Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

A group appeared amidst the Glam Rock craze that didn't really fit in: Poppier than Bowie, more theatrical than T. Rex, campy in the right way, and with stream of consciousness lyrics that would make Dylan proud. They were Cockney Rebel, and their heart was Steve Harley.

Steve Harley was born on February 27, 1951, as Stephen Nice, and grew up in south-east London, sharing a bedroom with two of his four brothers and sisters. His father was a milkman and semi-professional footballer while his mother gave up a career as a Jazz singer “to have five babies; her own football team”. When he was three, he contracted polio and spent a total of four years in hospital on and off, until he was 15.

“Some of my sojourns were a year long but I never spent Christmas in hospital,” he says. He has fond memories of this period. “It was a fantastic place, Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children in Carshalton Beeches. Hundreds of sunny acres to get pushed around in a wheelchair.”

The wooden cabinet by his hospital bed contained his whole life. There, he would keep his books, notebooks and pens. “I was always reading and writing. I wrote poetry from the age of 12.” He doesn’t recall the pain of polio but does remember being with his grandmother and “breaking down in floods of tears” when he was 15, following his second round of major surgery. “I let it all out,” he says.

It was at Queen Mary’s that Harley first heard the Beatles. He took the circuitous route to Pop stardom, though: leaving school halfway through his A-levels, he went to work at the Daily Express in the accounts department. “I didn’t just want to be a reporter,” he says. “I had to be.”

He did his training, including a year at the East London Advertiser, before preying on petty miscreants and old lady shoplifters got too much. So he grew his hair long (it was 1972) and was asked by the editor to leave.

Harley started out playing in bars and clubs in the early 1970s, mainly at Folk venues on open-mike nights. Harley also busked around London on the Underground and in Portobello Road. In 1971 he auditioned for the Folk band Odin as rhythm guitarist and co-singer, which was where he met John Crocker, who would become the first Cockney Rebel violinist (professionally known, at the time, as Jean-Paul Crocker). The Folk scene proved not to be Harley's preference, and in the midst of writing songs, he formed the band Cockney Rebel, named after an essay he wrote at school, as a vehicle for his own work, in late 1972. Through the band Harley first met drummer Stuart Elliott, who has continued to record and tour with Harley on occasion to date.

The original Cockney Rebel consisted of Harley, Crocker, Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys and guitarist Nick Jones. Jones was replaced by Pete Newnham, however Harley felt the band did not need an electric guitar and they settled on the combination of Crocker's electric violin and the Fender Rhodes piano of keyboardist Milton Reame-James, who soon joined the group. The line up of Harley, Crocker, Elliott, Jeffreys and Reame-James made up the Cockney Rebel line-up who were signed to EMI Records for a guaranteed three-album deal in 1972. During June and July 1973 the band recorded their debut album, The Human Menagerie, which was released in late 1973.

The album received at the time mostly negative critical appraisal from the "trend-setting" publications and flopped commercially. It has since be vastly re-appraised and for many it's now considered an art-glam masterpiece. In 2004, Andrew Thomas of The Westmorland Gazette reviewed the album, and wrote: "Cockney Rebel were big news in the early 1970s. Songwriter and lead singer Steve Harley's distinctive vocal delivery, the choice of electric violin rather than electric guitar and Milton Reame-James' inspired keyboards made for an inventive and new sound. The Human Menagerie was released in 1973 when glam and glitter rock was at its height. It includes two Harley epics - Sebastian and Death Trip - both of which feature a 50-plus piece orchestra alongside the band. One of the best things about Cockney Rebel songs is Harley's lyrics, which are often rather opaque but always intriguing. The album is real mixture of light and dark. What Ruthy Said and Muriel the Actor are bright Pop songs, for example, while the epics' are loaded with hidden depths, both musically and emotionally."

