Thirty-five years ago on Sunday (September 16), Marc Bolan died when the Mini driven by his girlfriend Gloria Jones hit a sycamore tree in Barnes, London. To celebrate the life and work of this very British, very brilliant pop star, here's a look at his ten best tracks.
Taken from T.Rex’s defining ‘Electric Warrior’ album, ‘Jeepster’ is perhaps the best example of the kind of spine-tingling electric boogie-woogie that Bolan invented. Also includes some of the most playfully sexual lyrics committed to vinyl: “Girl, I’m just a vampire for your love – and I’m going to suck you!”
Riff sound familiar? It should do – it’s the one Noel Gallagher ‘borrowed’ for ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’, though really it’s just the 12-bar blues given a bit of growl and bite by Bolan. This is the song that famously ended the close friendship between Bolan and John Peel; the late DJ played it on his show and told listeners he “couldn’t wait to Get It Off”.
T.Rex’s fourth and final number one single, ‘Metal Guru’ is glam rock at its lushest, swooning between chords as Bolan sings about god. The song was reportedly a big influence on The Smiths. “When we wrote ‘Panic’, [Morrissey] was obsessed with ‘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’,” Johnny Marr has said.
Though T-Rex were an amped-up rock band, their origins were hippy dippy. In this slow, acoustic, string-drenched track, Bolan tells us – in those unmistakable vibrato vocals – how he “danced myself right out the womb/Is it strange to dance so soon?” Cosmic!
This is T.Rex back when they were known as Tyrannosaurus Rex – and had a bongo player instead of a drummer. The theme from Channel 4’s Glastonbury coverage in the 1990s, Debora riffs on the titular girls name and evokes mystic, cider-fuelled nights in the English countryside.
As Bolan’s band mutated from Tyrannosaurus Rex to T.Rex, they changed from acoustic weirdies to chart-friendly rockers. This track caught them on the cusp of caterpillar and butterfly, its lyrics steeped in paganism but its production leaning towards glam rock. It was their first major hit.
Few people made strings sound as dreamy and groovy as Marc Bolan. ‘Hot Love’ is the song on which he hit his glam rock stride, helped along by a Top Of The Pops appearance that saw him perform with dabs of glitter under each eye. Paired with his mop of hair and effeminate vocals, glam rock was created in his image.
The quintessential T.Rex song features crunching power chords, an introductory scream and the kind of lyrics that Muhammad Ali might have written: “I move like a cat, talk like a rat, sting like a bee, babe, I wanna be your man”.
One of the great things about Bolan is that he often seemed to be talking about something bigger than himself, bigger than the band. He doesn’t specify which revolution the children belong to, but we want to be part of it.
Conspiracy theorists love this one. Its first line is: “Life is the same and it always will be/Easy as picking foxes from a tree.” The licence plate of the car Bolan was in during that fatal collision with a sycamore? FOX 661L.