Ride a White Swan

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"Ride a White Swan"
Single by T. Rex
B-side "Is It Love?", "Summertime Blues"
Released 9 October 1970
Format 7" Vinyl
Recorded 1 July 1970
Genre Psychedelic rock
Length 2:15 (single version)
Label Fly
Writer(s) Marc Bolan
Producer(s) Tony Visconti
T. Rex singles chronology
"Ride a White Swan"
(1970)
"Hot Love"
(1971)

"Ride a White Swan" is a song by the British underground (and later glam rock) act T. Rex which became their first hit single in 1970. Like all of the band's songs, it was written by the group's singer, guitarist and founder Marc Bolan.

When Bolan died in a car crash in 1977, a mourner paid tribute to Bolan by laying a large swan made of flowers among the floral tributes on display at Golders Green Crematorium in North London, where his funeral was held.

The song is one of many T. Rex tracks which feature in the film Billy Elliot.

History[edit]

In spring 1969, after three acoustic Tyrannosaurus Rex albums and an equal number of singles released to limited appeal, Bolan began to make the transition from basing his band's sound around an acoustic guitar to an electric one. The new electric sound was premiered on single King of the Rumbling Spires and tracks were recorded for a planned fourth album, before Bolan replaced percussionist Steve Peregrin Took with Mickey Finn following a US tour. Shortly thereafter, the new duo completed the fourth album A Beard of Stars (including some material salvaged from the final Took sessions).[1] This was released in early 1970. Later that year a fifth album was recorded. For its release, Bolan shortened the group's name from Tyrannosaurus Rex to the more manageable T. Rex, also the name of the new album.[2]

"Ride a White Swan", a simple four-stanza lyric with the second repeated as the fourth, was written in Bolan's West London home that he shared with his wife June. He immediately rang producer Tony Visconti to organise a studio session, and the song, which was brimming with mythological references, was recorded on 1 July 1970. It was little more than two minutes long and contained four layered guitar tracks, with Bolan also playing bass. It included a small string section but no drums, with time being kept with a synchronised tambourine and clap.

Reception[edit]

The song was released as a single on 24 October. T. Rex had appeared in the lower reaches of the UK Top 40 on two previous occasions, but were little-known among music fans. The progress of "Ride a White Swan" was slow but steady; it entered the Top 40 on 31 October but it wasn't until 11 weeks later – on 23 January 1971 – that it reached a peak position of number 2.[2] It was ultimately a novelty record by Dad's Army actor Clive Dunn – "Grandad" – which stopped "Ride a White Swan" from completing its climb to the top. The climb was made all the more remarkable by the song dropping a whole six places out of the Top 10 in the week leading up to Christmas 1970, only to find a second wind in the New Year. The song reached number 48 in Canada in February 1971.

"Ride a White Swan" made Bolan a star and boosted T.Rex's fame and reputation, and the follow-up single "Hot Love" went to number 1 for six weeks as the phenomenon of glam rock took hold. At this point Bolan introduced bassist Steve Currie and, prior to the next single and a major tour, recruited drummer Bill Legend to complete the line-up which remains the representation of T. Rex's halcyon era. The band would ultimately enjoy four number 1 singles and four number 2 singles in the UK by the end of 1972.

Performances[edit]

Bolan performed the song twice on Top of the Pops with Mickey Finn miming bass, performances which were a major contribution to the single's success. For one performance six years after its first release, on ITV's Supersonic in 1976, he was memorably standing in a large swan model, unusually not holding a guitar. As this was during Bolan's brief "Bolantino" phase, his corkscrew hair was also gone.

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Length
1. "Ride a White Swan"   2:32
2. "Is It Love?"   2:36
3. "Summertime Blues"   2:44

References[edit]

  1. ^ 20th Century Boy – The Marc Bolan Story by Mark Paytress, Sedgewick and Jackson 1992
  2. ^ a b "Bestuff – "Ride a White Swan"". 

External links[edit]