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A Beard of Stars—8


Released: 1970

1) Prelude  2) A Daye Laye  3) Woodland BOP  4) First Heart Mighty Dawn Dart  5) Pavilions of Sun  6) Organ Blues  7) By the Light of a Magical Moon  8) Wind Cheetah  9) A Beard of Stars  10) Great Horse  11) Dragon's Ear  12) Lofty Skies  13) Dove  14)  Elemental Child


Unicorn” reached number 12 in the UK charts and was the first Tyrannosaurus Rex album to be released in the United States.  It failed to make any dent whatsoever in the New World, however, so Marc Bolan and his percussionist and background singing extraordinaire, Steve Peregrine Took, decided to make a radical transformation of their sound.  They began recording their next album, to be titled, “A Beard of Stars,” using electric guitars and a full drum kit.  With the basic tracks for the album completed, Tyrannosaurus Rex went to the States for a promotional tour in hopes of converting new fans.  It was on this ill-fated string of performances where their partnership collapsed. 


Took was a true hippie in every sense of the word, believing very strongly in the “tune in-turn on-drop out” lifestyle.  He wanted to start and help lead the revolution, and was a little jaded from being the “sidekick.”  Like every good hippie, Took was a frequent drug user, with acid being his drug of choice.  Bolan, on the other hand, rarely, if ever used LSD, and wanted one thing, and one thing only…to be a superstar in the rock world.  Although he looked the part of the great hippie guru, and was heavily into the literature of Tolken and mysticism, Bolan could care less about the revolution.  Perhaps the band’s biggest problem stemmed from the fact that Took wanted to have the band record some of his own compositions, something the ego of Marc Bolan could never handle, and when Took went ahead and recorded two of his own songs (on the solo debut of former Pretty Things member John “Twink” Alder’s album, “Think Pink”), Bolan was upset to say the least. 


Everything seems to have hit the fan on a gig close to the end of the tour at the Electric Garden on Sunset Strip.  Took, high on acid, peeled off all his clothes and began whipping himself with his belt until he bled while on stage.  Bolan was shocked and had had enough, so he abandoned Took right there, leaving for England to find a replacement.  He found Took’ successor at Seeds Restaurant, where Tyrannosaurus Rex’s next percussionist was employed as the restaurant’s mural painter.  It has been said that Mickey Finn got the job because he looked very similar to Steve Took and because Bolan fell in love with the painter’s motorcycle.  More realistic however, was the fact that although Finn was nowhere near the musician Took was, Finn knew his place and didn’t mind being the “sidekick.”  Because Took’s percussion was already recorded on “A Beard of Stars,” and because it would have taken too long to teach Finn the parts, Bolan rerecorded the percussion himself, making the album, a true solo effort.              


From the very first song, “Prelude,” Bolan lets his listeners know that this is not the same band.  The quiet instrumental piece features Bolan playing an extremely elementary, but smooth and clear electric guitar “solo” overtop of finger cymbals for about a minute.  It isn’t really a song so much as a set up for what is in store.  A Daye Laye” follows and sounds a lot like “Unicorn:” catchy and groovy, with a great melody.  Bolan only twitches the sound by adding electric splashes on the track, not really changing his style all that much.  On “Woodland BOP” Bolan’s electric guitar gives the tune a slightly darker edge, but this is still the sound of “Unicorn” with its dance around the May pole structure and elfish catchphrases.  Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart” is “Bolan blues,” with the electricity starting to take on a greater role, but overall this is still a hippie sing-a-long song. 


Pavilions of the Sun” is another dancing elf tune featuring Bolan on bongos and a great melody.  The elf does a little moshing towards the end though as Bolan pulls out a punk guitar solo, slowly but surely transforming his sound, almost track-by-track.  Organ Blues” actually is structured like a blues song…but I doubt you will ever hear another blues tune just feature a monotonous organ and poorly timed bongos.  It is interesting and short, but not very memorable.  On the contrary,  By The Light Of A Magical Moon” is a good tune.  The happiest track on the record, it has a very soothing, bouncy rhythm and is close to pop as the record gets.  Wind Cheetah” closes out the first side of the record with an evil, atmospheric, electric guitar driven chant that is most definitely not the kind of song you’d want to hear while tripping.  Never has Tyrannosaurus Rex sounded so Goth, and coming on the heels of “Unicorn,” this is downright frightening. 


The second side begins with the title track.  Basically an instrumental, Bolan lets his electric guitar take center stage.  It isn’t technically great, but he adds his unique take on melody and the performance manages to come across as gleaming.  Great Horse” is a slow ballad with an interesting melody that doesn’t come right out and grab you, but it is a haunting tune.  Dragon’s Ear” is a cool, standard Bolan tune with his typical musical changes that sound out of place, but somehow work.  A wah-wha guitar is featured in the background of the cute little love song “Lofty Skies.”  The song is nothing amazing, but is pleasant and agreeable.  Dove” is a pretty ballad, warm and genuine.  For the first time, Marc lyrics are straightforward and have none of the mysticism heard previous.  The touching ballad makes for an interesting lead in to the lengthy Bolan album closer.  This isn’t the unusual spoken poem closer though…”Elemental Child” is a distorted, hard rocking tune, that is gritty and Hendrix like.  It is shocking in terms of what Bolan’s previous albums sounded like, but is definitely paving a road for what was to come, with Bolan’s one-man assault on your eardrums.  Not a classic by itself, but in terms of Bolan’s career, an enormous turning point, and a telling way to end the record.


None of the songs here are actually classics by themselves.  The album though, is very even and effective when listened to as a whole.  Significantly, Bolan doesn’t use his slurred vocal delivery that had become his trademark.  On “A Beard of Stars” you can make out most of what Bolan is saying, and while this might add to the accessibility, it does take away from that elfin charm.  You could call this a sellout album, where Bolan begins his quest for a hit record, or you could call it a transitional record, where Bolan slowly but surely develops his true sound.  I’ll just call it a pretty good album, with no filler, packed full of interesting, if not great tunes.

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