting as a singer. Love of folk music took hold with a deep admiration for Bob Dylan as he chose to pursue music. His initial beginnings were unsuccessful as his solo releases were dismal until switching managers. With a new guide, Bolan joined the highly publicized rock band John’s Children. The union was short lived but gave Bolan enough time and inspiration to develop his writing. Bolan would start a new band in the summer of 1967 billed under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex. The singer’s new material and inclusion of great musicians should’ve met for a great debut. But the band was met with a reality check for their first concert. Their gig at London’s Electric Garden was an embarrassment and forced the group to disband. After only one concert together. But the moment of clarity gave Bolan an idea to rework the band into something better.
Steve Peregrin Took was the drummer for the disastrous performance. But Bolan and Took decided a two-piece direction was ideal for their creativity. The duo’s eclectic sounds of acoustic music were well received and grew a steady following for their debut album. The new pairing released My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair…But Now They’re Content to Were Star on Their Brows. The album was received as bizarre as its long name suggests by critics. But that didn’t make the record any less prolific for its time with a new standard of music. Bolan’s looping vocals were synthetic with Took’s usage of unorthodox percussion instruments. The album’s moderate standout and uniqueness triggered the next spring of trippy records.
The late 1960s saw the duo continuing their trend of psychedelic folk injections. Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages and Unicorn were successful enough to stage a US tour. But the duos contrast in styles led to Took’s departure following heavy conflicts with Bolan. The singer’s friend, Mickey Finn, would take over the new drummer. The new formation incited a new album which marked a change for music. 1970’s A Beard of Stars saw Bolan moving out of his hippie nature and approaching a solid rock tone. The singer was embracing his new direction which became evident in the flair of his vocals. A new direction came with the idea of repackaging themselves as the same band with a different label.
The duo released a follow-up album titled T. Rex, their new name of the band. Upon its release critics were enamored with the album’s cohesive transition from track to track. Rolling Stone went to publish, “their ability to intermix vocal and instrumental sounds—the voices often go into feedback guitar imitation. It’s not the kind of trick every group should try.” The single “Ride a White Swan” was a hit in their native UK while the album was favorable success. Its release was the dawn of the glam rock era as Bolan utilized his modeling background to spark the trend. Their loyal following and Bolan’s influences jetted them with the addition of new members to grow the sound.
T. Rex’s live shows became a spectacle as the group donned flashy clothes and eccentric styles. The glittery outfits became fan favorites and led to the inspiration for 1971’s Electric Warrior. The album was a critical and commercial success as the acclaim was geared towards Bolan’s new direction. Often regarded as his best work, the album is cited for establishing the glam rock scene and raising it into contemporary status. Touted reviewer, Ben Gerson, credited Bolan for being “the heaviest rocker under 5’4” in the world today.” Lead singles “Get It On” and “Jeepster” were culturally paramount for the new music scene and its attitude. To this day, the album’s singles are included in various media outlets and is listed as a Top 100 album annually.
Now one of Britain’s biggest bands, T. Rex looked to continue cultivating their pioneering genre. The release of The Slider in 1972 introduced not just another successful album, but another classic for music. A hard rock edge combined with Bolan’s whimsical lyrics and charisma exploded the album. Audiences in the US and UK went fanatical over the group as “T.Rexstasy” was all over the world. “Metal Guru” and “Telegram Sam” were instant hits and became synonymous with the glam rock scene. The album’s lasting influence over the years is noted with numerous artists praising it as their favorite. Including iconic English guitarist, Johnny Marr. Its success allowed the album to crack the top 10 charts internationally and spark a raving tour.
The band’s popularity in their home country grew to rival The Beatles during their heyday. 1973’s Tanx concurred this notion as T. Rex was soaring with critical praise. But the inclusion of an R&B direction for their following album created a downward trend in their stock. As they began losing praise and commercial figures, Bolan went into a retreat to discover new material. The group started fading out with each member expressing desires of leaving the group. But after reestablishing his artistry with the premiere of a pop music show, Bolan set out to release a new T. Rex album. Dandy in the Underworld started out with steady reviews as its popularity began to grow. Bolan wouldn’t be able to thrive in its achievements for very long, however.
In 1977, Bolan’s life would be tragically cut short in an auto accident a few months after his album’s release. The news of his passing was heartbreaking amongst his contemporaries and former bandmates. David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Steve Harley would be in attendance for his funeral. After his passing, Finn continued performing with former T. Rex members to honor Bolan’s life and legacy. Ultimately, it would be the later resurgence and noted influence on bands over the years that kept T. Rex as necessary idols. New generations of English rockers paid respects to Bolan and the group with a 2020 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While Bolan’s dedication to his craft and praise for being “the man who started it all” is profound, he echoes from beyond on what it all meant to him. In Bolan’s own words, “There is so little time for us all; I need to be able to say what I want quickly and to as many people as possible.”
Written by Trenton Luber