T. Rex (band)
|Also known as||
|Past members||Marc Bolan
Steve Peregrin Took
T. Rex were an English glam rock band, formed in 1967 by singer-songwriter and guitarist Marc Bolan. The band was initially called Tyrannosaurus Rex, and released four folk albums under this banner. In 1970, Bolan began to make a shift from basing his band's sound around an acoustic guitar to basing it around an electric one and shortened their name to T. Rex. "Ride a White Swan" coincided with this change and instantly became a commercial success. From 1970 until 1973, T. Rex encountered a popularity in the UK unseen since the demise of the Beatles, with a run of 11 singles ranked in the UK top ten. 1971's Electric Warrior received sustained critical acclaim as a pioneering album of glam rock. It reached the number 1 position in the UK. The follow-up, 1972's The Slider, allowed the band to enter in the top 5 in the US. At the end of 1973, T. Rex started to have less commercial success but kept on recording one album per year.
In 1977, Bolan died in a car accident a couple of months after releasing their final studio album Dandy in the Underworld. Since then, T. Rex have continued to exert a vast influence on a variety of subsequent artists.
Formation and hippie era
Marc Bolan founded Tyrannosaurus Rex in August 1967, following a handful of failed solo singles and a brief career as lead guitarist in psych-rock band John's Children. After a disastrous solitary performance as a four-piece at the Electric Garden in London's Covent Garden, the group immediately broke up. Subsequently, Bolan retained the services of percussionist Steve Peregrin Took and began performing acoustic material as a duo with a repertoire of folk-influenced Bolan-penned songs with an eastern flavour, an obvious homage to Indian musician Ravi Shankar. The combination of Bolan's acoustic guitar and distinctive vocal style with Took's bongos and assorted percussion—which often included children's instruments such as the Pixiphone—earned them a devoted following in the thriving hippy underground scene. BBC Radio One Disc jockey John Peel championed the band early in their recording career. Peel later appeared on record with them, reading stories written by Bolan. Another key collaborator was producer Tony Visconti, who went on to produce the band's albums well into their second, glam rock phase.
During 1968–1969, Tyrannosaurus Rex had become a modest success on radio and on record, and they released three albums, the third of which, Unicorn, came within striking distance of the UK Top 10 Albums. While Bolan's early solo material was rock and roll-influenced pop music, by now he was writing dramatic and baroque songs with lush melodies and surreal lyrics filled with Greek and Persian mythology as well as poetic creations of his own. The band became regulars on Peel Sessions on BBC radio, and toured Britain's student union halls.
By 1969 there was a rift developing between the two halves of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Bolan and his girlfriend June Child were living a quiet life, Bolan working on his book of poetry entitled The Warlock Of Love and concentrating on his songs and performance skills. Took, however, had fully embraced the anti-commercial, drug-taking ethos of the UK Underground scene centred around Ladbroke Grove. Took was also attracted to anarchistic elements such as Mick Farren/Deviants and members of the Pink Fairies Rock 'n' Roll and Drinking Club. Took also began writing his own songs, and wanted the duo to perform them, but Bolan strongly disapproved of his bandmate's efforts, rejecting them for the duo's putative fourth album, in production in Spring/Summer 1969. In response to Bolan's rebuff, Took contributed two songs as well as vocals and percussion to Twink's Think Pink album.
Bolan's relationship with Took ended after this, although they were contractually obliged to go through with a US tour which was doomed before it began. Poorly promoted and planned, the acoustic duo were overshadowed by the loud electric acts they were billed with. To counter this, Took drew from the shock rock style of Iggy Pop; Took explained, "I took my shirt off in the Sunset Strip where we were playing and whipped myself till everybody shut up. With a belt, y'know, a bit of blood and the whole of Los Angeles shuts up. 'What's going on, man, there's some nutter attacking himself on stage.' I mean, Iggy Stooge had the same basic approach."
