It's just rock & roll (with makeup) but we like it
Marc Bolan had been a mod, a hippie, a folkie troubadour and many other things, but, at the age of 24, the only thing he knew for sure was that he was going to be a star. In his tiny 165 centimeters was enclosed a giant ego and a blind confidence in himself, so when in January 1971 Ride A White Swan climbed to number two in the charts he knew that this was his year. He had recently traded in his acoustic guitar for a Les Paul and was ready to conquer the world with it. His new reinvention as an electric rock & roll warrior was going to give way to Glam Rock and he was going to turn his band, T. Rex, into the closest thing to Beatlemania that the UK had ever had.
That band was actually almost new, Bolan had released four albums under the name of Tyrannosaurus Rex - with only the accompaniment of percussion - on the first three was Steve Peregrin Took and on the fourth, Mickey Finn. With the latter on board he had released another album, simply entitled T. Rex, in which he shortened the band name and plugged in his guitar. After the success of Ride A White Swan Bolan and his friend and producer Tony Visconti called in bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, but, above all, they brought in the unmistakable voices of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, formerly of the Turtles, known as Flo & Eddie, Bolan's boogie was born.
The first thing they recorded together was Hot Love, a smash hit that climbed to the top of the charts. Its success stimulated Bolan's creativity and in a short time he composed his best collection of songs to date, and he was ready to record an album at the height of his own ego. If rock and roll had lost the effervescence of its beginnings and the desire to have fun, Bolan and his T. Rex were going to bring it back and Electric Warrior, as the album would be called, would be the trigger.
The opening of the album did not disappoint: it had a slow but irresistible groove of guitar, bass and drums, and over it Bolan's whispered voice, soon followed by the backing vocals of the essential Flo & Eddie. Then Bolan throws in a couple of simple guitar riffs and begins to let out those sighs and screams that make it all the same whatever he's singing about: it all sounds dirty and sweet, like the best sex.
Bolan had traded unicorns and Tolkien for planetary queens, cosmic dancers, velvet hats, ocean houses, diamond star halos, bebop moons, mambo suns, witches and electric warriors; all pure nonsense that sounded like poetry when it came out of his mouth. The album is irresistible and it is so not only because of those irrepressible invitations to have a good time, guided by Bolan's famous boogie, but because they are perfectly counterpointed by his wonderful acoustic ballads, those mid-tempos to which Tony Visconti added luxurious string sections that sounded as if Bolan was opening wide.
The best of them all appeared in second place with the beautiful Cosmic Dancer, on which Bolan made it clear that he had always known he was going to be a star: "I danced my way out of the womb, Is it strange to dance so soon?" A reverse guitar adorns the final part along with Flo & Eddie's backing vocals. The beat returns with Jeepster, another of his greatest hits, and another unbridled invitation to dance and possibly something more. Monolith opens with Bolan on guitar: it has a slow and pounding rhythm, perfect for his lewd whisper and Flo & Eddie's backing vocals, it is one of the songs where he lets loose with the Les Paul, using the wah. The first side closes with Lean Woman Blues, which is just that, a blues that sounds like sex all over the place, including his overdubbed guitar solo.
Then comes THE SONG- Get It On – with its irresistible riff, an infectious melody and an unstoppable chorus: it has all the elements of a hit, colored by a lascivious, laddish vocal. Never has banging a gong sounded so obscene and fun as in this wonder that gave him his second number one in the UK and broke into the top ten in the US, renamed Bang A Gong. Planet Queen once again makes perfect use of Flo & Eddie's backing vocals, along with an irresistible chorus. Then comes the second acoustic wonder, Girl: Visconti's production is once again superb, with the flugerhorn giving the perfect counterpoint to Bolan's melody. Then Bolan's boogie returns with The Motivator, which is again surrounded by an excellent string arrangement, Flo & Eddie and a fuzz and wah filled guitar. On Life's A Gas it seems as if Bolan is able to steal your heart with every word sung, while on Rip Off he tries to rip it right out of you, with tremendous vocal force. To add to the intensity Visconti brings in Ian McDonald's saxophone, which works perfectly.
In Bolan’s time he was underestimated as a simple teenage girl phenomenon, but when rock & roll is this much fun, it's simply unstoppable. 50 years later his imprint has been seen on artists of all kinds, with Get It On serving as inspiration for the rocking Cigarettes & Alcohol by Oasis and for the poppy Cream by Prince. On the other hand, Electric Warrior’s impact can be seen on his friend Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust (Lady Stardust was a song about Bolan), but also on Paul Weller, the Smiths and the Pixies.
Marc Bolan brought back the simplicity and fun of early rock & roll, took all the machismo out of it with a few drops of glitter, and made it, again, sexy. John Lennon claimed that Glam was just "rock & roll with lipstick" but, as the Stones said, we like it.