Dave Thompson of AllMusic retrospectively reviewed the album and wrote: "Indulging for the first time in Cockney Rebel's debut album is like waking up from a really weird dream, and discovering that reality is weirder still. A handful of Human Menagerie's songs are slight, even forced, and certainly indicative of the group's inexperience. But others - the labyrinthine Sebastian, the loquacious Death Trip in particular - possess confidence, arrogance, and a doomed, decadent madness which astounds. Subject to ruthless dissection, Steve Harley's lyrics were essentially nonsense. But what could have been perceived as a weakness is actually their strength. Few of the songs are about anything in particular. But with the sub-orchestral production driving strings and things to unimaginable heights, and Cockney Rebel's own unique instrumentation - no lead guitar, but a killer violin - pursuing its own twisted journey, those images gel more solidly than the best constructed story. The Human Menagerie is a dark cabaret - the darkest."

I was one of those who were sold to the album from the start; it's among my all-time favorites. It opened with amazing Hideaway:

The second track was the fun number What Ruthy Said:

... Then came Loretta's Tale:

The closing track of the album's A-side was a queer masterpiece called Sebastian. Described by Harley as a "Gothic love song", the song features a 50-plus piece orchestra and choir alongside the band.

In August 1973, Sebastian was released as the band's debut single, preceding the album, which was released in November. Sebastian failed to find success in the UK, and did not enter the UK Top 50. However, in continental Europe, the song performed much better and became a big hit in various countries. It peaked at #2 in both Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as #30 in Germany. These are some of the song's lyrics:

Your Persian eyes sparkle; your lips, ruby blue, never speak a sound
And you, oh so gay, with Parisian demands, you can run-around
And your view of society screws up my mind like you'll never know
Lead me away, come inside, see my mind in Kaleidoscope

Somebody called me Sebastian
Somebody called me Sebastian
Mangle my mind, love me sublime, do it in style,
So we all know, oh yeah!

You're not gonna run, babe, we only just begun, babe, to compromise
Slagged in a Bowery saloon, love's a story we'll serialize
Pale angel face; green eye-shadow, the glitter is outasight
No courtesan could begin to decipher your beam of light

Now, here's the song with my favorite title of all-time: the runners-up are The Sensational Alex Harvey Band with There's No Lights On The Christmas Tree Mother, They're Burning Big Louie Tonight and Mott The Hoople with Death May Be Your Santa Claus. This, however, is the best: My Only Vice (Is The Fantastic Prices I Charge For Being Eaten Alive):

Muriel the Actor is another gem of a Pop song:

... Then comes short'n'sweet Chameleon:

... Which serves as a prologue to the album's second masterpiece (after Sebastian), the monumental Death Trip:

The band's failure to produce any charting songs in the UK led EMI Records to feel that Harley had yet to record a potential hit single. In response, Harley went away and re-worked an unrecorded song of his called Judy Teen, which became a UK Top 5 hit for the band in June 1974.

The follow-up album was called The Psychomodo and this time it was a hit, peaking at #8 in the UK. The reviews at the time were mixed, but, as with the first album, it was later re-appraised: Dave Thompson of AllMusic wrote: "If The Human Menagerie was a journey into the bowels of decadent cabaret, The Psychomodo is like a trip to the circus. Except the clowns were more sickly perverted than clowns normally are, and the fun house was filled with rattlesnakes and spiders. Such twists on innocent childhood imagery have transfixed authors from Ray Bradbury to Stephen King, but Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel were the first band to set that same dread to music, and the only ones to make it work. The Psychomodo was also the band's breakthrough album. Harley's themes remained essentially the same as last time out - fey, fractured alienation; studied, splintered melancholia, and shattered shards of imagery which mean more in the mind than they ever could on paper."

In a 2012 review Uncut magazine stated: "...still, 1974's The Psychomodo is anything but effete. Ritz and Cavaliers fathom its For Your Pleasure-era Roxy Music depths, and Harley signs off in style on Tumbling Down, with the John Cale-ish screams in the big pay-off line "Oh dear, look what they've done to the blues" a barbed combination of anti-Ten Years After harangue and self-reverential gloating."

Here's the title track:

This album produced a hit single in the UK: Mr Soft. peaked at #8 in the UK and at #16 in Ireland. Mr Soft succeeds primarily on the strength of the arrangement, a kind of modified Brechtian cabaret vamp of the kind that Bowie tackled on Time. What makes this one work is a '50s doo-wop backing vocal.

