It was the moment that gave birth to glam rock. It was the album to
demonstrate that T. Rex had found their signature voice. It was
beginning of fan hysteria known as "T. Rextasy." It was the ultravixen,
rocketship spacecar-fueled, post-hippie sonic brew called Electric
Warrior. In 1971 it forever changed how the world would look at T. Rex,
speeding straight to the top of the UK charts upon its release.
Not bad for what started as an acoustic duo between impish minstrel Marc
Bolan and rhythm-keeper Steve Peregrine Took who began playing together
in 1968 under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex. After a couple of years on the
club circuit with little more than an acoustic guitar, bongo drums and
an arsenal of poetic musical gems, Bolan undertook a metamorphosis of
the act, first by recruiting prince-faced percussionist Mickey Finn to
replace Took in 1969. Bolan then lifted a bit of weight off the handle
by shortening the band's name to T. Rex in 1970. The two moved away from
their mellow acoustic duo roots with their first experimental electric
album Beard of Stars in 1970. But it was the addition of bass player
Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend that turned T. Rex into a
full-fledged rock 'n' roll band. They scored a number one hit with the
single "Hot Love" and were on their way.
They started work on Electric Warrior as their star was quickly rising.
Mastering the controls on most of T. Rex's recordings was producer, Tony
Visconti, who in 1967 had gone to check out the act because of its
unusual moniker. Inside London's UFO club, he found Bolan and Took
sitting cross-legged on the stage with 300 enraptured fans swaying
around them as if in a trance. Visconti took on Bolan and Co. first as
his token underground band, but they would later become the calling card
that launched the producer's highly respected career.
By 1970, Visconti had worked with the band on five albums, but it was
with Electric Warrior that he got a taste of life on the road. He went
along for the ride as they set out on a packed tour schedule to promote
"Hot Love," playing shows at night and recording tracks for the new
album by day. A few songs were done in London's Trident Studios. Then,
on their first American tour as a quartet, they slipped into New York's
Media Sounds and Wally Heider's studio in Los Angeles. All the while,
Visconti was in tow, shaping, refining, and sprinkling strings and
polish over T. Rex's tunes.
T. Rex was right to trust Visconti's ear. Electric Warrior mixes Finn's
intoxicating boogie beats with Bolan's chunky bar chords and warbled
tenor vocals making it an undeniably infectious album. It went straight
to number #1 on the UK album chart in September 1971, and within a few
months Britain was in the ferocious clutches of T. Rex mania. The band
was packing auditoriums, despite sometimes dodgy performances. Bolan and
crew could go nowhere without mobs of followers clawing at their clothes
and ripping parts off their cars. Headlines in the NME, England's top
music weekly, routinely reported hysteria on the scale of Beatlemania at
T. Rex concerts, with girls fainting from excitement. It wasn't
surprising that T. Rex also swept up all the top honors in the paper's
annual readers' poll.
By this time, Bolan, who had worked as a model before his musical career
took off, had perfected an on-stage look that forged the foundations of
the glam phenomenon. Boosting his petite stature with platform shoes and
frequently crowning himself with a stovepipe hat, he appeared larger
than life. His androgynous ensembles -- velvet trousers, a bit of
glitter around the eyes and the occasional addition of a thrift store
feather boa managed to pair stylized romanticism with a kind of winking
rebellion. Bolan knew how important it was to give the audience
something to look at and be inspired by. He once told a journalist in
1973, "It is important for us to be seen." An appearance on Britain's
Top of the Pops show sent fans taking Bolan's lead and copying his
While Bolan fancied himself a visual trendsetter, he was earnest in his
pursuits as a musician and a poet, drawing inspirations from such
literary greats such as J.R.R. Tolkien, British writers Byron and Keats
and French romanticist Arthur Rimbaud. In 1969 Bolan even went so far as
to produce his own book of poetry, The Warlock of Love. From its pages:
The breeze from the hill journeyed through his
His cloak of caution, threadbare and patterned, fell
to the moorland mire like a lamented autumn leaf.
He dribbled his thoughts like a mastiff.
"If only," he muttered, uttering words of poetry in
magical wordways, causing violent upheavals in the
animal homesteads within earshot of his daggered lips.
While some dismissed the volume as self-indulgence, it sold an
impressive 40,000 copies to become one of Britain's best-selling books
If being a published poet established Bolan's place as his generation's
brooding mystic, Electric Warrior solidified his status as a pop star.
His lyrics flexed from nuanced metaphor to catchy refrain, always backed
up by the foursome's trademark grooves.
I could have loved you girl
Like a planet
I could have chained your heart to a star
But it doesn't really matter at all
No, it really doesn't matter at all
Life's a gas
Hope it's gonna last
-- "Life's A Gas"
Modesty was never part of Bolan's act, and he was never shy about
singing his own praises to the press. While all his posturing and
arrogance may have been bait for those willing to take it or debate it,
it always gave people something to talk about. In a 1971 interview Bolan
"I'm a writer, I've got three science fiction books coming out and a
book of poetry. I'm doing some music for a Fellini film, I'm being asked
to direct a film I wrote..."
Such grandiose statements would send interviewers reeling and fans
clamoring for his future projects, keeping Bolan's name constantly in
people's heads -- exactly where he wanted to be.
While the band continued on a prolific path, it is with Electric Warrior
that T. Rex can lay legitimate claim to the creation of glam rock -- a
musical and fashion style that would later be adopted by the likes of
Gary Glitter and David Bowie. But while Bowie has managed a long career
of reinventions and comebacks, Bolan's untimely demise in a 1977 car
crash cut short the promise of T. Rex's evolution. Bolan's partner
Mickey Finn died just this January 11, 2003, at age 55.
What they left behind is an influential catalog whose pinnacle is now
being re-released by Rhino Records. The expanded and remastered Electric
Warrior features the hit singles "Jeepster" and "Bang A Gong," plus rare
and previously unreleased tracks, a 1971 interview with Bolan, and liner
notes by Sean Egan.
As T. Rex's music continues to be a modern force, now showing up in
television commercials and in contemporary dance clubs -- giving Bolan
some belated dues -- it is for their pioneering of a timeless musical
movement that T. Rex will forever be remembered.
Get it on!
Kastle is a freelance writer and rock music enthusiast based in Los
Angeles. She contributes regularly to the Los Angeles Times, New York
Post, and CoolGrrrls.com.