Music History

T. Rex's Electric Warrior turns forty on Saturday

As a record, T. Rex's Electric Warrior wears both the flickering flame of ageless cool and the glaring time stamp of what was 1971. Flagged as the entry point for glam rock, this second record for T. Rex (the sixth, technically speaking, as the band endured line-up changes and a moniker shortening from Tyrannosaurus Rex) blew the lid off of a genre that would be just as influential in sound as is was in the transformative look of rock n' roll's gender fluidity.

There were other acts that had a part in glam's birth too -- mainly David Bowie, who's Ziggy Stardust persona was being developed into an concept album and a film (not to mention his preceding 1971 release, Hunky Dory, which moved in this direction as well). Plus, Mott the Hoople's 1972 record All The Young Dudes contained the anthemic hit by the same name, but it too was the work of Bowie, who salvaged the almost broken-up group by writing the title track and producing the full-length.

But what Electric Warrior had within was something more apparent. It had sex inside of it. The whole record, all eleven tracks, were sexy. Its lusty ooze dripped from every bass tremor, every wiggly, Chuck Berry-harkening guitar riff, every gyrating drum beat, and of course, every breath Marc Bolan could produce. In America, the album (and T. Rex's) success was only seen through "Get It On" -- known stateside as "Bang A Gong (Get It On)" to avoid being confused with "Get It On" by Chase. But T. Rex's version, which only reached number ten on the American Billboard singles charts, was far from the best part of Electric Warrior.

It made sense, though. "Get It On" was so obnoxiously obvious; the bass line thrusted as Bolan dropped every rock and roll lyric trick in the book. The proverbial girl in question was dirty, sweet, youthful and clad in black; she was a car, she was in stockings, she was made of the wind -- and that made her wild. Bolan whispered, cooed, squealed and savored every moment between his own words. It was the kind of obligatory pop song that would also become the obligatory glam rock song.

Past the accessible, singular hit, Electric Warrior saw Bolan get free -- the veil of folk covering Tyrannosaurus Rex had been fully lifted. Bolan's lyrical tongue creeped and crawled all over Steve Currie's basslines with a calculated and recklessly lusty precision. But his words were just as campy as they were sexy. Bolan said silly things about women having hair made out of the universe and owning cats that started revolutions. The percussion (especially the kick drum and hand claps on "Jeepster") and Bolan's flittering, bluesy guitar work were also important, but the combination bass and breathy voice made T. Rex something different.

The record's undeniable heat also came from producer Tony Visconti's hand in the process. Just as influential to the glam movement as the musicians themselves, Visconti worked on the majority of T. Rex's releases, along with some of David Bowie's finest glittering moments, like The Man Who Sold The World (not to mention T. Rex's follow-up, The Slider). Visconti knew how to capture the dreamy seductiveness of Bolan, while giving plenty of room for the rest of the varied instrumentation to move around. Visconti even let the strings talk a little too, in a way that almost sounded like the instruments singing back-up on "Cosmic Dancer."

The above-mentioned follow-up, The Slider, was a nice compliment to the inherent grooves of Electric Warrior, but just a handful of years later, glam was dead. Not long after that, Marc Bolan -- who had also moved away from T. Rex to work as a solo artist -- was killed in a car accident in 1977. Considering the living legacy Bowie has created over almost a half a century, it can only be speculated that Bolan's could have been much the same.

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