313. T. Rex – Metal Guru (1972)

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)

Births:

Cricketer Martin Saggers – 23 May
Footballer Steve Crane – 3 June
Actress Debra Stephenson – 4 June
Athlete Curtis Robb – 7 June

Deaths:

Poet Cecil Day-Lewis – 22 May
Actress Margaret Rutherford – 22 May
Edward, Duke of Windsor – 28 May (see Meanwhile…)

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.

309. T. Rex – Telegram Sam (1972)

After the success of their second number 1, Get It On in the summer of 1971, T. Rex released possibly the first glam rock album, Electric Warrior, in September. It featured some of Bolan’s best material, including Jeepster and Cosmic Dancer. T. Rextasy was peaking.

After their contract with independent Fly Records ended, they signed with EMI. It didn’t stop Fly from releasing Jeepster as a single though, and it would have been Christmas number 1 that year, were it not for Benny Hill’s Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West). Despite this probably being rather embarrassing for the sensitive Bolan, he’ll have been buoyed by the success of the renamed Bang a Gong (Get It On) in the US as 1972 began. And the band were back in their studio to work on next album, The Slider.

Telegram Sam was the first fruits of that LP to be made public. Showcasing their new beefed-up sound, it featured Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals once more, along with producer Tony Visconti. It was inspired by Bolan’s manager (and drug dealer) Tony Secunda, Bolan’s ‘main man’.

It may have enjoyed a two-week run at number 1, but Telegram Sam is the first sign of Bolan’s well beginning to run dry. Yes, the sound is heavier, but it’s really just Get It On all over again, only not as good. And the lyrics, where they used to sound inspired and were never less than interesting, are Bolan-by-numbers. He reels off a list of bizarre characters – in addition to Sam, there’s Bobby, Golden Nose Slim and Purple Pie Pete, who are all excuses to come up with increasingly bizarre rhymes. Take Pete:


‘Purple Pie Pete Purple Pie Pete
Your lips are like lightning
Girls melt in the heat’.

Not great. The self-referencing line in the last verse, ‘Me I funk but I don’t care/I ain’t no square with my corkscrew hair’ is better, though.

There’s still great stuff to come from T. Rex at this point, their fourth and final number 1 Metal Guru among them, but here was a sign that Bolan was happy enough to stick to a limited formula and while that was fine for now, he’d soon be behind his contemporaries.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 2 (5-18 February)

Births:

Footballer Darren Ferguson – 9 February
Footballer Steve McManaman – 11 February

Meanwhile…

9 February: Prime Minister Edward Heath declared a state of emergency as a result of the miners’ strike. A three-day week had already been imposed, and power supplies were turned off for many for nine hours from this day.

306. Slade – Coz I Luv You (1971)

“Get down and get with it!” Wolverhampton glam rockers Slade are one of the most fondly remembered bands of the 70s. Six number 1s between 1971-73, 17 consecutive top 20 singles, and according to The British Hit Singles & Albums, they were the most successful British group of the decade for singles sales. And I’m only just getting round to mentioning Merry Xmas Everybody, which I picked as the greatest Christmas number 1 of all time here.

All four members of Slade grew up in the Black Country area of the West Midlands. In 1964, drummer Don Powell, born and raised in Wolverhampton, was in a band with Dave Hill (born in Devon) called The Vendors. Meanwhile, Walsall’s Noddy Holder was guitarist and occasional singer with Steve Brett & the Mavericks. who released three records on Columbia in 1965.

The Vendors became The ‘N Betweens and gained momentum, supporting The Hollies and The Yardbirds, among others. Meeting on a ferry on the way to separate gigs in Germany, Powell and Hill tried to persuade Holder to join The ‘N Betweens, but he declined. Once they were all back home though, Holder changed his mind and became their lead singer. They had recently recruited multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea on bass, too.

By 1966 The ‘N Betweens had moved on from blues to a more R’n’B sound. They released their first single, a cover of The Young Rascals’ You Better Run, in 1966, produced by Kim Fowley, arranger of Nut Rocker.

