T. Rex were a British rock band, formed in 1967 by singer-songwriter and guitarist Marc Bolan. The band formed as Tyrannosaurus Rex, releasing four underground folk albums under the name. Tony Visconti (their producer for several albums) claimed in a documentary on the band that he had taken to using the abbreviated term "T. Rex" as a shorthand, something that initially irritated Bolan, who gradually came around to the idea and officially shortened the band's name to "T. Rex" at roughly the same time they started having big hits (shortly after going electric).
In the early to mid 1970s, the band reached huge success with fourteen top-20 UK glam rock hits: "Jeepster", "Get It On", "Ride a White Swan", "Solid Gold Easy Action", "Children of the Revolution", "Hot Love", "Telegram Sam", "20th Century Boy", "Debora", "Teenage Dream", "The Groover", "New York City", "I Love To Boogie" and "Metal Guru". During this period the band also released six UK top-30 albums, including Electric Warrior, which hit the top of the album charts.
In 1977, Bolan was killed in a car accident, and the band broke up.
Formation and hippie era
Marc Bolan founded Tyrannosaurus Rex in August 1967. After a solitary performance as a four-piece at the Electric Garden in Covent Garden, the group immediately broke up. Bolan retained the services of percussionist Steve Peregrin Took and the duo began performing acoustic material with occasional homages to Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. The combination of Bolan's acoustic guitar and distinctive vocal style with Took's bongos and assorted percussion—which often included children's instruments such as the Pixiphone—earned them a devoted following in the thriving hippy underground scene. BBC Radio One Disc jockey John Peel championed the band early in their recording career. Peel later appeared on record with them, reading stories written by Bolan. Another key collaborator was producer Tony Visconti, who went on to produce the band's albums well into their second, glam rock phase.
During 1968-1969, Tyrannosaurus Rex had become a modest success on radio and on record, and they released three albums, the third of which, Unicorn, came within striking distance of the UK Top 10 Albums. While Bolan's early material was rock and roll-influenced pop music, by now he was writing dramatic and baroque songs with lush melodies and surreal lyrics filled with Greek and Persian mythology as well as creations of his own. The band became regulars on Peel Sessions on BBC radio, and toured Britain's student union halls.
By 1969 there was a clear rift between the two halves of Tyrannosaurus Rex. While Bolan and his girlfriend June Child were living a quiet life, Took had fully embraced the anti-commercial/community-spirited/drug-taking ethos of the UK Underground scene centred around Ladbroke Grove. Took was also attracted to anarchistic elements such as Mick Farren/Deviants and members of the Pink Fairies Rock 'n' Roll and Drinking Club. Took also began writing his own songs, and wanted the duo to perform them, but Bolan strongly disapproved of his bandmate's efforts, rejecting them for the duo's putative fourth album, in production in Spring/Summer 1969. In response to Bolan's rebuff, Took contributed two songs as well as vocals and percussion to Twink's Think Pink album.
Bolan's relationship with Took ended after this, although they were contractually obliged to go through with a US tour which was doomed before it began. Poorly promoted and planned, the acoustic duo were overshadowed by the loud electric acts they were billed with. To counter this, Took drew from the shock rock style of Iggy Pop; Took explained, "I took my shirt off in the Sunset Strip where we were playing and whipped myself till everybody shut up. With a belt, y'know, a bit of blood and the whole of Los Angeles shuts up. 'What's going on, man, there's some nutter attacking himself on stage.' I mean, Iggy Stooge had the same basic approach."
As soon as he returned to the UK, Bolan replaced Took with percussionist Mickey Finn. and they completed the fourth album, released in early 1970 as A Beard of Stars, the final album under the Tyrannosaurus Rex moniker. Meanwhile, after helping found the Pink Fairies and appearing on Mick Farren's solo album Mona – The Carnivorous Circus, Took would spend the 1970s working mostly on his own material, either solo or fronting bands such as Shagrat (1970-1971) and Steve Took's Horns (1977-1978). Unlike Took, Finn had no songwriting aspirations; Tony Visconti commented he was not as talented as Took: "Mickey wasn't as inventive as Steve. Mickey's backing vocals weren't strong, so Marc would double-track them with his own voice for reinforcement".
Glam rock and commercial success
As well as progressively shorter titles, Tyrannosaurus Rex's albums began to show higher production values, more accessible songwriting from Bolan, and experimentation with electric guitars and a true rock sound. The breakthrough was "King of the Rumbling Spires" (recorded with Took), which used a full rock band, and the electric sound was further explored on A Beard Of Stars. The group's next album, T. Rex, continued the process of simplification by shortening the name, and completed the move to electric guitars. Visconti supposedly got fed up with writing the name out in full on studio chits and tapes and began to abbreviate it; when Bolan first noticed he was angry but later claimed the idea was his. The new sound was more pop-oriented, and the first single, "Ride a White Swan", reached number two in the UK in late 1970. In early 1971, T. Rex reached the top 20 of the UK albums chart.
