T. Rex and I have a long love-hate relationship. I hate the twee, “Ride A White Swan” nonsense, where Marc Bolan was done up in so much glitter he looked like a disco ball. I love the riffs of “Children of the Revolution” and “20th Century Boy”, the love of cars and girls that makes for the best rock and roll ( see: Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen). Fortunately, they had great songs amongst the image, and therefore the best T. Rex album is actually a compilation. But that isn’t an option here. And I cannot leave T. Rex off the list, as they played a big role in my life (and helped me develop a thing for pretty boys). Therefore, I went with the excellent and least twee of their albums, the brilliant Electric Warrior.
While the harder edge of “20th Century Boy” makes it my favourite T. Rex song, Electric Warrior is my favourite T. Rex album, a pinnacle in the era of glam rock, the thing that inspired Bowie to write the greatest of all rock love songs, “All The Young Dudes”, and R.E.M.’s lesser track “Wake-Up Bomb”. It was the definition of what it was to be glam.
Bolan’s obsession with the idea of cars and the road coloured his writing. A song like “Jeepster”, with its endless comparisons between cars and girls ( Bolan’s twin loves) charms even if personally I would clock any guy who attempted to do the same. Built on rockabilly and ending with a vampire reference that goes over the top with the audible sucking noises, it barrels along to a snarl and leave you exhausted at the end.
Perhaps you prefer Bolan and an acoustic guitar lamenting the girl’s struggle with the world in the lovely but sad “Girl”, or the fierce and jagged “Rip-Off”, which closes this album? Maybe it’s the simmering beauty of “Cosmic Dancer”, with its wistfulness and gentle melody you love instead. It could be the big, bold sounds of the albums best known track “Get It On”, which is epic sounding. I love the ramshackle blues of “Lean Woman Blues” myself, as well as the soul stirrings of “Monolith”. Bolan, for all his pretension, was a fantastic songwriter, and was able to take the familiar and add his own personal twist to it. With that rough growl of a voice, Bolan was a lost bluesman at heart.
Bolan inspired his contemporaries like Bowie, but would also inspire the 80s New Romantics and the emo boys as much as guitar gear heads ( Bolan’s gifts as a guitarist get overlooked by the image). It would be easy to dismiss T. Rex as style over substance, but that means you aren’t really listening. That would be a travesty.
Still, the glitter face blobs and “Ride A White Swan” do take it a tad too far.