As soon as he returned to the UK, Bolan replaced Took with percussionist Mickey Finn. and they completed the fourth album, released in early 1970 as A Beard of Stars, the final album under the Tyrannosaurus Rex moniker. Meanwhile, after helping found the Pink Fairies and appearing on Mick Farren's solo album Mona – The Carnivorous Circus, Took would spend the 1970s working mostly on his own material, either solo or fronting bands such as Shagrat (1970–1971) and Steve Took's Horns (1977–1978). Unlike Took, Finn had no songwriting aspirations; Tony Visconti commented he was not as talented as Took: "Mickey wasn't as inventive as Steve. Mickey's backing vocals weren't strong, so Marc would double-track them with his own voice for reinforcement".
Glam rock and commercial success
As well as progressively shorter titles, Tyrannosaurus Rex's albums began to show higher production values, more accessible songwriting from Bolan, and experimentation with electric guitars and a true rock sound. The breakthrough was "King of the Rumbling Spires" (recorded with Took), which used a full rock band, and the electric sound was further explored on A Beard of Stars. The group's next album, T. Rex, continued the process of simplification by shortening the name, and completed the move to electric guitars. Visconti supposedly got fed up with writing the name out in full on studio chits and tapes and began to abbreviate it; when Bolan first noticed he was angry but later claimed the idea was his. The new sound was more pop-oriented, and the first single, "Ride a White Swan" released in October 1970 made the Top 10 in the UK by late November and reached number two in January 1971. In early 1971, T. Rex reached the top 20 of the UK Albums Chart.
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"Ride a White Swan" was quickly followed by a second single, "Hot Love", which reached the top spot on the UK charts, and remained there for six weeks. A full band, which featured bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, was formed to tour to growing audiences, as teenagers began replacing the hippies of old. After Chelita Secunda added two spots of glitter under Bolan's eyes before an appearance on Top of the Pops, the ensuing performance would often be viewed as the birth of glam rock. After Bolan's display, glam rock would gain popularity in the UK and Europe during 1971–72. T. Rex's move to electric guitars coincided with Bolan's more overtly sexual lyrical style and image. The group's new image and sound outraged some of Bolan's older hippie fans, who branded him a "sell-out". Some of the lyrical content of Tyrannosaurus Rex remained, but the fairy tales about wizards and magic were now interspersed with sensuous grooves, replete with orgiastic moans and innuendo.
In September 1971, T. Rex released their second album Electric Warrior, which featured Currie and Legend. Often considered to be their best album, the chart-topping Electric Warrior brought much commercial success to the group; publicist BP Fallon coined the term "T. Rextasy" as a parallel to Beatlemania to describe the group's popularity. The album included T. Rex's best-known song, "Get It On", which hit number one in the UK. In January 1972 it became a top ten hit in the US, where the song was retitled "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" to distinguish it from a 1971 song by the group Chase. Along with several Sweet hits, "Get It On" was among the few British glam rock songs that were successful in the US. However, the album still recalled Bolan's acoustic roots with ballads such as "Cosmic Dancer" and the stark "Girl". Soon after, Bolan left Fly Records; after his contract had lapsed, the label released the album track "Jeepster" as a single without his permission. Bolan went to EMI, where he was given his own record label in the UK—T. Rex Records, the "T. Rex Wax Co.".
On 18 March 1972, T. Rex played two shows at the Empire Pool, Wembley, which were filmed by Ringo Starr and his crew for Apple Films. A large part of the second show was included on Bolan's own rock film Born to Boogie, while bits and pieces of the first show can be seen throughout the film's end-credits. Along with T. Rex and Starr, Born to Boogie also features Elton John, who jammed with the friends to create rocking studio versions of "Children of the Revolution" and "Tutti Frutti"; Elton John had appeared on TV with Bolan before, miming the piano part of "Get it On" on the 1971 Christmas edition of Top of the Pops.
