Marc Bolan was one of the most flamboyant figures of Britain's early 1970s glam-rock scene. Pretty and pouty, Bolan and his band, T.Rex, had a string of top-selling hits such as Get it On, Jeepster and Metal Guru, which endeared him to teenage audiences.
Bolan, who died in a car crash in 1977, was an accomplished and sensitive songwriter with a unique musical vision. Electric Warrior, released in 1971 at the height of his fame, demonstrates those qualities. It's generally regarded as his best LP.
Bolan, who was born in a run-down area of London in 1947, was driven by a desire to be famous: he tried modelling before turning to music. He first joined the mod-ish band John's Children, who achieved notoriety by having their single Desdemona banned by the BBC. Bolan formed T.Rex - then called Tyrannosaurus Rex - in 1967 and jumped on the psychedelic folk bandwagon. Early LPs such as Prophets, Seers & Sages were filled with Tolkienesque songs about wizards and elves, and tracks such as Cat Black (The Wizard's Hat) on the album Unicorn had an innocent beauty. Bolan sings while thrashing his acoustic guitar, backed by some wild bongos.
In 1970, T. Rex made the transition to electric guitars and a more pop-rock sound. The name of the band was also abbreviated to T.Rex, reportedly because Bolan's producer, Tony Visconti, got bored with scribbling the full name on tape boxes. Bolan had hits like the melodious rocker Hot Love, and began to perform with a full rock band. An appearance on British TV, in which he wore glitter under his eyes, has been described as the birth of glam rock, the androgynous pop-rock style which dominated the British charts in the early 1970s. With Electric Warrior, Bolan's transformation from psychedelic folkster to guitar-slinging glam rocker was complete.
The album cover sets the scene. Gone is the dreamy-eyed hippy wizard of the earlier LPs. This time Bolan struts in front of a stack of amplifiers, encased in a golden halo. The songs are more structured, and a chunky electric guitar sound rises to the fore. The catchy hit Get it On is pure rock'n'roll. The closer, Rip Off, is an out-and-out rocker, while Lean Woman Blues features some intentional guitar missteps that parody the Chuck Berry riffs underpinning the LP.
But Bolan didn't completely leave his folksy roots behind. Cosmic Dancer is a lush tune on which Bolan proclaims that he 'danced himself out of the womb'. The delicate Life's a Gas is a romantic lament on which Bolan explains, 'I could have loved you, girl, like a planet/I could have chained your heart to a star'.
Electric Warrior was a hit in Britain but it cost Bolan many of his original fans, who accused him of selling out. Many of the songs were featured in the 1972 concert film Born to Boogie, in which Bolan performs in front of hordes of screaming teenage fans. This led to the term T.Rextasy, a phenomenon likened to Beatlemania. A deluxe CD/DVD version of Electric Warrior was released last month.