T-Rex, Electric Warrior, 1971, Fly Records
Track List 1. Mambo Sun 2. Cosmic Dancer 3. Jeepster 4. Monolith 5. Lean Woman Blues 6. Get it On 7. Planet Queen 8. Girl 9. The Motivator 10. Life’s a Gas 11. Rip Off
Formed by charismatic frontman Marc Bolan in 1967, T-Rex apparently created British glam rock with some conveniently placed glitter while playing Get it On on Top of the Pops in 1971. Starting out under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex, Bolan alongside percussionist Steve Porter released four albums that were acoustic folk heavily influenced by Ravi Shankar. They were successful on the hippy underground scene and this allowed Bolan to experiment with different instruments and increasingly fantastical lyrics. They were also championed by influential DJ John Peel who gave them extensive radio airplay. A change of direction at the end of the 1960s and a move to electric guitar saw the band name officially shortened to T-Rex, Steve Porter replaced by three new band members and commercial success with a poppy-ier glam rock sound. The early 1970s were T-Rex’s peak period in terms of commercial success, with numerous top ten singles and albums and incredible popularity among teenage record buyers. They were even compared to The Beatles, with the term “T-Rextasy” replacing “Beatlemania”. “Electric Warrior” was the best selling UK album of 1971 spending eight weeks at number one and forty four weeks in the chart.
Electric Warrior was the second album released under the T-Rex name, or the sixth if you count the albums released under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex. It was released in September 1971, nearly a year before the album that many see as the high point of glam rock, David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”. I am going to come out and say this from the start - this is great album. Mambo Sun is light and poppy. Cosmic Dancer is a gorgeously paced ballad that seems to transport you to another world. There is some pretty lazy rhyming in the lyrics and this is a feature of the album and indeed Bolan’s entire career, but with this much swagger though, who really cares if he was no Bob Dylan? Jeepster has a great beat but it is only about sex (another recurring feature of this album and T-Rex songs in general). Monolith starts exactly how a glam rock classic should but is quite slow and morose. The lyrics are grandiose but fabulous, I actually love this song it’s really well crafted. Get It On, another “Hey, let’s have sex” song, was the catchy successful single, the band’s most successful ever both in the UK and USA (Their only US top 10 hit). Planet Queen is all that’s left of the band’s previous hippy incarnation, but I can forgive a bit of bongo drumming in the middle of all this, it’s almost a welcome change from all the smut. Girl is another ballad and is quite a change of pace. It makes you feel like this band’s party might be over before it has really begun. It’s hard not to think that part of what makes Life’s a Gas feel so eerie is considering the lyrics in contrast to how the rest of T-Rex’s career and Marc Bolan’s short life would pan out. Rip Off is the hardest, rocky-est track which seems to run the risk of falling apart with its mad high energy rhythm. Bolan’s voice on every song is soft but oozes attitude and seems to draw you in. Overall it is a really fun album, despite some more low key tracks. It keeps you coming back for more and I can see how Marc Bolan became a teenage rock idol.
I was surprised by how wide the T-Rex / Marc Bolan legacy was across rock music, lots of New York punk bands were influenced by T-Rex (even though their success in the US was limited) The Pixies, The Slits, New York Dolls, Siouxsie and the Banshees right up to The Smiths and Joy Division in the UK, Prince is an obvious example of a very successful artist heavily influenced by Marc Bolan, The Jam (apparently “Electric Warrior” is one of Paul Weller’s favourite albums), David Bowie (All The Young Dudes which he wrote for Mott The Hoople specifically mentions T-Rex) The Ramones, REM, even surprisingly, The Chemical Brothers, and if like me you were a teenage Oasis fan, it was their song Cigarettes and Alcohol that first introduced you to T-Rex.
Other glam rock artists may have had more longevity, sold more records cumulatively or been cleverer with their lyrics, but for one album, T-Rex were at the top of British music and Marc Bolan was the king of his genre. The melodies are simple, the lyrics are so sexual you can barely call them innuendo (let’s not even think about the moaning) and the songs make you want to move. This was the first album to put all the glam rock elements together successfully and it still stands up to repeated listening. Marc Bolan was truly a superstar but only briefly. He seems like the Kanye West of his age, someone who believed unequivocally in his own genius but never quite realised it. With “Electric Warrior” though he managed to sprinkle some fairy dust that continues to shine brightly nearly fifty years later.