Ritz is a majestic song. Harley wanders the mirrored corridors of his phantom hotel, and the elegant, mournful violin collides with its own dark side before the whole things erupts into a nightmare party sequence.

Cavaliers was another epic Harley Pop melodrama:

Sling It, was a lighter, but quite infectuous tune:

... Which led to the album's chef d'oeuvre, the closing track, called Tumbling Down. Since its release, it has become a staple at Harley's concerts, usually being the closing number.

In the 3 December 1976 issue of The Miami News, music critic Jon Marlowe mentioned Tumbling Down, writing: "For those not familiar with Harley's previous musical accomplishments, suffice to say he's only written two all-time classic songs Cavaliers and Tumbling Down; and to hear him lead the audience in a rousing sing-along of "Oh dear look what they've done to the blues" is nothing short of a musical miracle."

By this time the problems within the band had already reached a head, and all the musicians, with the exception of Elliott, quit at the end of a successful UK tour. Crocker continued to write songs and perform, forming a duet with his brother. After a brief period with Be-Bop Deluxe in 1974, Reame-James and Jeffreys formed the band Chartreuse in 1976.

From then on, the band was a band in name only, being more or less a Harley solo project. In 1974, a further album, The Best Years of Our Lives was released, produced by The Beatles' recording engineer, Alan Parsons. The opening track was The Mad, Mad Moonlight:

Joining Harley and Elliott in the new line-up were Jim Cregan (guitar) George Ford (bass), and Duncan Mackay (keys). The title track was another gem:

The first single off the album was the band's biggest hit ever. Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) peaked at the top of the UK charts for 2 weeks. It also made #1 in France and Ireland, #5 in the Netherlands, #7 in Belgium, #15 in South Africa, #17 in Australia, and #20 in Germany. More than 120 cover versions of the song have been recorded by other artists, most notably by Duran Duran and Erasure, and the song as of 2015, has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide. The song pairs Harley's clever wordplay with an infectuous Pop tune that boasts an inventive stop-start arrangement and a lovely flamenco-styled acoustic guitar solo.

My favorite song of the album however is the second and final single, Mr. Raffles (Man, It Was Mean). Mr. Raffles is a surreal yet romanticized portrait of a convention-flaunting outlaw. The odd lyrics work thanks to the phenomenal tune backing them up, which contrasts gentle verses built on piano and acoustic guitar with choruses that work in a surprising but slickly integrated reggae beat. Also, his diction: the way he sings the line "and then you shot that Spanish Dancer", especially "shot" and "Spanish". Wow!

Timeless Flight was a good album, but it suffered in comparison to The Best Years of Our Lives, the band's most successful album. No big hit singles came from this album. There were good songs though. Here's the opening track, Red is a Mean Mean Colour:

Understand was a lovely ballad:

The two singles that failed to penetrate the upper reaches of the charts were; first came Black or White:

Then came White, White Dove:

I had bought the album at the time, as I did the previous ones, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A pity it wasn't a hit.

Love's a Prima Donna is the fifth studio album by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, released in 1976. It was produced by Harley, and would be the band's last album before splitting in 1977. The title track almost made the Top 40 (#41) in the UK:

(Love) Compared with You was a US-only single:

The band had one last big hit, a surprise one at that. A good cover version of George Harrison's Here Comes The Sun made #7 in Ireland and #10 in the UK:

Harley went on to make a handful of solo albums, not very commercially successful, I'm afraid. From Hobo with a Grin (1978), here's Roll The Dice:

From The Candidate (1979), a rather good album, here's Freedom's Prisoner:

In late 1985, producer Mike Batt recommended Harley sing the title track of the upcoming The Phantom of the Opera musical. Agreeing to audition, Harley was given the job by Andrew Lloyd Webber and soon recorded the promotional single with Sarah Brightman, which went to #7 in the UK charts in January 1986. A music video was created with Harley as the Phantom in the effort to promote the upcoming musical. A prime candidate for the role, Harley was soon selected to play the Phantom in the musical, following his successful audition. He spent five months working on the role, including rehearsal with producer Hal Prince. Despite this, Harley was never publicly announced as the Phantom, and was surprised when he ended up being replaced by Michael Crawford. Later that year, Harley did star as the 16th-century playwright Christopher Marlowe, in the musical-drama Marlowe, which ran off-Broadway and in London. Harley's performance was described by one leading critic as "a major and moving performance."

