A couple of weeks ago saw the 40th anniversary of the death of Marc Bolan but I held off writing a piece then: it felt so much more fitting to celebrate his birthday than to mourn his departure. He would have been 70 years old today.
It was July 1971 when I first experienced T-Rex. Mum, dad and I used to go on a week-long summer holiday in Clacton-on-Sea pretty much every year. We’d have lunch in a cafe on the seafront every day, and the cafe had a jukebox. Though I’m sure it was well stocked with records, the only three discs it ever played were Dawn’s Knock Three Times, Double Barrel by Dave & Ansel Collins – and Hot Love, with it’s splendid, elongated Hey Jude-style coda.
It was a thrilling time to be a T-Rex fan. Get It On was already number one (though hadn’t yet made it to that Clacton jukebox) and, due to Bolan being on two record labels at once, a slew of great singles followed in quick succession: Jeepster in November, Telegram Sam in January and Metal Guru in May. Thursday night was Boys Brigade night, so I rarely saw Top Of The Pops. But, despite missing most of his TV performances, I was hooked. My parents forbade me from spending all my pocket money on vinyl, but I managed to build up my collection of T-Rex singles by surreptitiously scouring the boxes of ex-jukebox discs (with centres missing) that used to be sold off cheap in newsagents.
I also managed to blag a copy of a “Greatest Hits”-style album — Bolan Boogie — for Christmas, simply to complete my singles collection, but it exposed me to the earlier Tyranosaurus Rex material: Dove, By the Light of a Magical Moon, She Was Born to Be My Unicorn. All spellbinding, bewitching tunes, Straight Outta Mordor.
It was a great time to be a Bowie fan too, of course. He had a similar hippy/folky back catalogue to Bolan, and they both caught/caused the same sweetly made-up, androgynous zeitgeist: underpinned by that crunchy, fuzzy, riff-heavy guitar sound that we largely have their common denominator, producer Tony Visconti, to thank for. Each of them constantly shifted, shifted back, shifted sideways, shifted again. And nothing captures Bolan’s own transition from psychedelic pixie to full blown, sexual, glam rock giant (or echoes Bowie’s) more than Raw Ramp:
By the mid-’70’s, Bowie was already on his fifth, sixth or seventh persona, while Bolan had seemed to lose his way after 20th Century Boy. We’ll never know if we’d have seen a Bowie-like reinvention on the back of the Marc TV show. Nor how he’d have reacted as punk — a genre he had inspired and respected — played out. Or if he’d have gone back to his ‘mod’ roots and successfully explored a more Motown/Soul sound that he’d started to experiment with after becoming involved with Gloria Jones. But we can say that we’d not have had Bowie were it not for Bolan, nor Marc if not for David, at least not in the spectacular forms we now remember. Their ‘rivalry’ accelerated Glam Rock, and ultimately popular music/culture, way beyond what had seemed possible or reasonable. Which is why there are at least a thousand reasons to celebrate the undying Bolan’s birth. And why we’re all children of his revolution.