T. Rex's third album The Slider was released in July 1972. The band's most successful album in the US, The Slider was not as successful as its predecessor in the UK, where it peaked at the fourth spot. During spring/summer 1972, Bolan's old label Fly released the chart-topping compilation album Bolan Boogie, a collection of singles, B-sides and LP tracks, which affected The Slider's sales. Two singles from The Slider, "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru", became number one hits in the UK. Born to Boogie premiered at the Oscar One cinema in London, in December 1972. The film received negative reviews from critics, while it was loved by fans.
Transition, decline and resurgence
Tanx would mark the end of the classic T. Rex line-up. An eclectic album containing several melancholy ballads and rich production, Tanx showcased the T. Rex sound bolstered by extra instrumental embellishments such as Mellotron and saxophone. "The Street and Babe Shadow" was funkier while the last song "Left Hand Luke and the Beggar Boys" was seen by critics as a nod to gospel with several female backing singers. Released two months later in March 1973, "20th Century Boy" was another important success, peaking at number 3 in the UK Singles chart but was not included in the album. It marked the end of the golden era in which T. Rex scored 11 singles in a row in the UK top ten.
During the recording T. Rex members began to quit, starting with Bill Legend in November. Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow was released on 1 February 1974, and reached number 12 in the UK. The album harkened back to the Tyrannosaurus Rex days with long song-titles and lyrical complexity, but was not a critical success. T. Rex by now had an extended line-up which included second guitarist Jack Green and BJ Cole on pedal steel. Soon after the album's release, Bolan split with producer Tony Visconti. And then in December 1974, Mickey Finn too left T. Rex. A single, "Zip Gun Boogie", appeared in late 1974 credited as a Marc Bolan solo effort (though still on the T. Rex label). It flopped, however, only reaching UK #41, and the T. Rex band identity was quickly re-established.
The T. Rex album Bolan's Zip Gun (1975) was self-produced by Bolan who, in addition to writing the songs, gave his music a harder, more futuristic sheen. The final song recorded with Visconti, "Till Dawn", was re-recorded for Bolan's Zip Gun with Bolan at the controls. Bolan's own productions were not well received in the music press. An amalgam of Zinc Alloy and Zip Gun was released in the US as Light of Love. Rolling Stone magazine gave it one star out of five, while the British press slammed T. Rex for copying Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, even though Marc had spoken of releasing work under the pseudonym "Zinc Alloy" during the mid-1960s. Always a fantasist with an alleged Napoleon complex, during this time Bolan became increasingly isolated, while high tax rates in the UK drove him into exile in Monte Carlo and the US. No longer a vegetarian, Bolan grew heavy on a diet of hamburgers and alcohol, and was ridiculed in the music press.
T. Rex's penultimate album, Futuristic Dragon (1976), featured a schizophrenic production style that veered from wall of sound-style songs to nostalgic nods to the old T. Rex boogie machine. It only managed to reach number 50, but the album was better received by the critics and featured the singles "New York City" (number 15 in the UK) and "Dreamy Lady" (number 30). To promote the album, T. Rex toured the UK, and performed on television shows such as Top of the Pops, Supersonic and Get It Together.
In the summer of 1976, T. Rex released two more singles, "I Love to Boogie" (which charted at number 13) and "Laser Love", which made number 42. In early 1977 Dandy in the Underworld was released to critical acclaim. Bolan had slimmed down and regained his elfin looks, and the songs too had a stripped-down, streamlined sound. A spring UK tour with punk band The Damned on support garnered positive reviews. As Bolan was enjoying a new surge in popularity, he talked about performing again with Finn and Took, as well as reuniting with producer Tony Visconti.