Yes You Can (1992) contained Star for a Week (Dino), about a Greek boy in England who became an outlaw "to be someone":

Poetic Justice (1996) included Riding the Waves (For Virginia Woolf):

... As well as a good cover of Van Morrison's Crazy Love:

A Friend for Life was a non-album single from 2001:

In 2005 he released the album The Quality of Mercy. It contained Journey's End (A Father's Promise):

His last studio album so far, Stranger Comes to Town, was released in 2010. It contained No Bleeding Hearts:

Steve Harley is presumably not gay. He did however, especially with his early albums and stage persona, deliver songs that spoke directly to the sensibility of his gay listeners. He's also quite a unique and remarkable artist. For all that, I considered him worth presenting in our blog. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I did.

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Bob Dylan Top 125 Countdown & This Week's Statistics

After our Oscar break, we're back to The Bob Dylan Top 125 Countdown. Let's get on with it!

At #72 we find Jokerman, the opening track to his 1983 album, Infidels. Produced by Mark Knopfler and Dylan himself, Infidels is seen as his return to secular music, following a conversion to Christianity, three evangelical, gospel records and a subsequent return to a less religious lifestyle. Though he has never abandoned religious imagery, Infidels gained much attention for its focus on more personal themes of love and loss, in addition to commentary on the environment and geopolitics. Christopher Connelly of Rolling Stone called those gospel albums just prior to Infidels "lifeless", and saw Infidels as making Bob Dylan's career viable again. According to Connelly and others, Infidels is Dylan's best poetic and melodic work since Blood on the Tracks.

Jokerman contains its share of Biblical references. The lyrics also reference populists who are overly concerned with the superficial ("Michelangelo indeed could've carved out your features") and more about action than thinking through the complexities ("fools rush in where angels fear to tread"). A number of critics have called Jokerman a sly political protest, addressed to an antichrist-like figure, a "manipulator of crowds … a dream twister."

Chris Martin of Coldplay said: I got into Bob Dylan when I was 16. I'd heard the myth, "Oh, Bob Dylan, he can't sing." But at this point, half the CDs I own are Dylan albums. About once a year, I'll spend a month listening to Dylan and nothing else.

I discovered Infidels after I saw the video for Jokerman. It had Italian paintings and religious imagery. I'd thought I was a massive Dylan fan, but Jokerman was a shock: "How can this guy have a song that comes from this other world, and it's still so brilliant?" Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor on guitars. And Sly and Robbie brought that reggae vibe. The song feels 87 minutes long, like dinner finally came around and they stopped rolling tape. I spend eight weeks writing two lines.

I don't think about who this Jokerman is – whether it's God, Satan or Dylan himself. The beauty is in the mystery. I love the lines "The book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy/The law of the jungle and the sea are your only teachers." And the chorus, with that "oh-oh-oh" chant out of tune – the only other person who can get away with singing like that is Jay Z, on D.O.A. It sounds effortless in the best possible way.

At #71, Queen Jane Approximately is a song from Bob Dylan's 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited. It was released as a single as the B-side to One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later) in January 1966. It has also been covered by several artists, including The Grateful Dead and The Four Seasons. In a 2005 poll of artists reported in Mojo, Queen Jane Approximately was listed as the #70 all time Bob Dylan song.

Joan Baez once referred to Highway 61 Revisited as a "bunch of crap." She may have been commenting on the raucous sound; she may also have been thinking of this song, a takedown of a woman cloistered by beauty and privilege. "Queen Jane" goes from caustic ("When all the clowns that you have commissioned have died in battle or in vain") to tender ("Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?"), and the music is some of the most elegant on Highway. Is the song about Baez? Maybe. When a journalist asked him about the queen's identity, Dylan shot back, "Queen Jane is a man."

