Marc Bolan’s T. Rex initially formed as Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1967. Rapidly establishing themselves as darlings of the underground scene, thanks to an exhilarating blend of pixie whimsy and idiosyncratic song structures, that hippy duo – Bolan and drummer pal Steve Peregrin Took – metamorphosed into T. Rex in 1970 and became the pioneering spirit of the emergent glam rock movement.
While retaining some of the mystic impetus of their first forays the new look T. Rex were increasingly electric and made themselves well-loved fixtures in concert halls and on Top of the Pops. Marc was killed in a car crash in 1977 but he’s left us with a legacy of superbly quirky music whose style and class continue to captivate listeners and influence the present-day bands.
They broke the mould when Marc Bolan burst onto the unsuspecting ears of Londoners at the Electric Garden in 1967 but the little chap from Stoke Newington rarely stuck in any one place long enough for the pieces to be put back together again.
Early Tyrannosaurus albums were recorded in a blitz of activity, befitting a post-Mod maverick with urgent songs to impart. My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair…But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows was a debut full of magic, followed by the equally impressive Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages, the delicate Unicorn and the groundbreaking album A Beard of Stars. With producer Tony Visconti acting as a technical genius for the nascent sea change in British rock music, Bolan had his ally. He also had his eye on the crown, mixing weird and wonderful tunes based on Middle Eastern sagas with bursts of classic Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran rock and roll.
As the ‘head’ era came into full swing, Bolan’s albums were essential artefacts for the great-coated, Patchouli oil brigade and the switch to plain T. Rex in 1970 coincided with a move to electrification, and stagecraft second to none. Break out tracks like ‘King of the Rumbling Spires’ and the effervescent classic ‘Ride A White Swan’ suddenly elevated T. Rex from clubland to theatres. Soon sporting glitter in his hair and stuck on stars on his face Bolan became the elfin pin-up of the era, appealing to the important teenage girl market as well as the hairier male types. Sexually charged songs like ‘Hot Love’ and ‘Get It On’ made Marc an instant superstar with a following so large it merited the term T. Rextasy.
Electric Warrior (1971) could be cited as Britain’s first total glam rock epic. It was such a gas that the band filled the old Empire Pool in Wembley for two heady shows in March 1972 with Beatle Ringo Starr filming the phenomenon for posterity as part of the Born To Boogie movie. In fact, even the usually hard to impress John Lennon had name-checked Bolan favourably – but it was Marc’s ongoing rivalry with Bowie that became the Beatles vs. Stones battle of the bands back then.
“Get It On” was the second chart-topper for T. Rex on the UK Singles Chart. In the United States, it was retitled “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” to avoid confusion with a song of the same name by the group Chase.
The track was recorded at Trident Studios, London, and the piano on the record was performed by either Rick Wakeman or Blue Weaver. Mark Paytress notes that both pianists may have played separate parts on the song, with Wakeman contributing only the piano glissandos that feature several times throughout the song. Wakeman, who was desperate for work at the time to pay his rent, had bumped into Bolan in Oxford Street, who offered him the session.
Wakeman pointed out to Tony Visconti that the record did not actually need a piano player. Visconti suggested that he could add a gliss. Wakeman said that Visconti could do that, to which Bolan replied, “You want your rent, don’t you?” Wakeman did, and earned £9 for his efforts.
Saxophones were played by Ian McDonald of King Crimson. Producer Visconti later recalled: “He played all the saxes, one baritone and two altos. I kept the baritone separate but bounced the altos to one track. I bounced the backup vocals to two tracks, making an interesting stereo image.” Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (formerly The Turtles) provided back up vocals.
During a December 1971 Top of the Pops performance, Elton John mimed a piano on the song. This performance is usually the video clip for the song which has aired on various music-video outlets such as VH1 Classic.
Get It On spent four weeks at the top in the UK, starting 24 July 1971 and it was the group’s biggest hit overall. It peaked on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart at number ten and at #12 in the Cash Box Top 100 in March 1972, becoming the band’s only major US hit. The song reached No. 12 in Canada in March 1972.
He released The Slider in 1972 which contained the number-one hits ‘Telegram Sam’ and ‘Metal Guru’.
His last studio album was Dandy In The Underworld (1977), which garnered positive reviews and sent many new listeners scurrying to catch up with albums that were themselves relatively recent. The album is a peach, showcasing the talents of Herbie Flowers and Tony Newman, as well as Steve Harley, Gloria Jones and jazz soul names, sax player Chris Mercer and drummer Paul Humphreys.
Six months after release Bolan died in that fateful crash, taken far too young at just 29. His legacy is significant. At one time in 1973 T. Rex records were shifting a reported 100, 000 copies a day! He played twin necked guitar alongside his mate Jeff Lynne on the Electric Light Orchestra’s Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle, dashed off sessions with Ike and Tina Turner and even buried the hatchet with David Bowie when the two titans of teen appeared together on the TV show Marc in 1977.
Bolan’s influence would have amused him since the punk kids aside he has inspired everyone from Morrissey and Johnny Marr of The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Guns ‘n’ Roses, The Replacements, Power Station, San Francisco great Ty Segall and Oasis.
Watch the video below to learn more about T. Rex and their hit song Get It On!