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Signature Sound

Electric Warrior—9

 

Released: 1971

1) Mambo Sun  2) Cosmic Dancer  3) Jeepster  4) Monolith  5) Lean Woman Blues  6) Bang A Gong (Get It On)  7) Planet Queen  8) Girl  9) The Motivator  10) Life's A Gas  11) Rip Off

 

While performing with Mickey Finn on “Top of the Pops,” to promote his album “T. Rex,” Marc Bolan, in what he later claimed was a joke, had painted glitter around his eyes.  Soon, it seemed all of Britain was wearing glitter, and “Glam Rock” was born.  Teenage girls were screaming for Marc like he was a Beatle and it was quite obvious that Bolan couldn’t live up to these shrieks and tears without becoming some sort of rock hero.  But with only Mickey Finn on stage, there was no way Marc could go through any of the guitar hero posses and pouts.  In short, if Bolan was going to become THE star of England, he had to front a real band. 

 

Enter studio-men, Steve Currie on bass and Bill Fyfield on drums.  On Marc’s suggestion, Fyfield changed his last name to Legend and the quartet recorded a single, “Hot Love.”  Within weeks the single was number one and “T. Rextacy” had officially begun in Britain.  Bolan wasted no time, and immediately brought the new band in to start recording another single with the help of Rick Wakeman (from Yes) on piano, and his American friends, the Turtles, on background vocals.  Titled “Get It On” in the UK and “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” in the States, this was to be Bolan’s most successful single ever and second consecutive British number one.  The single was included on the full-length album, entitled “Electric Warrior” and 1971 became the year of T. Rex.

 

The album opens with “Mambo Sun,” a great, mid-tempo, happy blues number with catchy background vocals.  The song is almost trace-like with its repeated guitar hook and dedications “for you” in the lyrics.  Everything from the straightforward, “I’ve got to be the one for you,” to the pinnacle of Glam, ”My wig’s all pooped up for you” is sung and Bolan’s voice and playing have so much attitude—as if he knows he is the biggest star in the world while he is singing this.  Cosmic Dancer” follows and is another slower paced tune, but again, it is packed full of confidence and attitude.  Producer Tony Visconti’s arrangements are absolutely perfect on this track and the closing fadeout is moving.  In the hands of the hippie Bolan, “Cosmic Dancer” would have been an excellent song, with toe tapping rhythm, and would undoubtedly possess that elfin charm…but here Bolan turns it into an atmospheric ballad, both grandiose and cocky at the same time.  No wonder those teenaged girls were going so insane…when the star is gorgeous, it is one thing…Gorgeous and cocky, well that is something different…But when the star is gorgeous, cocky, and capable of a song as elegant and graceful as “Cosmic Dancer,” well then you know you have a once in a lifetime entertainer on your hands…and the public and critics ate it up.

 

From the masculine lyrics to the boogie beat, “Jeepster” is pure Glam.  It isn’t about the singing, or even the playing—it’s all the way Bolan acts.  Glam is all cockiness and posture, and “Jeepster” is one of its quintessential tunes.  Similarly, “Monolith” is a Glam ballad touchstone.  It combines sleaze with loveliness.  Like when your 45 year-old greaser Uncle sings Karaoke at his wedding anniversary.  You know it is gross and kind of white trashy, but somehow it is still touching.  Lean Woman Blues” takes the grease up a notch.  It is pure blues-rock, with an age-old melody, but Bolan puts so much bite and swagger into the performance, he pushes it off as sounding hip.  Bang A Gong (Get It On)” though is the hallmark performance on the record.  Slightly less camp than most of the album, this is Bolan at his most mock tough, displaying the kind of attitude you’d see in a James Dean movie.  It is no wonder that “Bang A Gong” gave Bolan his only top ten single in the United States, as it is as cocky and brass as every American teenager tries to be. 

 

Planet Queen” rules—so cheesy and delicate, but with such a Glam facade.  The Turtles’ background vocals are tremendous throughout the album, but on this tune they particularly shine.  Girl” is a great almost power ballad with splashes of Visconti’s ideal orchestration.  Visconti was as essential to the sound as any of the official members of the band and went a long way in adding touches that made Bolan’s music jut out from the competition.  The Motivator” is a retread of “Bang A Gong,” with a very similar sound and attitude.  Since “Bang A Gong” is so good, it isn’t a bad thing to sound like it, and Bolan manages to add enough guitar fills and swirls that it distinguishes itself enough (particularly the laconic coda).  Life’s A Gas” is another excellent mid-tempo triumph.  The melody here is sweet and Bolan perfectly handles the restrained vocal delivery.  The lyrics are especially moving considering Bolan’s future: “Life’s a gas, I hope it’s gonna last.”

 

Uniquely, Marc is credited with starting the Glam movement in Britain, with all its pomp and fakeness, but is somehow still revered by the punks.  The closing number on this album, “Rip Off,” makes that enigma a little easier to understand.  This is Bolan as pissed off as he would show.  Using a shouting vocal, he probably scared his underage groupie fans.  Viconti’s arrangements lessen the load, but can’t entirely hide the fact that this tune has almost as much negative energy as punk would register later in the decade; a fascinating and memorable way to close this sexually implicit, sleazy, yet completely likeable rock-n-roll record.

 

With “Electric Warrior,” Bolan single handedly created Glam rock, inspiring David Bowie, Roxy Music, Gary Glitter, Roy Wood, Alice Cooper, and others into performing electric boogie with a little showmanship flare and a posh fashion sense.  The songs on the album are all enjoyable, while still clinging to his past accomplishments (if only barely), and the record is just really a fun experience.  With his next album however, Bolan would eliminate any ties with his old hippie image, and his sound would begin to take on a generic feel.

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