Here's a live version from 1993:

Finally for today, at #70, When I Paint My Masterpiece was written and recorded during sessions in spring 1971 at Blue Rock Studios in New York City and produced by Leon Russell. The same sessions produced single Watching the River Flow.

Probably the most inspired song ever written about the life of a superstar on the road, Dylan's studio version surfaced in late 1971 among the unreleased material on Greatest Hits Vol. II. The track lays gospel piano chords under a lament about awaiting inspiration in between gigs, aimless wandering, fame-related hassles and "a date with Botticelli's niece." The definitive version was recorded live with the Band on New Year's Eve 1971 and released on the Band's Rock of Ages. "Sailin' round the world in a dirty gondola," he hollered, "oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!" wringing more emotion out of a brand name than anyone before or since.

Now, let's move on to the weekly statistics. Not much happened this week; the total visits were more or less the same as last week, the United States kept increasing their lead over the others, Greece and Russia kept underperforming, while Cyprus, Belgium, and Canada show promise.

The full Top 10 is as follows:

1. the United States
2. France
3. Greece
4. Germany
5. the United Kingdom
6. Cyprus
7. the United Arab Emirates
8. Italy
9. Belgium
10. Canada

Here are the other countries that graced us with their presence this week (alphabetically): Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Finland, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Libya, Mexico, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam. Happy to have you all!

In the all-time Top 10, everybody held on to their positions. The two newcomers, the Netherlands and Brazil, are however underperforming, and are in real danger of being replaced by Top 10 veterans Cyprus and Canada. Here's the all-time Top 10:

1. the United States = 49.9%
2. Greece = 9.6%
3. Germany = 7.9%
4. France = 7.0%
5. Russia = 5.2%
6. the United Kingdom = 3.2%
7. Italy = 1.13%
8. the United Arab Emirates = 1.11%
9. the Netherlands = 0.75%
10. Brazil = 0.68%

That's all for today, folks. Till the next one!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Marc Bolan & T. Rex part 2

While proof-reading yesterday's entry, I realized (once again) what a hard path to success Marc Bolan had to follow and how long it took him to get there. He was not the only one. From Bowie to The Beatles, and from Dylan to Springsteen, the musicians who achieved a long a productive career really paid their dues. Not to mention the even harder path that black musicians had to follow in the old days. That, in the time of artists who follow the short path of mama's bedroom > TV talent show winner (or YouTube viral sensation) > Pop Star. I wonder where they'll be 40 years from now...

Part 1 closed with Ride a White Swan, T. Rex's first Top 20 hit, which stormed all the way to #2 in the UK. Bolanmania was just beginning.

Meanwhile, the first album under the name of T. Rex came out in December 1970. The album received good reviews and made #7 chartwise. Jewel is from this album:

... As well as Beltane Walk:

The backing vocals on Seagull Woman are by Flo & Eddie, former Turtles and also collaborators of Frank Zappa. They would go on to sing on most of the group's subsequent string of hits.

Beginning on 27 March 1971, T. Rex’s next single, Hot Love (UK #1, Ireland #1, Australia # 5), topped the UK singles chart for six weeks. The song has a clip-clopping rhythm. Marc Bolan’s familiar lyrical fairy dust is still being sprinkled about: “Well, she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch, a ha ha.” However there is a growing devotion to pure Pop music in evidence as well. “I’m her two-penny prince and I give her hot love, a ha ha,” he claims before the song dissolves into a mantra of “La-la-la-la-la-la-la,” inspired somewhat by The Beatles' Hey Jude.

On a Thursday night in March 1971 T-Rex appeared on the British television program ‘Top of the Pops.’ ‘To alleviate pre-show jitters, Marc Bolan painted some glitter around his eyes.’ This may be considered the moment in which Glam Rock was born. Bolan claimed he just forgot to wash off the eye make-up before taking to the stage, but this is questionable. In any case, Bolan’s fans – and peers – were soon imitating him.

