What does it sound like?:
1972 was the year of peak T.Rextasy when all of Marc Bolan’s dreams came true. He started his own record label, completed a massively sold out tour, lucratively visited America twice and released a popular movie, Born To Boogie, directed by Ringo Starr. There were four singles, Telegram Sam, Metal Guru, Children Of The Revolution and Solid Gold Easy Action, right at the very top of the charts, and a second successful album, The Slider, which outsold Electric Warrior in the US. He single-handedly dragged rock & roll out of the fifties and thrilled an audience of young teenagers whose cultural life began with the new decade. He was the epitome of a pop star, gorgeous, flamboyant, sex-craved and living in the present tense, the first Pop phenomenon since The Beatles. All the excitement is captured on this 5 CD/6 LP coloured vinyl lavish box set, with its beautiful cover and its colourful booklet, including an introduction by Tony Visconti and a 12,000 word essay by Bolan biographer, Mark Paytress.
It began in January with the Telegram Sam number one single, resplendent in its new livory, a navy blue background, bright red, upper case lettering and a brazen Bolan headshot, his famous corkscrew hair flowing over his shoulders. Even its sound was new, the guitars mimicking the horns, the rhythm section punchy and dynamic, a rattlesnake shaker and an enervated Bolan yelling “Oh, man”. He introduces us to his posse: Jungle-faced Jake, Telegram Sam’s assistant, Purple Pie Pete, his publicist, and Bobby (Dylan), his poet. Its riff, a Chuck Berry chug and its lyrics, Lewis Carrollesque, exude confidence. Then, Tony Visconti adds the magic of a menacing string quartet and the glorious and grotesque Flo and Eddie’s backing vocals. The B sides are telling, both straight rockers, retaining the unrestrained lust of Electric Warrior, and one featuring a car, rather than the elves of the Tyrannosaurus Rex days. Metal Guru followed in May and is even better, a maelstrom of guitars, strings and wailing voices, celebrating a deity with a riff to die for. The B sides are again quality, featuring another priapic car song and the wonderfully exuberant Lady.
The Slider LP came out in July. Before listening to it, you have the joy of holding the cover in your hands. The iconic, grainy, black and white photograph of Bolan wearing a top hat is credited to Ringo Starr and was taken at John Lennon’s estate. The reverse is a matching shot from behind. The blurred effect is a result of an impatient T. Rex fan over-heating the chemicals when developing the film. If you had been smitten by Electric Warrior and discounted the three tracks from the singles, you might be disappointed with the content, thinking it’s a lesser album, played in a minor key. It’s less immediately sexy, guitars shriek rather than growl, the arrangements are far less panoramic and some songs seem to be a pale imitation of an equivalent Electric Warrior track. Rabbit Fighter shares the blues feel of Lean Woman Blues, Buick McKane is as unhinged as Rip Off, Mystic Lady simulates the wide-eyed wonder of Cosmic Dancer and Main Man revisits the melody from Life’s A Gas. However, scratch off the surface frivolity in the lyrics and you will hear a vulnerable, self-aware Bolan who feels small with his Les Paul, whose lovers are few, finds himself crying alone and, at night, is fearful of the monsters that call out the names of men. The closeness of the microphones, Flo and Eddie’s vocals and Visconti’s cellos add an eery edge that emphasises The Slider as a less euphoric, more challenging and disturbing album. It seems fame has its downside.
The matinee from March at Wembley’s Empire Pool is presented in full with two takes from the evening. The show demonstrates how crucial Mickey Finn was to the live T. Rex sound. Stripped down to the core four-piece band, he provides energy and drive, allowing the space for Bolan to hog the spotlight. Bolan lacked the subtlety and dexterity to be a true guitar hero but he was more than capable of creating a pleasing racket, best displayed on an extended Get It On, although Steve Currie’s bass solo threatens to outshine him. He also oozes charisma on the acoustic section of Girl, Cosmic Dancer and Spaceball Ricochet, especially when he invites his audience to a house that “can hold just about all of you”.
The movie itself intercut the concert scenes with surreal interludes. The Soundtrack disc brings it all together, including a jam with Elton John and Ringo on a second drum kit for, of course, Tutti Frutti, plus Children Of The Revolution. There’s a Tea Party Medley featuring Bolan on his acoustic guitar and a string quartet. Ringo was in familiar territory: screaming fans, Magical Mystery Tour messing about, Tittenhurst Hall, music derived from fifties rock and roll, and surrounded by people speaking terribly precise English. Incredibly, it all hangs together very well, mainly because of Bolan’s elfin charm. No doubt, the Beatles connection helped Born To Boogie to its success in the UK and Europe but America was a harder nut to crack.
During 1972, T. Rex toured the USA twice to promote The Slider. While there, Bolan visited a number of radio stations whose ‘plays’ pushed records up the charts. Alone and armed only with his acoustic guitar, he played impromptu ‘sessions’. He has a tendency to butcher his own songs, though Girl and Ballroom Of Mars just about escape with their dignity intact and rockier songs like Baby Strange and Jeepster fare rather well. The worst quality recording contains his most impassioned singing. Left Hand Luke in 1972 is startling. In the end, the strategy worked. The Slider became his best selling album and the one for which he is best remembered in America.
Back in the UK, T. Rex recorded properly organised sessions for Emperor Roscoe and Top Of The Pops. These performances accurately reflect those recorded with Visconti for vinyl. They add little but take away even less. Right at the end of the box, we are treated to the B sides and the remaining singles. Thunderwing, Lady and Jitterbug Love are superb tracks, equal to Bolan’s very best, and Cadillac and Sunken Rags are excellent too. They all enhance the value of the 45s for the teenage T.Rex fan, when singles cost between 30-50p and LPs were over £2. In this box, Children Of The Revolution is almost an after-thought, but it’s a gargantuan single that sealed Bolan’s legacy, becoming, for a time, his best known track. Solid Gold Easy Action is a throwaway in comparison and the playful madness of the fan club Christmas flexi-disc ends the year continuing to follow The Beatles’ playbook.
In addition, T. Rex’s previous label also cashed in during 1972. The Deborah single was re-released and became a top ten hit. A ‘doubleback’ of the first Tyrranosaurus Rex albums was number one and an A and B sides collection called Bolan Boogie was another chart-topping success. To be clear, none of these are in this box as they represent pre-1972 work.
1972 was the year of The Godfather, Last Tango In Paris, maxi dresses, knee socks, the digital watch, recombinant DNA, Watership Down, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, The Joy Of Sex, Bloody Sunday, the Munich massacre of Isreali athletes, a massive Nicuaraguan earthquake, Bobby Fischer, Emmerson Fittipaldi, Ziggy Stardust, and Motown’s move to Los Angeles. A Slade 1972 box might compete, but, nevertheless, in the UK at least, it was the year of T. Rextasy and Marc Bolan’s twenty-fourth birthday.
What does it all *mean*?
We are entering the end of days for physical product. There are only two previously unreleased tracks in this box but it’s a beautiful package, capturing a Pop Superstar in his pomp. It is everything a box set should be, comprehensive, excellent sound and a lovely thing to hold.
Goes well with…
A display shelf. You should show this off
Might suit people who like…
Elvis Presley 1956, The Beatles 1963, David Bowie 1977, The Fall 1982, Prince 1987, 2Pac 1996, Radiohead 2000, Kendrick Lamar 2015