They didn’t return to a studio for a few years, but in 1967, with flower power at its peak, Holder worked on an unnamed song with a chorus that went: ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by/Buy me a looking glass, I’ll look you in the eye’. Six years later it became Merry Xmas Everybody.

A local promoter alerted the band to Jack Baverstock, head of A&R at Philips. After spending a week recording their debut album Beginnings in the label’s studio, he offered them a deal with Fontana Records – if they changed their name. Despite misgivings, they became Ambrose Slade, inspired by Baverstock’s secretary, who had named her handbag ‘Ambrose’ and her shoes ‘Slade’… as you do…

Beginnings and instrumental single Genesis sank, but on the plus side, they found a new manager in Chas Chandler, former bassist with The Animals, who helped Jimi Hendrix rocket to fame. It didn’t mean instant success, but Chandler did set them on the right path, telling them they needed more original material and a new image. They adopted the skinhead look in an attempt to keep up with prevailing trends and as The Slade they released the single Wild Winds Are Blowing, which tanked.

A new decade, a new name: Slade. They featured on Top of the Pops in 1970 with their cover of Shape of Things to Come, but to no avail. They added lyrics to Genesis and reworked it as Know Who You Are, but neither that nor November’s LP, Play It Loud, got anywhere either.

Finally, their fortunes changed. In 1971 Chandler suggested they record one of their most popular live numbers. Their cover of Bobby Marchan’s Get Down with It (later covered by Little Richard) – retitled Get Down and Get with It, came out that May, and it climbed to number 18 in August. And for good reason, it’s an electrifying performance, particularly Holder’s raw vocal, and really captures an infectious, fun, live sound.

Slade were already growing their hair long once more when Chandler demanded they come up with a follow-up themselves. One evening Lea turned up at Holder’s house with his violin and an idea for a simple song, along the lines of T. Rex’s Hot Love, and half an hour later, they had written their first number 1.

They played Because I Love You acoustically to an enthusiastic Chandler the next day, who confidently predicted it would be their first chart-topper. He booked them into Olympic Studios in Barnes. Slade were less keen on its chances, thinking it too soft and poppy, until they were allowed to add foot-stomping to the rhythm. They also decided to change its title, and Holder came up with the idea to misspell it to fit in with their dialect. Thus, Coz I Luv You, the first of their songs littered with spelling errors, was born.

Coz I Luv You is a nice signpost to the full-on glam sound Slade would develop. It doesn’t have the immediate ‘wow’ factor of Hot Love or Get It On, but it’s a great introduction to what was to come. It’s interesting that they all thought it was too lightweight, and maybe the footstomping really did make the difference, but this track actually has a bit of a sinister edge to it, thanks to Holder’s vocal styling. Inadvertently or not, he makes ‘Don’t you change the things you do’ sound like a threat, and Lea’s violin at times adds to the slightly uneasy feeling.

Soon Slade developed their more raucous, straightforward take on Bolan’s glam rock. They were never bothered with maintaining a cool mystique like he was, and began to also be known for their ridiculous glam outfits, before going on to become national treasures. For now though, they were just a slightly weird rock band who had finally made the big time.

Coz I Luv You would later be covered by fellow Black Country musicians, indie band, The Wonder Stuff.

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 November-10 December)

Births:

Olympic rower Cath Bishop – 22 November
Actress Emily Mortimer – 1 December
Triple jumper Ashia Hansen – 5 December

Deaths:

Actress Gladys Cooper – 17 November

Meanwhile…

22 November: Five children and one adult die after becoming stranded for two nights in blizzards on the Cairngorm Plateau. It is still regarded as Britain’s worst mountaineering accident.

2 December: The Queen’s yearly allowance was increased from £475,000 to £980,000. I’m sure millions of republicans were very pleased for her.

4 December: The highest death toll from a single incident in The Troubles to date took place when 15 people were killed and 17 injured in the McGurk’s Bar bombing. The Ulster Volunteer Force are believed to have been behind the bombing.