Get It On (Bang A Gong) (UK #1, US #10) is T-Rex’s most popular single internationally. It topped the British charts for two weeks beginning on 31 July 1971. Where Ride A White Swan and Hot Love were politely poppy, this was full on grinding Rock, but lost none of the catchy, popular appeal of those earlier efforts. This made it more emblematic of T. Rex – and Glam Rock in general. Bolan still trots out the mythological, fantasy references (“You’ve got the teeth of the hydra upon you” and “With your cloak full of eagles”), but they are now buttressed with a welcome grittiness (“You’re dirty sweet and you’re my girl”). ‘Get It On’ also shows Bolan branching into more personal lyrics, words that are virtually nonsensical unless you are willing to enter into his spirit of whimsy: “Well, you’re built like a car / You’ve got a hub-cap diamond star halo.” This sort of thing would become increasingly commonplace in T. Rex tunes. Combining magic, raunch and Bolan’s own ineffable style, the song became T. Rex's only Top 10 hit in the US. In Europe it was called Get It On, but in the US they changed the title to Bang A Gong, to avoid confusion with another song of the same name by the American band Chase.

By this time T. Rex were a quartet: bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend joined Bolan and Mickey Finn.

On September 24 1971, the monumental Electric Warrior was released. It reached #32 in the US and #1 in the UK, staying there for several weeks and becoming the best-selling album in the UK in 1971. The album is often credited as the first Glam Rock album.

In 1987, Electric Warrior was ranked number 100 in Rolling Stone magazine's "100 Greatest Albums of the Last 20 Years" list. In 2003, the album was ranked number 160 by the same magazine in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2004, Pitchfork ranked Electric Warrior as the 20th best album of the 1970s.

The album opened with Mambo Sun:

Also present on this record is the softer and more expansive acoustic track Cosmic Dancer. Here's a live version:

... And here's the song put to great use in Billy Elliot, a film full of T. Rex songs:

This is Lean Woman Blues:

The Motivator had great guitar work:

Life's a Gas is a cool, hypnotizing track:

In addition to Get It On, this disc includes T. Rex’s next single, the kinetic Jeepster (UK #2, Australia #16). “’Cause you’re my baby, ‘cause you’re my love / Oh girl, I’m just a jeepster for your love,” sings Marc Bolan. What is a jeepster? A jeep driver? Who knows? It’s another indecipherable Bolan-ism. By the last verse, it changes to “Oh girl, I’m just a vampire for your love,” to which he adds, “I’m gonna suck ya!” There are still traces of Bolan’s hippie phase (“You’ve got the universe reclining in your hair”) as well as his more whimsical turn of phrase (“I’ll call you jaguar / If I may be so bold”). Fly Records released the song without singer Marc Bolan's prior permission, Bolan having just left Fly for EMI, which had given him control of his own label T. Rex Wax Co. Records.

The T. Rex sound and choice of lyrics, besides being the basis of Glam Rock, also influenced some Rock royalty. Listen to Ringo Starr's Back Off Boogaloo:

... And listen to Paul McCartney's Jet:

Back to T. Rex: The band wasn't just hot; it was boiling. Two huge #1 singles followed. First came Telegram Sam, a funky metal outing. Dylan is referenced in the verse “Bobby’s all right / He’s a natural born poet / He’s clean out of sight.”

Metal Guru was the band's fourth (and final) number one in the UK, when it topped the chart for four weeks from May–June 1972. It also almost made the American Top 40 (#45):

Bolan told Gloria Jones (the Soul singer who was his backup singer, his companion, and the mother of his only child) the track Metal Guru would be "the smoothest song in history".

In 1964 Gloria Jones had sung the original version of this 80's smash:

The Slider was released on 21 July 1972. It contained both Telegram Sam and Metal Guru and peaked at #4 in the UK. Also in the album was Rock On:

... The Slider:

... And Chariot Choogle:

Then came two #2 hits and a #3 hit for T. Rex: these three, along with Ride A White Swan, are my favorite T. Rex songs.

Children Of The Revolution is a musically ambitious work, pairing a grandiose string section with Marc Bolan’s distorted guitar work. “Well you can bump and grind, if it’s good for your mind / You can twist and shout, let it all hang out / But you won’t fool the children of the revolution,” Bolan asserts, referencing The Isley Brothers’ 1962 song Twist And Shout, popularised by The Beatles in 1963. In similar fashion, “You can terraplane in the falling rain / I drive a Rolls-Royce ‘cos it’s good for my voice,” contains a nod to blues artist Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues from 1936 (as well as further proof of Marc’s automobile fixation – a trait also to be found in Johnson’s song). The phrase “I drive a Rolls-Royce ‘cos it’s good for my voice,” is also a biting comment on Rock musicians' material excesses "for the sake of Art."