"Ride a White Swan" was quickly followed by a second single, "Hot Love", which reached the top spot on the UK charts, and remained there for six weeks. A full band, which featured bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, was formed to tour to growing audiences, as teenagers began replacing the hippies of old. After Chelita Secunda added two spots of glitter under Bolan's eyes before an appearance on Top of the Pops, the ensuing performance would often be viewed as the birth of glam rock. After Bolan's display, glam rock would gain popularity in the UK and Europe during 1971–72. T. Rex's move to electric guitars coincided with Bolan's more overtly sexual lyrical style and image. The group's new image and sound outraged some of Bolan's older hippie fans, who branded him a "sell-out". Some of the lyrical content of Tyrannosaurus Rex remained, but the fairy tales about wizards and magic were now interspersed with sensuous grooves, replete with orgiastic moans and innuendo.
In September 1971, T. Rex released their second album Electric Warrior, which featured Currie and Legend. Often considered to be their best album, the chart-topping Electric Warrior brought much commercial success to the group; publicist BP Fallon coined the term "T. Rextasy" as a parallel to Beatlemania to describe the group's popularity. The album included T. Rex's best-known song, "Get It On", which hit number one in the UK. In January 1972 it became a top ten hit in the US, where the song was retitled "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" to distinguish it from a 1971 song by the group Chase. Along with David Bowie's early hits, "Get It On" was among the few British glam rock songs that were successful in the US. However, the album still recalled Bolan's acoustic roots with ballads such as "Cosmic Dancer" and the stark "Girl". Soon after, Bolan left Fly Records; after his contract had lapsed, the label released the album track "Jeepster" as a single without his permission. Bolan went to EMI, where he was given his own record label in the UK—T. Rex Records, the "T. Rex Wax Co.".
On 18 March 1972, T. Rex played two shows at the Empire Pool, Wembley, which were filmed by Ringo Starr and his crew for Apple Films. A large part of the second show was included on Bolan's own rock film Born to Boogie, while bits and pieces of the first show can be seen throughout the film's end-credits. Along with T. Rex and Starr, Born to Boogie also features Elton John, who jammed with the friends to create rocking studio versions of "Children of the Revolution" and "Tutti Frutti"; Elton John had appeared on TV with Bolan before, miming the piano part of "Get it On" on the 1971 Christmas edition of Top of the Pops.
T. Rex's third album The Slider was released in July 1972. The band's most successful album in the US, The Slider was not as successful as its predecessor in the UK, where it peaked at the fourth spot. During spring/summer 1972, Bolan's old label Fly released the chart-topping compilation album Bolan Boogie, a collection of singles, B-sides and LP tracks, which affected The Slider's sales. Two singles from The Slider, "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru", became number one hits in the UK. Born to Boogie premiered at the Oscar One cinema in London, in December 1972. The film received negative reviews from critics, while it was loved by fans.
Decline and resurgence
Tanx (1973) would mark the end of the classic T. Rex lineup. An album full of melancholy ballads and rich production, Tanx showcased the T. Rex sound bolstered by extra instrumental embellishments such as Mellotron and saxophone. During the recording T. Rex members began to quit, starting with Bill Legend in November 1973. Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow was released on 1 February 1974, and reached number 12 in the UK. The album harkened back to the Tyrannosaurus Rex days with long song-titles and lyrical complexity, but was not a critical success. T. Rex by now had an extended line-up which included second guitarist Jack Green and BJ Cole on pedal steel. Soon after the album's release, Bolan split with producer Tony Visconti. And then in December 1974, Mickey Finn too left T. Rex.
Bolan's Zip Gun (1975) was self-produced by Bolan who, in addition to writing the songs, gave his music a harder, more futuristic sheen. The final song recorded with Visconti, "Till Dawn", was re-recorded for Bolan's Zip Gun with Bolan at the controls. Bolan's own productions were not well received in the music press. An amalgam of Zinc Alloy and Zip Gun was released in the US as Light of Love. Rolling Stone magazine gave it one star out of five, while the British press slammed T. Rex for copying Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, even though Marc had spoken of releasing work under the pseudonym "Zinc Alloy" during the mid-1960s. Always a fantasist with an alleged Napoleon complex, during this time Bolan became increasingly isolated, while high tax rates in the UK drove him into exile in Monte Carlo and the US. No longer a vegetarian, Bolan grew heavy on a diet of hamburgers and alcohol, and was ridiculed in the music press.
T. Rex's penultimate album, Futuristic Dragon (1976), featured a schizophrenic production style that veered from wall of sound-style songs to nostalgic nods to the old T. Rex boogie machine. It only managed to reach number 50, but the album was better received by the critics and featured the singles "New York City" (number 15 in the UK) and "Dreamy Lady" (number 30). To promote the album, T. Rex toured the UK, and performed on television shows such as Top of the Pops, Supersonic and Get It Together.
