With a triumphant ‘Aaaaawh yeah!’ to kick things off, Metal Guru was a return to form after the lacklustre Telegram Sam. It was their fourth number 1 single, but it was to be their last chart-topper, and Bolan would be dead only five years later.
March 1972 was a busy time for the band, with two nights headlining at the Empire Pool, Wembley, filmed by Ringo Starr, who was to direct a T. Rex film, Born to Boogie. That same month the group began recording their third album The Slider. It was made at Château d’Hérouville near Paris, France, after Elton John suggested it as a way to avoid paying tax. Produced once more by Visconti, it captured T. Rextasy at its peak, but the fall was to be steep.
Metal Guru was rightly picked to be the opening track and gets the LP off to a blistering start. Bolan had been inspired to write about religion, and when explaining the message behind the song, proclaimed to believe in a god but wasn’t religious. Metal Guru was to represent all gods. Its mentions of the guru sitting in an ‘armour plated chair’, ‘all alone without a telephone’ create a vague image of a godhead who can communicate without the aid of BT, but as usual it’s an excuse for Bolan to conjure up some brilliant lines, and some terrible ones, even within the same verse. Consider;
‘Metal Guru has it been, just like a silver-studded sabre-tooth dream
I’II be clean you know pollution machine, oh yeah’
First line, brilliant, second, not great.
Fortunately the music behind Metal Guru is better. No great change to what had come before, but the similarities aren’t as obvious as Telegram Sam, and the sound is bigger and more muscular without sounding bloated, which it often became once Visconti stopped working with Bolan. The ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ chant brings to mind the end of Hot Love, but rather than comparing it to past glories, you’re likely to notice how much Panic by The Smiths sounds like it, which Morrissey and Marr did deliberately, both being huge T. Rex fans.
Metal Guru enjoyed a month at number 1, and with a new album set for release later that summer and the film to follow, it seemed T. Rex would be around for a long time to come. The Slider is very much Electric Warrior Part Two, but that’s no bad thing, and with tracks like Baby Strange, it’s a great glam time capsul. But Born to Boogie, released in December, was a surreal mess of a movie, blasted by critics but loved by fans. It was Bolan’s very own Magical Mystery Tour.
Children of the Revolution was released inbetween the two projects, and although it was another excellent single, but it missed the top spot. They also recorded fourth album Tanx. Finally moving on from the sound of the last two LPs, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman were ditched as backing vocalists and replaced with a gospel sound. It’s patchy at best.
Much better was the standalone single 20th Century Boy, released two months after Tanx in March 73. Muscular and sparky, it’s the first T. Rex song I ever heard, and still my favourite, thanks to its use in a Levi’s advert starring Brad Pitt in 1991, having been re-released at the time.
Although Bolan shouldn’t be criticised for finally trying to develop his sound, it came too late. His friend/rival David Bowie was now racing ahead thanks to his Ziggy Stardust creation, and Slade were the most popular glam outfit. Bolan was also putting on weight, no longer that attractive, elfin glam god. 1974 album Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow – A Creamed Cage in August was credited to ‘Marc Bolan & T. Rex’. The line-up was expanded to feature second guitarist Jack Green and pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole, and Bolan’s lover Gloria Jones featured in backing singers The Cosmic Choir. It’s an interesting listen, but the magic was getting harder to find. They were dropped in the US before the album could be released, and drummer Bill Legend quit.
Soon after Bolan’s already huge ego became out of control. He sacked Visconti and Mickey Finn left the group. The single Zip Gun Boogie was released as a solo single but performed so badly he took on the T. Rex mantle again.
He produced the next album Bolan’s Zip Gun (1975) himself, and it was savaged. The music press mocked him for his weight gain and he became a tax exile in Monte Carlo. The production became even more far-out on Futuristic Dragon, featuring disco backings and even a sitar. It also performed badly, but it’s a pretty interesting listen.
Single I Love to Boogie, also released in 1976, was a return to a simplistic sound, and with punk on the rise, suddenly a comeback was on the cards. Bolan slimmed down and toured with punk pioneers The Damned. He set to work on Dandy in the Underworld, released in March 1977 to critical acclaim.
Six months later, he was even fronting his own TV show. Marc, broadcast over six weeks on ITV, saw Bolan introducing some of his favourite new punk bands including The Jam and Generation X, as well as T. Rex performing old and new songs, albeit miming. The final episode featured none other than Bowie, then producing some of the most adventurous music of his life, produced by, ironically, Visconti. Both singers were glad to see each other and wrote a song together, Madman, before recording the show. In an eerie symbolic premonition of what was to come, during their duet, Bolan tripped on a microphone cable and fell off the stage. This final episode of Marc was broadcast on 20 September, four days after Bolan’s fatal accident.
According to Vicky Aram, a former nightclub singer who had been invited to discuss recording with Bolan after a party, she was driving behind Bolan’s Mini, being driven by his girlfriend Jones and with Bolan beside her, when the Mini hit a steel-reinforced fence post after failing to negotiate a small humpback bridge near Barnes, south-west London. She found the car near a sycamore tree (now a rock shrine). Bolan had died from a horrific head injury due to an eye bolt in the fence, and Jones was severely injured.
Of the classic T. Rex line-up, only Legend remains. Guitarist Steve Currie played with Chris Spedding before moving to the Algarve in Portugal, where he too died in a car crash in 1981 in Portugal. Finn played as a session musician for The Soup Dragons and The Blow Monkeys before his death in 2003 of possible liver or kidney failure.
Bolan’s star shone relatively briefly compared to some musical legends, but it also shone brighter than many. Were it not for him, who knows if glam rock would ever have happened. He took a potentially moribund decade and made it fun, sexy and cool. Pop had been declining ever since The Beatles had split, and Bolan brought it back to life. It’s likely that his 1977 comeback would have been short-lived, as his musical range was limited, but we’ll never know. What we do know is that T. Rex at their best – Hot Love, Get It On, Metal Guru, 20th Century Boy – have not only aged extremely well, they sound better than ever, all these years later. For as long as there is the teenage dream, there is Marc Bolan, and there is T. Rex.
Written by: Marc Bolan
Producer: Tony Visconti
Weeks at number 1: 4 (20 May-16 June)
Cricketer Martin Saggers – 23 May
Footballer Steve Crane – 3 June
Actress Debra Stephenson – 4 June
Athlete Curtis Robb – 7 June
Poet Cecil Day-Lewis – 22 May
Actress Margaret Rutherford – 22 May
Edward, Duke of Windsor – 28 May (see Meanwhile…)
22 May: The Dominion of Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka.
24 May: The final stretch of the M6 motorway opened between junctions 6 (Spaghetti Junction) and 7 north of Birmingham.
Also that day, Glasgow-based Rangers FC won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, beating FC Dynamo Moscow 3-2 in the final at Camp Nou in Barcelona. Celebrations were marred by a pitch invasion from their supporters, which led to the team being banned from defending the trophy next season.
26 May: State-owned travel company Thomas Cook & Son was privatised.
28 May: 35 years after he abdicated the throne, the controversial royal Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, died of cancer at his home in France.
30 May: The Official Irish Republican Army declared a ceasefire in Northern Ireland.
1 June: Hotels and boarding houses became required to obtain certification when the Fire Precautions Act 1971 came into force.
3 June: A Protestant demonstration in Derry turned into a battle.
5 June: The funeral of The Duke of Windsor was held at Windsor Castle.