Solid Gold Easy Action also features violins and cellos but, in this case, pits them against a stuttering beat. It contains the lyrics that would be the center of discussion a few years later: "Life is the same / And it always will be / Easy as picking foxes from a tree".

20th Century Boy is the third song I was talking about. Originally peaking at #3 in early 1973, it later returned to the UK Top 20 in 1991, peaking at #13, fourteen years after Bolan's death, when it was used in a commercial for Levi's starring Brad Pitt.

Placebo's cover was used in the film Velvet Goldmine (1998):

Tanx was released on 28 January 1973, and once more peaked at #4 in the UK. It is a more soulful record, and new instruments such as saxophone and mellotron were used, allowing the T. Rex sound to evolve. The album kicked off with Tenement Lady:

Bolan decided to release no singles from the album, perhaps inspired by what The Beatles did with Sgt. Pepper's. Also in Tanx is Country Honey:

... Mad Donna:

... And Born to Boogie:

Two more singles were released in 1973: The chugging locomotive force of The Groover (UK #4) begins with the group’s name spelled out letter by letter in a chant.

Truck on (Tyke), a less inspired work, was his first single to not peak inside the Top 10 (#12). He would never have a Top 10 hit in the UK again.

His next album, Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (subtitled A Creamed Cage in August) - back to the long titles! - was released on 1 February 1974. It peaked at #12 and was the last studio album to peak inside the Top 20. It contained this good single, which peaked at #13:

Except for Teenage Dream, the album also contained Venus Loon:

... And The Leopards Featuring Gardenia and the Mighty Slug:

Bolan's commercial strength was in a downward spiral. Light of Love missed out on the Top 20 (#22):

Zip Gun Boogie even failed to make the Top 40 (#41):

Eventually, the vintage T. Rex line-up disintegrated. Legend left in 1973 and Finn in 1975 and Bolan's marriage came to an end because of his affair with backing singer Gloria Jones who gave birth to his son Rolan on 26 September 1975. He spent a good deal of his time in the US during this period, continuing to release singles and albums which, while not reaching major commercial success, were full of unusual lyrics and sometimes eccentric musical experiments. Bolan was not living healthily and began to gain weight, though he subsequently improved and continued working, producing at least one album every year.

In 1975, New York City was a brief return to form, peaking at #15:

Dreamy Lady peaked at #30:

Glam Rock was already out of fashion by now, soon to be replaced by Disco and Punk. Marc was, however, still having a go at it. In 1976, I Love to Boogie was the last single to make the Top 20, peaking at #13:

The song was also included in Dandy in the Underworld, released on 11 March 1977. It reached #26 in the UK charts, the band's highest-charting album since 1974. It was regarded by many T. Rex fans as a comeback for the band. However, it would prove to be the band's final album. Here are a couple more songs from this album. The Soul of My Suit:

... And Teen Riot Structure:

On 16 September 1977 Marc Bolan died in a car accident. He was two weeks shy of his 30th birthday. He and Gloria Jones, had been out to dinner. ‘After much merriment’, Gloria drove them home. Marc loved cars but had never learned to drive. Around four a.m. on 16 September 1977, the couple got into Gloria’s purple Mini 1275 GT (license plate no. FOX661L) and began to travel into the night. While crossing a hump-backed bridge, Gloria Jones lost control of the vehicle. It smashed through a fence and hit a sycamore tree. Neither occupant of the vehicle was wearing a seat belt. Gloria Jones suffered a broken arm and jaw. The passenger side of the Mini took the brunt of the impact. Marc Bolan was killed instantly. The cause of death was shock and haemorrhage due to multiple injuries. Bolan's home, which was less than a mile away, was looted shortly thereafter.

