Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy Birthday, Marc Bolan!: T. Rex's 5 Greatest Hits

Live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse -- and a legacy of immortal music. Marc Bolan, who put both the "T." and the "Rex" in T. Rex, did all of the above. His short and winding road ended in a car accident at age 29 on September 16, 1977, ironically, exactly one month after the premature passing of one of his idols, Elvis Presley, and two weeks before his own 30th birthday.

Had Bolan lived, he would be 67 today. It's hard to imagine him being the same age as David Bowie and Elton John, though they were all contemporaries, because his early passing has rendered him forever young. Thankfully, his music, for the most part, has aged better than he might have. Here are five of his greatest moments.

(Note: Sorry, I didn't forget "Get It On," T. Rex's best-known song and the band's only U.S. hit. It's never been a favorite of mine, not even when Power Station remade it in 1985 and took it to No. 9 in the U.S., one notch higher than T. Rex did in 1971. Personally, I've always preferred its Electric Warrior soundalike, "The Motivator.")

"Ride a White Swan" (1970) If an electric Kool-Aid acid trip had rhythm, it probably would be dancing to T. Rex's breakthrough single, which went to No. 2 in the UK.

"Hot Love" (1970) When in doubt, throw in a "la la la la la la la" chorus. As shallow as pop gets, which frankly, was sort of the entire point of T. Rex.

"Mambo Sun" (1971) From the first moments of Electric Warrior's opening cut, I knew the album was going to change my life. Some two decades after I heard it for the first time, it remains one of my favorite albums of the '70s, second perhaps only to (or quite possibly tied with) Joni Mitchell's Blue, which was released almost exactly three months earlier.

"Planet Queen" (1971) Like the previous three songs, a bridge between the atmospheric acoustic folk-pop of Tyrannosaurus Rex (as the band was known in the late '60s) and the brash electric glam rock of T. Rex's imperial early '70s phase, and that's exactly where I prefer my T. Rex. When his voice goes up an octave at 1:46, it still slays me every single time.

"20th Century Boy" (1973) Where would Love and Rocket's "Kundalini Express" have gone without this, Bolan's final Top 3 UK single? That it still sounds like the height of modernity in the next century says a lot about Bolan's songwriting prowess, T. Rex's performing chops and Tony Visconti's unparalleled-in-the-'70s production. What would T. Rex and Bowie, for whom Visconti produced such seminal '70s records (including the aforementioned Electric Warrior), as well as '70s rock & roll have been without him. If you've heard latter-day T. Rex, you already know. In other words, hail Visconti, too!

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