03 May 2010

Albums You Must Own (#11 in a series)

T. Rex
Electric Warrior (A&M 1971)

I was dancin' when I was twelve . . .
---Marc Bolan, "Cosmic Dancer"

Well, so was I. And T. Rex was one of the reasons.

It is easy to be enamoured by the Marc Bolan story that has been weaved by journalists for the 35 years since his death in an automobile accident on a southwest London street in 1977: Mod to psychedelic to Nancy boy to glam rocker to failed substance abuser.

But in 1971, Bolan had one goal in mind: conquer the American charts. His gambit was to update and use the skills of past masters that he had admired since his teenage years: the straight ahead rock and roll beat of idols Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. And the simple strategem of Elvis Presley: sex sells.

The initial salvo by his band T. Rex was the summertime smash single "Get It On (Bang A Gong)." The muscular three chord monty wove circles around this young listener; backed by a driving sax and anthemic chorus, Bolan purred You got a hubcapped, diamond starred halo/You're dirty, sweet and you're my girl. What else did a 12 year old boy in Midwest America need in order to feel a semblance of rebelliousness?

So, "meanwhile," as Bolan sang on the fadeout of that number 1 tune, "I'm still thinking," so were The Night Owl and a buddy of his, riding endlessly around the neighborhood on two-wheeelers with banana seats and high handle bars. More specifically, where did this T. Rex come from and where to find more of the same?

The answer came in September with the release of the long-player Electric Warrior. My friend knew a guy from the public school whose brother had secured a copy of the album. It was smuggled out of the older sibling's room and shuttled over to my parents' hi-fi. Fortuitously, I had a new portable AM/FM radio with built in cassette player. Most importantly, that cassette player had a glorious key: RECORD. Although the best sound would come from recording directly off the radio via a blank tape, I had convinced my father to buy me a cheap microphone that I could plug into the side jack on the contraption.

Strategically placing the microphone between the two speakers, and flipping the switch to "on," thus was born one of the worst recordings of Electric Warrior in the annals of bootlegging rock and roll.

But it was my copy. And I literally wore that cheap Memorex tape out. That slowed down Bo Diddley chug-a-lug of the opening cut "Mambo Sun" set the stage for a record of get up off your seat and turn-it-up. "Jeepster" - a cut likening his girl to a Jaguar - and "Rip Off" breezed with the driving, carefree rhythm of the young who naturally believe themselves to be immortal. Even the slower ones had a measure of cool to them: the count-off of "Lean Woman Blues" (One . . . Two . . . Buckle my shoe!) and swagger of "Life's A Gas" (It really doesn't matter at all/Life's a gas/I hope it's gonna last).

Lester Bangs said something to the effect that "what they tried to do with David Bowie was create another Marc Bolan." Like alot of his musings, I leave it to disciples like Jim DeRogatis to draw back the covers on a statement like that. But to me, Electric Warrior was the type of album that Bangs probably admired; because true rock and roll chooses you, whether it's in your car or alone in your room listening on your headphones. And this album is always gloriously decadent and one you can turn up. And really, can you expect much more?

1 comment:

  1. Suggestion:

    I think this would be an interesting fan forum topic. Get people to list their top 10 albums they own. I think it could generate some interesting discussion.