At Bolan's funeral, attended by David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Tony Visconti, and Steve Harley, a swan-shaped floral tribute was displayed outside the service in recognition of his breakthrough hit single Ride a White Swan. His ashes were buried at Golders Green Crematorium. His crash site has subsequently become a shrine to his memory, with fans travelling from all over the world to leave tributes beside the tree.

Did Marc Bolan foresee his own death? Many people seem to think so. The line from Solid God Easy Action that says, “Life is the same as it always will be / Easy as picking foxes from a tree” is mirrored in the circumstances of his demise. Gloria Jones’ purple Mini – number plate FOX 661L- wound up wrapped around a sycamore tree. The title of Bolan’s final album, Dandy In The Underworld, could be interpreted as a depiction of his own afterlife. In one interview he claimed, “I feel there is a curse on Rock stars.” In a 1972 television interview, Bolan is asked to imagine what his life will be like when he is 40 or 60. After a moment or two of silence he quietly responds that he doesn’t think he will live that long.

Time and circumstance witnessed the passing of other former members of T. Rex. Percussionist Steve Peregrine Took died aged 31 on 27 October 1980. His death was due to asphyxiation after inhaling a cocktail cherry, but it is often listed as due to ‘drugs misadventure.’ Bassist Steve Currie died in a car crash on 28 April 1981. He was 33. Percussionist Mickey Finn died on 11 January 2003 from alcohol-related liver problems. He was 65. Keyboardist Dino Dines passed away on 28 January 2004. The cause of death for the 69 year old was a heart attack.

Bolan’s name also lives on through his singer/songwriter son, Rolan, who was a few days short of his second birthday when his father died. ‘I have almost no memory of my father,’ says Rolan, now in his 30s, but whenever I hear his music it’s as if I can feel him holding me.’

‘My parents liked to take me everywhere with them,’ says Rolan. ‘But unusually, on the night of the crash they left me with my grandparents while they went to dinner.’ ‘I’ve seen pictures of the wrecked car,’ says Rolan. ‘If I’d been in my usual place in the back, there was no way I would have survived.’

A little before he died, Marc was setting up a trust in the Bahamas to give his family financial stability. Rolan says: ‘Unfortunately, he hadn’t had time to finalise all the details, so although his income was being protected, he hadn’t yet made provision for my mother to have access to the money.’

The trustees said their hands were tied. An added complication was that Marc was still legally married to his former publicist, June Child. ‘My mother went from a millionaire lifestyle to virtual poverty, and I often went without,’ adds Rolan. ‘But even if we had money, it could never have made up for Dad not being there. Mum tells me I often cried for him.

‘We lived in Los Angeles, and things got very tough,’ says Rolan. ‘Dad’s royalties were still going into the trust fund, but because Mum wasn’t his legal wife, and I wasn’t recognised in law as having any rights to his estate because I was illegitimate, we weren’t allowed to benefit.’

His godfather David Bowie came to the rescue. Without publicity, he paid for Rolan’s education and settled other expenses as he was growing up. ‘This allowed me to go to a good private school and meet children of other celebrities,’ Rolan recalls. ‘The people who knew I didn’t have money of my own said: “Keep your character. Stay who you are.”’

Bowie had been a long-time friend of Marc’s. When Bolan’s career faltered in the mid-Seventies, Bowie encouraged him to make a comeback. Bowie was due to guest star on Bolan’s ITV series — which helped resurrect his career — around the time Marc died.

‘David’s generosity helped my mother and me to survive. It wasn’t just the financial help, but the time and kindness. He never came to see us in California because he lives in New York and hates to travel. But he kept in regular touch by phone and his first and last words every time were: “Don’t hesitate to tell me if there is anything I can do.”

‘He’d shrug off our thanks, saying it was the least he could do for the family of a good friend,’ says Rolan. Extraordinarily, Bowie and the grown-up Rolan have never met. ‘But I’m hoping to visit him soon in New York to tell him how very, very indebted me and my mother are,’ he adds.

Bowie was inspired to create the character of Ziggy Stardust from Bolan's public persona. He also mentions T. Rex in one of his masterpieces, All The Young Dudes. The line goes "Oh man I need TV when I got T. Rex":