The Night Marc Bolan (T. Rex) Made Glam Rock The Next Big Thing
TOP OF THE POPS Photo of Marc BOLAN and T REX, Marc Bolan (Photo by Ron Howard/Redferns)
For his first appearance on the British music show Top of the Pops Marc Bolan of T. Rex smeared a little glitter beneath his eyes and put on a silver silk blouse, and in doing so he lit the fuse on glam rock. In the post-hippie haze of early 1970s England the kids were looking for something new, they just didn't know what it was. Marc Bolan and T. Rex offered a taste of a movement that would prove immensely appealing. Acts including The Sweet and Gary Glitter helped define glam rock, and veteran David Bowie thrived in the new fashion-conscious scene.
T. Rex was always much bigger in the UK than the United States (so was glam rock for that matter), but Americans caught on later. Songs like "Get It On," "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru" can be heard on classic-rock radio even if they weren't Billboard chart hits the first go-round.
But back to that March 24, 1971 performance: for young British viewers at home, Bolan's performance was the watershed moment they were looking for. The Beatles were over and flower power had bit the dust, it was time for the raw sexuality and poptastic fun of glam to take over. Marc Bolan and T. Rex became sensations following their performance of "Hot Love" on Top Of The Pops, earning them an important place in the world of rock n roll.
Before Bolan and T. Rex could give birth to glam onstage at Top Of The Pops he was doing what a lot of musicians were doing in the late '60s. His psychedelic tinged folk music was right in line with what peers like David Bowie and Ian Hunter were doing at the time, but if Bolan had any real ties to the hippie counterculture they were gossamer thin.
Performing as Tyrannosaurus Rex with percussionist Steve Peregrin-Took, the duo's music was already leaning towards Bolan's later chunky style of bombastic rock. More than just having riffs, the early songs have the same energy that T. Rex had in the early '70s. Bolan jettisoned Took after a failed U.S. tour but he wasn't done with the Rex yet. He released one more album as Tyrannosaurus Rex, but with a new decade came a shortened name and a new, electric sound.
In 1970, Bolan's new lineup of the band released the album T.Rex in December of 1970. No folk aspirations here, the album is full of anthems for a new generation. The songs grooved and the album art didn't shy away from Bolan's androgynous photoshoot ready looks. "Ride a White Swan" was a Top 10 hit in the U.K. and it propelled the album to the Top 20 in the albums chart, but it was the band's standalone single "Hot Love" that turned them into a sensation.
When "Hot Love" was released in February of 1971, it was the culmination of Bolan's work and stylistic shape shifting. Television presenter Bob Harris told Uncut magazine that seeing the band in Glasgow in early '71 was a revelation, but more important than their performance was the fact that they were genuine rock stars. There was no holdover from the folk rock, everyman way of thinking. He recalled:
The first gig was Portsmouth Guildhall. The band finished their set, and we were hanging out. We realized there was a lot of noise in the street – the whole crowd was round the backstage door. Local police had arrived. The whole place was surrounded by girls with scissors trying to get locks of Marc’s hair. What I remember is a lot of stainless steel flashing around at eye level. It was madness!
Life's A Gas
Ten days after their performance in Glasgow the band took the stage in the studio on Top Of The Pops and officially brought glam to the masses. The rest of the band is in various stages of rock looks (the band's drummer is wearing a trucker hat), but Bolan's fashion is on point. His hair is perfect, his eyes pop with glittery eyeshadow, and he's wearing a silver silk shirt that looks like it's going to catch fire if left under the studio lights too long.
Tony Visconti, Bolan's longtime producer who went on to work with everyone from Bowie to Morrisey explained that the glam explosion that came from this moment wasn't just because "Hot Love" was a great song or because Bolan was so mystifying, it was because young people were ready for something new. The return to the Earth, flower child thing had been going on for so long that it was played out. He told Uncut:
People were ready for Marc. You have to remember: everyone was growing a beard. Musicians were trying to distance themselves from being slick. People were wearing jeans. You’d see people on Top Of The Pops with beards, wearing jeans and flannel T-shirts. Then Marc came along. He was very good-looking. But he was cheeky. He was preening himself to be a rock star. He didn’t do this stuff when I first met him, but he’d probably been working this out in the mirror.
It's this performance of "Hot Love," the one that lasts for less than five minutes that taught young British people how to dress and act if they wanted to be glam. From the moment the performance ended the world had changed.
Bang A Gong
On the other side of the cameras, young people across England were reckoning with this beautiful man singing sexually charged rock n roll without abandon. While speaking about Bolan's music with the Guardian, Edge of the band U2 explained how crazy the Top Of The Pops performance of "Hot Love" made him feel:
It was kind of challenging. Marc Bolan was magical, but also sexually heightened and androgynous, with this glitter and makeup. It’s funny, the go-go dancers of the era were the legendary Pan’s People – he was way more intriguing sexually than they were. I’d never seen anything like it.
The Edge wasn't the only famous rocker to take notice of Bolan's change from flower power folkie to glam god. Elton John added to the Edge's sentiment:
He was the perfect pop star. His songs were great, his records rocked, he had attitude, he had performing skills, he looked fabulous, he dressed the part. At a time when I was still becoming Elton John, he was a great role model. I thought, ‘This guy doesn’t give a f**k, he’s just being who he is and he’s loving every single minute of it.’ And that had a great effect on me.
Through a single performance on the BBC, Bolan didn't just create glam out of thin air, he gave young people across the country who felt like they didn't fit in a uniform, or a shell in which they could put their inner rock star. He made it okay to be yourself.
The unfortunate irony of Bolan's life is that he didn't get to reap the rewards of all his hard work. T. Rex continued putting out amazing records. The Slider is especially fantastic. It rips from front to back the kind of rock 'n roll excess that's weighed down by its own glut. By the late '70s, Bowie moved on from glam, and today bands like Mott the Hoople and Slade have just one or two songs that make your local classic-rock station's playlist.
When Bolan died in an automobile accident in 1977 he was 29 years old. He changed styles before and he probably would have changed again. Not only will his fans never know what he had up his glittery sleeve, but Bolan will never know how important his music was. He'll never hear echoes of T. Rex in Oasis' "Cigarettes and Alcohol," or in the snarl of The Replacements, or the strut of Prince. But with the popularity of glam rock, he had to feel good about changing music for the better -- and it all started with one short performance on Top Of The Pops.
Tags: 1970s Music | Glam Rock | Marc Bolan | T. Rex | Top Of The Pops | What Did He Do?...
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