In the summer of 1976, T. Rex released two more singles, "I Love to Boogie" (which charted at number 13) and "Laser Love", which made number 42. In early 1977 Dandy in the Underworld was released to critical acclaim. Bolan had slimmed down and regained his elfin looks, and the songs too had a stripped-down, streamlined sound. A spring UK tour with punk band The Damned on support garnered positive reviews. As Bolan was enjoying a new surge in popularity, he talked about performing again with Finn and Took, as well as reuniting with producer Tony Visconti.
Bolan's death and end of the band
Marc Bolan and his girlfriend Gloria Jones spent the evening of 15 September 1977 drinking at the Speakeasy and then dining at Morton's club on Berkeley Square, in Mayfair, Central London. While driving home early in the morning of 16 September, Jones crashed Bolan's purple Mini 1275GT into a tree (now the site of Bolan's Rock Shrine), after failing to negotiate a small humpback bridge near Gypsy Lane on Queens Ride, Barnes, southwest London, a few miles from his home at 142 Upper Richmond Road West in East Sheen. While Jones was severely injured, Bolan was killed in the crash, two weeks before his 30th birthday.
After Bolan, whose death ended the band, four other band members met untimely ends: Steve Peregrin Took died from asphyxiation from a cocktail cherry after his throat was numbed from his use of morphine and magic mushrooms in 1980, Steve Currie also died in a car crash, in 1981; Mickey Finn succumbed to illness in 2003.Peter 'Dino' Dines died of a heart attack in 2004.
Influence and media
T. Rex vastly influenced the glam rock, punk rock and Britpop genres. Johnny Marr of The Smiths stated: "The influence of T. Rex is very profound on certain songs of the Smiths like "Panic" and "Shoplifters of the World Unite". Morrissey was himself also mad about Bolan. When we wrote "Panic" he was obsessed with "Metal Guru" and wanted to sing in the same style. He didn't stop singing it in an attempt to modify the words of "Panic" to fit the exact rhythm of "Metal Guru". He also exhorted me to use the same guitar break so that the two songs are the same!". Marr rated Bolan in his ten favourite guitarists.
T. Rex are specifically referenced by The Who in the lyrics of their 1981 hit song "You Better You Bet", David Bowie in the song "All the Young Dudes" (which he wrote for Mott the Hoople), B A Robertson in his 1980 hit "Kool In The Kaftan", the Ramones in their song "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" and R.E.M. in their song "The Wake-Up Bomb." The early acoustic material was influential in helping to bring about progressive rock and 21st century folk music-influenced singers. The lyric "Glimmers like Bolan in the shining sun" is featured in My Chemical Romance's song "Vampire Money", a direct reference to Bolan, taken from their most recent studio album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Additionally, Oasis "borrowed" the distinct guitar riff from "Get It On" on their single "Cigarettes and Alcohol". Oasis's guitarist, Noel Gallagher, has cited T. Rex as a strong influence. The music of T. Rex features in the soundtracks of various movies, for example Velvet Goldmine, Death Proof, Billy Elliot and others. The cover of The Slider album can be seen in the Lindsay Anderson movie O Lucky Man!
- As Tyrannosaurus Rex
- My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968)
- Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages (1968)
- Unicorn (1969)
- A Beard of Stars (1970)
- As T. Rex
- T. Rex (1970)
- Electric Warrior (1971)
- The Slider (1972)
- Tanx (1973)
- Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (1974) * Light of Love (U.S. Release Only, 1974)
- Bolan's Zip Gun (1975)
- Futuristic Dragon (1976)
- Dandy in the Underworld (1977)
- Marc Bolan – guitar, lead vocals (Aug 1967 – Sep 1977; died 1977)
- Steve Peregrin Took – percussion (Aug 1967 – Sep 1969; died 1980)
- Mickey Finn – percussion (Oct 1969 – Feb 1975; died 2003)
- Steve Currie – bass (Dec 1970 – Aug 1976; died 1981)
- Bill Legend – drums (Mar 1971 – Nov 1974)
- Gloria Jones – keyboards, vocals (Jul 1973 – Aug 1976)
- Jack Green – guitar (Jul 1973 – Nov 1973)
- Dino Dines – keyboards (Nov 1973 – Sep 1977; died 2004)
- Davy Lutton – drums (Nov 1973 – Aug 1976)
- Miller Anderson – guitar (Aug 1976 – Sep 1977)
- Herbie Flowers – bass (Aug 1976 – Sep 1977)
- Tony Newman – drums (Aug 1976 – Sep 1977)
- Paytress, Mark. "Marc Bolan: T. Rextasy". Mojo. May 2005.
- Paytress, Mark. Bolan: The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar. Omnibus Press. 2003.
- McLenehan, Cliff. Marc Bolan: 1947–1977 A Chronology. Helter Skelter Publishing. 2002.
- Ewens, Carl. Born to Boogie: The Songwriting of Marc Bolan. Aureus Publishing. 2007.
- MarcBolan.net – Marc Bolan & T.Rex web site
- TAG's Marc Bolan & T-Rex web site – Legal Guardians of Marc Bolan's Rock Shrine
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