T Rex, logically enough, started out as Tyrannosaurus Rex, an acoustic act fronted by Marc Bolan that started in 1967. They released four albums of increasingly accomplished progressive folk music. The title song from 1970’s A Beard of Stars give s a good sense of where the group was coming from.
Producer Tony Visconti used to write “T Rex” on track sheets in the recording studio because he couldn’t be bothered to write the band’s entire name, much to Bolan’s chagrin. But when Bolan put his pastoral meanderings behind him to write more riff-based, electric songs, he saw the wisdom of the smaller name and embraced it. Likewise, the album titles changed from 1968’s My People Were Fair and Had Sky In Their Hair…But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows to 1971’s Electric Warrior, from which “Jeepster” was taken.
So music that made a select few feel special for “getting it” had been traded in for populist boogie rock that made the little sisters of that select few wanna dance. Marc Bolan, the creative force behind both versions of the band, had officially sold out. Good thing that he did, because he ushered in the age of Glam Rock in the process.
The B side, “Life’s a Gas!” did prove to the naysayers that Bolan could still slow things down and sing inscrutable lyrics. He just did it in a way that put groove first.
Another mellow tune from Electric Warrior is “Cosmic Dancer,” a gorgeous bit of existential melancholy that makes great use of drummer Bill Legend’s extensive drum fill vocabulary, in much the same way that John Lennon’s “God” showed us what Ringo Starr was really capable of. Morrissey covered this song, to great effect.
1972’s The Slider kept the glam boogie going with “Metal Guru.” Fun, sexy, lyrically inscrutable rock and roll. Both Morrissey and Johnny Marr are quick to admit that this song was the inspiration for “Panic” by The Smiths.
One of T Rex’s best-known songs, “20th Century Boy,” was initially released only as a single; it wasn’t included on 1973’s Tanx until the CD reissue in 1994. Placebo (as The Flaming Creatures) ably covered it in Todd Haynes’ glam film Velvet Goldmine.
And then things started to go downhill, in a classically “Behind the Music” kind of way. Bolan’s ego and appetite for cocaine and brandy pushed core members of the group out of the picture, and he started to regress to a watered down version of the acoustic work that he’d left behind. The British music weeklies savaged Marc for his musical self-indulgence and expanding waistline. But by 1977, things were looking up: Dandy In the Underworld was considered a musical return to form, and even the notoriously snide NME had to give it up for the newly trim and still captivating Bolan. The album’s title song really shows the influence 50’s rock and roll had on glam.
Sadly, Marc Bolan died in a car crash on September 15th, 1977, just two weeks short of his 30th birthday. His influence is still felt today.