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  • Writer's pictureTony Harris


While the 60s is normally cited as the era where the screaming teenager became a fully integrated symbol in the pop landscape, my recollections, such as they are, was that these outpourings were more rabid in the following decade. Now I have to be honest I was still only in single digits and probably more concerned with Supermac, my Bukta home kit and the like to pay too much attention but you would have to be impaired in both vision and hearing not to be aware of the hottest new chart climbers because the reception to them was so intense. I would stop short of tying David Essex scarves to my wrists, that's for certain.

Of course, Rollermania was always held up as the most frightening (by St John's Ambulance at least) of the pop invasions but I remember even one hit wonders such as The Dead End Kids and Flintlock causing all manner of mayhem around store openings or roadshows for which they appeared.

However, really it was the age of Glam that sparked this new generation - "All The Young Dudes" - into a whole new frenzy and the starting point for this was without doubt "T-Rexstasy". Now I was very young when Marc Bolan discovered glitter and an electric guitar so my reminiscences from the time are sketchy and my admiration came later but I distinctly remember "Ride A White Swan" on the domestic turntable and equally, the excitement that surrounded this new sound. Later on, when my record buying was already underway, I would recall his TV show "Marc" which I enjoyed but always found it strange that he should have his own show when clearly he didn't really have any hits. ITV seemed very out of touch - but then they had given The Arrows their own show and they barely dented the Top 10 more than twice.

The Beatles had ceased to be and The Stones were a fully fledged rock band - and of course that's what your older brother would play. Here was something colourful and current and Marc Bolan seemed to love every minute of it.

"Electric Warrior" is the album that is now always proposed by critics as the zenith of T-Rex's output but, and I am not trying to be controversial honestly, I prefer the album that came afterwards "The Slider". This is the album he made at the height of his success and I think as a result seems to have a clearer vision of what the world of T-Rex should sound like.

The predecessor despite the success of "Hot Love" and "Ride A White Swan" is still a little tentative in finding its environment. Only a year before, Tyrannosaurus Rex had been a prototype hippy folk band with a set of songs that made Donovan sound like Led Zeppelin. They had been championed by John Peel but had achieved little or no breakthrough.

Those two epic singles and "Electric Warrior" provided that impetus but by the time of "The Slider" Bolan was the biggest star in Europe and was making a big budget movie with Ringo Starr as director. Bolan certainly enjoyed the celebrity and peer acceptance that was now coming his way - especially after so many years (including his ill-fated spell with fabled non-hitmakers John's Children). He had become his creation in "Ballrooms Of Mars" - "the gutter-gaunt gangster and John Lennon knows your name".

Small wonder that the album was recorded in a chateau outside Paris in order to avoid the then punitive UK tax regime - so high had his star risen in the previous 15 months. This decision was on the advice of one of his other celebrity friends undergoing a similarly meteoric rise - Elton John.

In truth, the album doesn't deviate that much from the "Electric Warrior" template but there is just a tighter and more dramatic production from Tony Visconti. It is material that the band seem more comfortable with and as such there is a relaxed groove on this album that the band never quite achieved - or seemed to search out - again.

A track like "Rock On" whilst characteristically lightweight in its lyrical intent has a smooth languid rock shuffle that creates a bed for some scorching guitar attacks alongside a simple chant of a chorus. Glorious T-Rex.

The final two singles of T-Rex's incredible run of UK number one singles were the precursor to the album and - though admittedly my two favourites - set the bar very high for the rest of the record.

"Telegram Sam" has the full gamut of oddball Bolan characters - "jungle-faced Jake", "golden nose Slim" and "purple pie Pete" - who make up quite the gang of compadres for the mainman Sam. It borrows a little of the riff of "Get It On" admittedly but somehow manages to sound like something crazier and more frenetic.

As it happens, the title character was his manager and drug supplier, Tony Secunda. He had recently taken over the management of the band but had helped Bolan secure his own label through EMI which had gone down well with his new charges. Hence he would also be immortalised in the final track "Mainman".

