A Hubcap Diamond Star Halo: Electric Warrior Turns 50

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T. Rex – Electric Warrior

Released September 24th, 1971 on Fly Records and Reprise Records

Produced by Tony Visconti

Peaked at #1 U.K., #32 U.S.

Singles:

Bang A Gong (Get It On)” (#1 U.K., #10 U.S.)

Jeepster” (#2 U.K.)

Tyrannosaurus Rex was a fey English folk band with a heavy touch of psychedelia who liked to title things “A Beard of Stars” and “By The Light Of A Magical Moon.” Then Marc Bolan got a clue. Newly branded as T. Rex, they took on the trappings of heavy glam rock. Along with Bowie, they scored massive hits in Britain and helped turn the generations over, from the dour folkies and airheaded hippies to the slick, eyeliner-wearing glam kids. Their first, self-titled album made a splash in the charts, but Electric Warrior turned them into the poster children for contemporary rock ‘n’ roll and Marc Bolan into the sex symbol for both sexes.

They were Beatles-level big in the period, scoring 11 charting singles including 4 #1s. One of those was “Bang A Gong (Get It On)”, a mutant boogie that sounds like the night ripping itself open and dragging you into the bright lights contained therein. There are blissful moments, the kind that soundtrack the moments of your evenings that you’ll remember wistfully when you’re old and toothless. They’re the same notes that Bowie would hit for both him and Mott The Hoople, but earlier and with a bit more manic energy. Sure, The Man Who Sold The World predated it by a year, but Electric Warrior made that proto-metal sound swing, with a freewheeling groove that made the kids flock to shows. Another aspect in their meteoric rise was sex. The Sixties had traded in sexual energy for LSD-soaked humanism first, and then art, and then finally violence. Glam, spearheaded by T. Rex, reminded everyone that underneath the 4/4 boogie of rock ‘n’ roll was sex. It was in the name – rock and roll being old Delta slang for fucking – and it was dragged back into the light by Zeppelin the year before. Zeppelin was aggressive about it, though; they expressed a heavily masculine sexuality and T. Rex was much more androgynous about it. They flirted with the same sort of gender-bending that Bowie was mining but did it in a less obvious way, attracting both sexes into their orbit by dint of glitter, eyeliner, and rock ‘n’ roll myth-making.

Electric Warrior was the height of Bolan’s powers, although his next two albums carried on in a similar vein and were well-received all around. With glam superstardom (and a lot of drugs) comes hubris, though, and his 1974 sprawler Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow, which incorporated some funk and R&B into his monstrous cosmic boogie, was largely hated upon arrival. After that moment of cold water in the face, Bolan tried to recapture the magic several times, but the public had moved on. Glam was done by 1974 and its other standard-bearer had moved on to plastic soul and mounds of cocaine. He may have recovered his footing eventually. 1977’s Dandy In The Underworld found him writing better songs than he had in the past few years and a public more accepting of glammy trash (thanks to the New York Dolls and the surging underground of punk rock, plus their tour with The Damned) but he died in a car accident in September, six months after releasing the album. Who knows if Bolan would have been accepted as a sort of elder statesman for the punk generation, much as Bowie was; all that was left behind were memories, and that masterful 4/4 guitar crawl.

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