Bolan's death and end of the band
Marc Bolan and his girlfriend Gloria Jones spent the evening of 15 September 1977 drinking at the Speakeasy and then dining at Morton's club on Berkeley Square, in Mayfair, Central London. While driving home early in the morning of 16 September, Jones crashed Bolan's purple Mini 1275GT into a tree (now the site of Bolan's Rock Shrine), after failing to negotiate a small humpback bridge near Gipsy Lane on Queens Ride, Barnes, southwest London, a few miles from his home at 142 Upper Richmond Road West in East Sheen. While Jones was severely injured, Bolan was killed in the crash, two weeks before his 30th birthday.
Bolan's death ended the band. Steve Peregrin Took died from asphyxiation from a cocktail cherry after his throat was numbed from his use of morphine and magic mushrooms in 1980, Steve Currie also died in a car crash, in 1981; Mickey Finn succumbed to illness in 2003. Peter 'Dino' Dines died of a heart attack in 2004.
Attempts at reforming
Since Marc Bolan's death there have been two attempts to reform the band with former members. Since Bolan was the only member to have appeared in every T. Rex lineup as well as the band's lead guitarist, lead singer and main songwriter these groups are generally regarded as tribute bands.
In 1997 former bongo player Mickey Finn formed Mickey Finn's T-Rex which also included former T. Rex guitarist Jack Green and drummer Paul Fenton who recorded and toured with the band briefly. This band has also included former Smokie guitarist Alan Silson and Saxon guitarist Graham Oliver. Following Finn's death in 2003 the band continued on as "T. Rex (A Celebration of Marc and Mickey)" until a petition signed by Bill Legend, Tony Visconti and David Bowie, among others, forced them to revert their name back to Mickey Finn's T-Rex with the blessing of his family.
In 2014 original drummer Bill Legend put together his own version of T. Rex which is known as Bill Legend's T. Rex, "T. Rex with Bill Legend" or "T. Rex with Bill Legend feat. Danny McCoy". This band is currently touring Europe and is working on recording a new album. Legend is the last surviving member of T. Rex's best known lineup.
Influence and media
T. Rex vastly influenced the glam rock, punk rock and Britpop genres. Johnny Marr of The Smiths stated: "The influence of T. Rex is very profound on certain songs of the Smiths like "Panic" and "Shoplifters of the World Unite". Morrissey also admired Bolan. While writing "Panic" he was inspired by "Metal Guru" and wanted to sing in the same style. He didn't stop singing it in an attempt to modify the words of "Panic" to fit the exact rhythm of "Metal Guru". "He also exhorted me to use the same guitar break so that the two songs are the same!". Marr rated Bolan in his ten favourite guitarists. Siouxsie and the Banshees released a cover version of "20th Century Boy" early in their career in 1979.
T. Rex are specifically referenced by The Who in the lyrics of their 1981 hit song "You Better You Bet", David Bowie in the song "All the Young Dudes" (which he wrote for Mott the Hoople), B A Robertson in his 1980 hit "Kool in the Kaftan", the Ramones in their song "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" and R.E.M. in their song "The Wake-Up Bomb." The early acoustic material was influential in helping to bring about progressive rock and 21st century folk music-influenced singers as Devendra Banhart. The lyric "Glimmers like Bolan in the shining sun" is featured in My Chemical Romance's song "Vampire Money", a direct reference to Bolan, taken from their most recent studio album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Additionally, Oasis "borrowed" the distinct guitar riff from "Get It On" on their single "Cigarettes & Alcohol". Oasis's guitarist, Noel Gallagher, has cited T. Rex as a strong influence. The music of T. Rex features in the soundtracks of various movies, including Velvet Goldmine, Death Proof, Billy Elliot and Dallas Buyers Club. The cover of The Slider album can be seen in the Lindsay Anderson movie O Lucky Man! and in Tim Burton's version of Dark Shadows starring Johnny Depp. In Miha Mazzini's novel King of the Rattling Spirits the narrator starts remembering his childhood when he sees T. Rex record "King of Rumbling Spires" in the record store and realizes he has mistakenly remembered the title as "King of the Rattling Spirits". "20th Century Boy" is currently used as the opening theme to the American reality competition series Lip Sync Battle.