The other single "Metal Guru" is the prototype glam rock single. It yelps, it screeches and above all it stomps. Descending strings, chanting chorus lines and celestial backing all create the most shimmering stew. It is Johnny Marr's favourite single.

Apparently, though not that it's immediately apparent, this is a song about God or at least divinities at large. It would seem that Bolan had a concern that these universal omnipotences lacked social interaction and their comparative isolation worried him - "all alone without a telephone".

In all honesty, like all good glam rock records it's barking mad and nobody could come across as quite as barking as Bolan at least as a writer. Exhibit A - "I have never never kissed a car before...".

But this is what I love about T-Rex at the time, it was very very difficult to unravel the meaning of the records into anything tangible very often but Bolan seemed to relish words that simply sounded great together. He uses poetic tricks of assonance and alliteration to enhance his seemingly bard-like abilities.

"Mince pie. Dog eye. Eagle on the wind". ("Baby Boomerang")

"She's a chevy chase cheetah". ("Rock On")

"Riding sliding sorceress". ("Mystic Lady")

At times, this style of writing seems almost childish with any old rhyme stuck together to make a line scan. Most certainly, when this was used for the previously more folky albums, it simply sounded purposeless and naive - try the almost unlistenable "Unicorn". However, when it is put against this gritty fuzzbox guitar sound, the slightly fey vocal delivery suddenly has a counterpoint that makes it not nonsense but anything you want it to be. It is thrillingly different and at its absolute best on this album.

The title track, "The Slider" has an extraordinary lazy groove at its bedrock and seems to use guitar techniques that sounds borrowed from Steve Miller, the Space Cowboy, himself. This feels like the kind of company Bolan would have liked to have been keeping.

But there are moments of clarity in all of this where Bolan is surely singing about himself. Whilst the rest of the song seems like gobbledegook, the image of the "Rabbit Fighter" - a name he invites you to call him in the lyrics - seems to reflect his competing characteristics of elfin mystic and ambitious superstar. Even a song as out-there as "Spaceball Ricochet" (another lovely sounding phrase) has the opening couplet "I'm just a man. I understand the wind and all the things that make the children cry". He had always seen himself as something of a pied piper figure (if for several albums not a terribly successful one) but surely this is an acknowledgement of his new found position at the top of the chart tree.

Towards the end of the song he references his Les Paul guitar and later in the album closer, "Mainman" he sings "Bolan likes to rock now" and it seems clear that he is confirming his very public Dylan-like conversion to the electric guitar. I suspect it had more importance in his own head and that of John Peel, who never liked the band as much once they did.

It may all, on paper, seem like an album that really is just a word soup - a reflection of Bolan's stream of consciousness, filled with strange characters and even stranger metaphors. But for all the "giraffes in the hair" it's a lovely way to while away an hour or so.

And if you think he was the only cat trying this kind of thing, then think of his contemporary, David Bowie and his wagonload of "Moonage Daydreams" and "Weird and Gilly" from the "Spiders From Mars". Bowie was a legendary appropriator and there is no doubt that his success came as a result from witnessing T-Rex and working out how to make it bigger and more enduring. He after all killed off his Ziggy persona and moved onto other musical forms.

T-Rex were not so assured and they ploughed a similar furrow while their flame burned out so that even the youngest of pop followers would wonder why they still had their own show. Sadly, they just never found another gear.

The band had formed a bridge between the early Glastonbury hippie world and this new type of rock and you can hear that even at their most rocking on something like "Metal Guru", it never becomes too raucous or too wild despite Bolan's appearance. By the time, the Sweets and Slades would come along with their more direct (and no less lovable) 45s, T Rex seemed a little wan and a little confused.

But "The Slider" is T-Rex at the height of their powers. All the ingredients of their classic performances are there but with a sense of awareness that allows a sinewy groove that still sounds box-fresh.

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