Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 10: T. Rex, "Electric Warrior"

Artist: T. Rex
Album: Electric Warrior
Year: 1971
Label: Fly (UK)/Reprise (US)

There are so many amazing songs, songs you know the instant you hear them, scattered throughout history that it is truly impossible to keep track of them all. Often more difficult is knowing exactly which band is responsible for which song. Looking deeper into this idea, there are countless bands who, while primarily known for a hit single, possess some of the finest and most influential musical catalogs ever. To prove this point, most people will quickly hear the same chorus when they read the song title, "(Bang A Gong) Get It On." While some would assume that it was written by a "one hit wonder," the truth of the matter is, the band behind the song stand as one of the turning points in rock music and arguably the first true "glam rock" band, T. Rex. Presenting a mixture of Beatles-esque pop with the sleaze of The Rolling Stones, T. Rex perfected the formula that a number of bands at the time were pursuing. With amazing music and by far one of the most unique and fantastic voices in music history, T. Rex will forever be grouped as one of the countless bands who never get the credit for the amount of impact they had on the world of music. Though the band was originally called Tyrannosaurus Rex, the band shortened their name and changed directions from their more folk-based roots in 1970. Their second album under their "new" name remains one of the most amazing and influential albums ever recorded, 1971's magnificent Electric Warrior.

Though it is clear throughout the album that the group does not take themselves completely seriously, the music is extremely focused, and there is not a moment on the album that could be considered "amateurish." Yet, it is this relaxed freedom that allows the group to fully explore every song, and in turn create sounds and styles that had never before been presented in such a perfect manner. After listening to just a few minutes of Electric Warrior, it quickly becomes clear that it is this album that provided the framework for the music of artists like David Bowie. In fact, one can hear early echoes of Bowie classics like "Space Oddity" and "Ziggy Stardust" in songs like "Cosmic Dancing" and many others on the album. While they were musical contemporaries, this is not to say that Bowie ripped off T. Rex, but it is obvious that much influence was derived from the band. Truth be told, T. Rex founder, Marc Bolan and Bowie were, in fact, friends, so it is no surprise that both artists were making such similar sounds simultaneously. However, it is T. Rex that took the first steps into more structured "glam rock," though many would argue that it was Bowie who perfected the style. A great deal of this musical similarity may also be due to the fact that both artists shared the talents of producer Tony Visconti. Visconti brilliantly guides T. Rex throughout this album (as he did on their previous records), and it is clear that he has a true understanding of what the band is attempting to accomplish musically. Though there are some vestiges of T. Rex's former, more mellow persona, the songs are now laced with more sleaze and guitar solos, making Electric Warrior truly like no other album previously released anywhere.

Musically, T. Rex attempts to cover quite a bit of ground throughout Electric Warrior, from harder rock songs to more laid back, acoustic tracks. Regardless of what style they attempt, the band succeeds with flying colors, and the diverse moods found throughout the album are consistently fantastic. Using a pair of percussionists, Mickey Finn and Bill Legend, T. Rex is able to create a sound like none other of their time. With Finn concentrating primarily on bongos and other African drums, and Legend on a traditional drum kit, the band is able to great musical diversity simply through their percussion section. Band founder, Marc Bolan, handles nearly all of the guitar on Electric Warrior, and his playing, whether heavy electric or light acoustic never fails to be anything short of perfect. It is his tone on songs like "The Motivator" and "(Bang A Gong) Get It On" that makes the music akin to The Rolling Stones, and it also makes these songs groove like nothing else before them. Adding to this fantastic groove is bassist Steve Currie, who masterfully navigates each song on Electric Warrior, and his light, winding basslines are among the finest in music history. This is Currie's second album with the band, and it is clear that at this point, he understands his role within the band and executes is with flawless precision. The final element in the amazing music of T. Rex is the bands' brilliant use of horns throughout the album. From saxophones to flugel horn, the band uses the horns to accentuate the songs in a manner like no other, and it is one of the elements that truly sets the music of T. Rex aside from their peers.

Along with his fantastic guitar playing, Marc Bolan possesses one of the most amazing and dynamic voices in the history of music. Bolan (real name Mark Feld) has an almost ethereal, wispy singing style, and this is where the strong comparisons to Bowie's sound on "Space Oddity" become unavoidable. However, this is not a bad thing, as Bolan's voice is truly captivating on the more relaxed songs, and absolutely invigorating on the heavier songs. Able to seamlessly transition from more wild, almost screaming vocals like those on "Rip Off" back to his signature, mesmerizing singing style, Bolan is truly a one of a kind talent. Lyrically, T. Rex took the sexually charged style of The Rolling Stones and simply made it less subtle. Much of this can be found within the groups' biggest single, the aforementioned "(Bang A Gong) Get It On." The song was, in fact, originally titled "Get It On," but at the time, there was already a song of that name (by The Chase) making its way up the charts in the U.S., so the title was altered. The song itself is a hip shaking, rock and roll celebration that has rarely been matched. With the slightly dirty, swinging music, and Bolan's testosterone-charged, almost whispered lyrics, the song remains one of the sexiest songs ever recorded. The song also pays homage to many of the bands' influences, from the deliberate name drop of the Eddie Cochran movie, Untamed Youth, to the direct copy of Chuck Berry when Bolan sings, "...meanwhile, I'm still thinkin'..." over the songs' fade out. Though the song has been covered a number of times over the years, the original is still the definitive version, as the band perfectly embodies the spirit of rock and roll.

Standing as one of the most important bands in the progression of rock and roll, T. Rex remains one of the groups who somehow are often a "side note" in the discussion of the musical transitions of the early 1970's. Truly pioneers of the "glam rock" style, the group brilliantly combined simple songwriting with irresistible hooks with some of the most original, and fantastic music ever recorded. Their songs sway and swing like nothing else that was being created at the time, and their ability to perfectly match the mood of their music with the not-so-subtle lyrics is one of the key aspects that makes their music so extraordinary. Whether it is the quiet, more introspective sounds of "Cosmic Dancer" or the all out assault of "(Bang A Gong) Get It On," the musical latitude of T. Rex was unlike that of an overwhelming majority of their peers. With lyrics ranging from thoughts on extra-terrestrial life to some of the most sexually charged thoughts ever recorded, each song is delivered with equal flair, and serves as proof as to the amazing talents that Bolan possessed as a frontman. Influencing everyone from later artists like Queen to peers of theirs like Bowie and even the New York Dolls, T. Rex is unquestionably one of the most pivotal bands in music history. Transitioning from their more folk-based roots to a more aggressive, more innovative sound that would eventually be termed "glam rock," T. Rex are nothing short of phenomenal throughout their entire 1971 musical masterpiece, Electric Warrior.

Standout tracks: "Mambo Sun," "Cosmic Dancer," and "(Bang A Gong) Get It On)."

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