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My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair…But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows—7

 

Released: 1968

1) Hot Rod Mama  2) Scenescof  3) Child Star  4) Strange Orchestras  5) Chateau in Virginia Waters  6) Dwarfish Trumpet Blues  7) Mustang Ford  8) Afghan Woman  9) Knight  10) Graceful Fat Sheba  11) Weilder of Words  12) Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love)

 

After Marc Bolan’s fantastic single “Hippy Gumbo” inexplicably flopped in November of 1966, his new manager, Simon Napier-Bell convinced Bolan to join one of the first psychedelic bands in England, John’s Children (also under his management).  The band was, by all accounts, chaotic and enticing on stage and close to becoming a hit (even opening for The Who).  What John’s Children lacked was a true songwriter, so Bell figured Bolan could step right in.  Marc responded by writing the classic psychedelic anthem, “Desdemona.”  The tune was banned by the BBC for the line, “Lift up your skirt and fly,” but it garnered enough of a buzz to give Bolan his first taste of pop stardom.  The band never really meshed well though, as Marc was only interested in drinking a little wine and writing songs, while the rest of the band were untalented, full-bore druggies. 

 

So Marc quit John’s Children (and left his contract with Columbia) 6 months after joining to put an ad in the International Times recruiting other musicians to form his own band.  18-year old drummer Steve Turner responded, and after Marc convinced him to go by the name Steve Peregrine Took (a hobbit from Lord of the Rings), he joined up with Bolan.  Marc christened the new “band,” Tyrannosaurus Rex and immediately began playing gigs in and around Covent Gardens in London.  The twosome might have never made it at all if it wasn’t for a very influential disc jockey that took quite a liking to the sound…the legend himself, John Peel. 

 

Peel had liked Bolan from his first single, ”The Wizard, ” and used his influence by frequently allowing Tyrannosaurus Rex to open for club dates he would MC.  One such establishment was the UFO Club made famous by one of Marc’s heroes, house band Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd.  Soon enough, Bolan and Took had a solid following and obtained enough word of mouth to attract record producer Tony Visconti who offered the teenagers a contract with Essex Music.  Within weeks, Visconti recorded Bolan and Took on their debut album, ridiculously entitled “My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair…But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows.”  The album itself is beyond description.  With Took pounding away on bongos, and adding occasional bass and perfectly pitched background vocals, and Bolan scat singing in his unintelligible yelps, it literally sounds like nothing else.  The Elvis and Bob Dylan influences heard on “The Beginning of Doves” has almost completely disappeared, in its stead, Bolan has created a new sound: acoustic hippie music.  There are vocal hooks and melodies galore, but the songs are not fully developed and the added background noises sound too dated for this to be anything more than a neat novelty record.   

 

At the time though, it introduced the world to Marc Bolan, as close to a real life elf as there ever was.  His strange hippie tunes of far away lands written in old English were as far out as you could ask.  Bolan once claimed that his music was on acoustic what “Piper at The Gates of Dawn” was on electric—strong, but telling words.  Hot Rod Mama” opens the record and sounds like a Middle Eastern blues song.  There is weird chanting, bongos, and even a gong in the background, Bolan plays guitar so sloppy it seems as if he has never played Western rhythm before, and then there is that voice.  I don’t know what to say about it really…I absolutely love it, but can totally understand how someone could hate it.  Just to get a sense, the best I can come up with is that Bolan sounds a little like a caffeinated Bob Dylan, overtired, but in a great mood.  Anyway, the song rules in its strangeness. 

 

Scenescof” is a happy hippie tune.  It has a cute little melody and sounds just like an elf should, with strange high pitched little elf voices in the background and a warped cowbell keeping beat.  Child Star” has such a pretty vocal hook.  The tune is most definitely out there, but that melody on the chorus is sublime.  Strange Orchestras” is another acoustic hippie freak fest.  It is catchy as hell with that scat singing, and Bolan seems to be enjoying himself.  The background noises are really irritating, but there is something charming about this song, and actually, something charming about the entire album. 

 

Chateau in Virginia Waters” is the most normal sounding tune here, but it isn’t anything amazing or anything.  There is always too much ridiculous background racket for any Tyrannosaurus Rex song to be boring, but this one comes very close.  Dwarfish Trumpet Blues” is dark, captivating and has a great melody.  This is the best song on the album and this time the coda featuring Bolan singing his typical crazy scat sounds works very well.  Mustang Ford” is another Middle Eastern blues tune.  It is not nearly as good and is much slower than “Hot Rod Mama,” but has Took really shining on the bongos. 

 

Afghan Woman” is a pleasent folk number with a weird wind chime sound in the background that always makes my dog bark because he thinks it is the doorbell.  Knight” has nice little moody melody, but who the hell knows what the song is about?  There are only four stanzas…one being: “Head of plumes and crimson ostrich feathers/ 8th Hussars' manners gush out of my bloodstream, my queen.”  Also, Bolan literally barks like one of those little pug dogs at the end of tune.  Graceful Fat Sheba” is a slower song that doesn’t distinguish itself from any of the others.  Weilder of Words” is one of the better songs here with a very effective chord structure, but Bolan freaks out again at the end, pretty much ruining it.  Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love)” is a wacky ending for this bizarre album.  The song is by far the longest on the album and features a beautiful tune at the beginning, only to be ruined by Bolan chanting “Hare Krishna” for about three minutes at the end like some sort of mantra.  The tune fades out and John Peel reads a strange poem about a mole before Bolan comes back in on acoustic and sings a little ditty from which the album is titled.      

 

This is one of the most insane acoustic albums made and is completely a product of its times; there is no way ANYONE today could even attempt a sound similar.  There are times when I enjoy the hell out of the record as a whole, but you do have to be in the right mood to really get into this distorted hippie soundtrack.  In other words, if this album annoyed the hell out of you, Tyrannosaurus Rex does get a lot better, and if you are the rare individual that likes this album…keep reading and you’ll soon be in for a major treat.

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