302. T. Rex – Get It On (1971)

Moving fast to make the most of his long-awaited stardom, Marc Bolan returned to the studio to make a new T. Rex LP while Hot Love peaked at number 1 in March 1971. The result, Electric Warrior, is considered the first glam rock album.

Drummer Bill Fifield, who had made his debut on the last single, became a full-time band member and was renamed ‘Bill Legend’. This may have affected Bolan’s relationship with percussionist Mickey Finn, who apparently was hired more for his looks than musical ability in the first place. Although he contributed to Electric Warrior, he is absent from Get It On.

While in New York, Bolan asked Legend to work with him on drum patterns for a new song inspired by Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie. Returning to Trident Studios, Tony Visconti was back on production, and Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan returned for backing vocal duty.

Two progressive rock musicians were also involved, with King Crimson’s Ian MacDonald providing baritone and alto saxophones, and Rick Wakeman on the piano. In 2010 he recalled on BBC Radio 2’s The Glory of Glam that he was desperate for work to pay his rent when he bumped into Bolan on Oxford Street, who offered him the session. When he turned up, Wakeman pointed out to Visconti the track didn’t need piano, and the producer suggested he did some glissandos. Wakeman noted Visconti could do that, and he replied ‘You want your rent, don’t you?’. Wakeman earned £9 for those little touches of sparkle.

Built around that formidable Berry riff, steeped in sexuality and with some brilliant lyrics, Get It On is the sound of an artist at the top of his game. Coming after the last two number 1s, it’s a blessed relief, and it might well be the ‘coolest’ chart-topper up to this point.

It’s less polished and not as weird as Hot Love, and not as raucous as a lot of the glam rock to come, including 20th Century Boy (my favourite T. Rex single), but it’s such a groove. Yes, the riff is stolen (and would be ripped off again by Oasis with Cigarettes & Alcohol), but Bolan makes it totally his own, albeit with a cheeky ad-lib of ‘And meanwhile, I’m still thinking’ from Little Queenie itself during the fade-out. He comes on to his ‘dirty and sweet’ girl with some startling comparisons, the best of which are ‘You’ve got the teeth/Of the Hydra upon you’ and ‘Well you’re built like a car/You’ve got a hubcap/Diamond star halo’ (Bolan was a big fan of cars).

For the hardcore Tyrannosaurus Rex fans who remained faithful, there’s also a ‘cloak full of eagles’. Not that there were many of those left – the more the teenagers flocked to T. Rex, the more they accused him of being a sell-out, and it was Get It On that finally turned John Peel off. He dared to criticise it on air, which finished their friendship. They only spoke once more before Bolan died.

Released on 2 July as a taster for Electric Warrior, it only took three weeks for Get It On to become the second of four T. Rex number 1s. It also became their only US hit, climbing to number 10, retitled as Bang a Gong (Get It On) to avoid confusion with a recent hit by jazz-rock band Chase in the States.

Get It On would be covered by 80s supergroup The Power Station (featuring Robert Palmer and members of Duran Duran and Chic) in 1985. It was a hit, but the beefed-up sound robbed it of its charm.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 4 (24 July-20 August)

Births:

Northern Irish footballer Michael Hughes – 2 August
Newsreader Kate Sanderson – 9 August
Electronic artist Richard D James, aka Aphex Twin – 18 August

Deaths:

Northern Irish footballer Charlie Tully – 27 July

Meanwhile…

29 July: The UK officially opted out of the Space Race when its Black Arrow launch vehicle was cancelled.

6 August: Chay Blyth became the first person to sail around the world east to west against the prevailing winds.

9 August: British security forces in Northern Ireland detained hundreds of guerrilla suspects and put them into Long Kesh prison – the beginning of their internment without trial policy. In the subsequent riots, 20 died, including 11 in the Ballymurphy Massacre.

11 August: Prime Minister Edward Heath took part in the Admiral’s Cup yacht race, which Britain won.

15 August: Controversial showjumper Harvey Smith was stripped of his victory in the British Show Jumping Derby by judges for making a V sign.