- As Tyrannosaurus Rex
- My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968)
- Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages (1968)
- Unicorn (1969)
- A Beard of Stars (1970)
- As T. Rex
- T. Rex (1970)
- Electric Warrior (1971)
- The Slider (1972)
- Tanx (1973)
- Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (1974)
- Bolan's Zip Gun (1975)
- Futuristic Dragon (1976)
- Dandy in the Underworld (1977)
- Marc Bolan – lead guitar, lead vocals (Aug 1967 – Sep 1977; died 1977) also keyboards (Aug 1967-Jul 1973)
- Steve Peregrin Took – percussion, backing vocals, drums, bass (Aug 1967 – Sep 1969; died 1980)
- Mickey Finn – percussion (Oct 1969 – Feb 1975; died 2003) also drums (Oct 1969-Mar 1971) and bass (Oct 1969-Dec 1970)
- Steve Currie – bass (Dec 1970 – Aug 1976; died 1981)
- Bill Legend – drums (Mar 1971 – Nov 1973)
- Gloria Jones – keyboards, vocals (Jul 1973 – Aug 1976)
- Jack Green – rhythm guitar (Jul 1973 – Nov 1973)
- Dino Dines – keyboards (Nov 1973 – Sep 1977; died 2004)
- Davy Lutton – drums (Nov 1973 – Aug 1976) also percussion (Feb 1975-Aug 1976)
- Miller Anderson – rhythm guitar (Aug 1976 – Sep 1977)
- Herbie Flowers – bass (Aug 1976 – Sep 1977)
- Tony Newman – drums, percussion (Aug 1976 – Sep 1977)
- Stand and Deliver: The Autobiography Pan Macmillan, 2007
- Philip Auslander Performing glam rock: gender and theatricality in popular music University of Michigan Press, 2006
- BBC – Radion 1 – Keeping it Peel – 17/11/1969 BBC Radio One
- "Steve Took's Domain". Steve-took.co.uk. 27 October 2011. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- Sleevenotes by Dave Thompson to CD The Missing Link To Tyrannosaurus Rex Cleopatra Records CLEO 9528-2 1995
- "The story of Steve Took's singer-songwriting career". Stevetook.mercurymoon.co.uk. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
- "TAG's Marc Bolan & T-Rex Web Site – Legal Guardians of Marc Bolan's Rock Shrine". Marc-bolan.org. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- Legends of rock guitar: the essential reference of rock's greatest guitarists Hal Leonard Corporation, 1997
- Jeremy Simmonds The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches (Marc Bolan) Chicago Review Press, 2008
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- Stan Hawkins The British pop dandy: masculinity, popular music and culture Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2009
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- Colin King Rock on!: the rock 'n' roll greats p.110. Caxton, 2002
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- "Johnny Marr Interview". Les Inrockuptibles. 21 April 1999.
- "Johnny Marr Top Ten Guitarists". Uncut (November 2004).
- "Johnny Marr Top Ten Guitarists" Morrissey-solo.com. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
- Devendra Banhart. Mojo4music.com. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
- "Devendra Banhart Cripple Crow review". Stylusmagazine.com. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
- "Oasis biography". Rollingstone.com. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
- Liam Gallagher: 'David Bowie and T.Rex have inspired my post-Oasis album'. NME. 27 March 2011. Retrieved 25 November 2011
- Paytress, Mark. "Marc Bolan: T. Rextasy". Mojo. May 2005.
- Paytress, Mark. Bolan: The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar. Omnibus Press. 2003.
- McLenehan, Cliff. Marc Bolan: 1947–1977 A Chronology. Helter Skelter Publishing. 2002.
- Ewens, Carl. Born to Boogie: The Songwriting of Marc Bolan. Aureus Publishing. 2007.