T. Rex started out as a London-based folky, hippy duo and ended up being one of the most popular, and certainly the most hip, Glam Rock acts of the early 70s.
After a short career as a mod and a fashion model, Marc Bolan formed, with Steve Peregrine-Took, what was initially known as Tyrannosaurus Rex in the spring of 1968 to instant moderate success. Their first single "Debora‚" scraped into the top 40 and their first album making the top 20 in UK.
Always popular as an underground hippy band, their best selling third album Unicorn peaked at 12. This was largely acoustic hippy stuff with bongos, and wordy songs about Avalon, wizards and dragons.
Despite his elfin, hippy demeanour, Bolan was always very ambitious and it was with greater stardom in mind that he formed the much easier to spell T.Rex in the summer of 1970, dumping Took in favour of Mickey Finn.
Out went the acoustic guitars and in came electric, lean and trebly guitars. Their opening salvo as an electric band was the single "Ride a White Swan." A huge hit in UK and across Europe it reached 2 and even awoke some interest in the previously utterly disinterested USA where it made 76.
Bolan transformed his image as well as his music. The hippy threads were replaced by lots of glitter and make up. His slightly effeminate air, fantastic curly hair and diminutive stature made him a big teen pin up in UK.
The music T.Rex made was simple rock 'n' roll. Along with Steve Curry on bass and Bill Legend on drums, they released T.Rex in December 1970, but it was the follow up album, the superbly titled Electric Warrior which was their first chart topper in September 1971. It remains a classic of that era. Earlier in the year they had 2 successive UK number 1's with "Hot Love‚" and "Get it On."
These simple riffs and off the wall, obtuse lyrics about people with "hub cap diamond star halos‚" brought T.Rex success almost everywhere in the world except in the USA which effortlessly resisted T.Rex. Electric Warrior had peaked at 32 and July 1972's The Slider peaked at 17. "Get it On," a hit all over Europe just crawled to 10 in the Billboard singles chart. That was the sole hit single for T.Rex in America. Perhaps he was too rock for pop and too pop for rock in the States.
Despite America's cold shoulder, Bolan was in a purple patch of song writing, knocking out hit single after hit single in UK. "Telegram Sam‚" "Metal Guru‚" "Children of the Revolution‚" "Solid Gold Easy Action‚" and "20th Century Boy‚" were all masterful genre-defining shards of glitter- enhanced glam rock.
Because T.Rex had risen so far so fast, it made their downward slide seem worse than it really was. Perhaps the number 1s dried up, but every single Bolan released was still a hit in UK. The album sales dropped off substantially though. 1975's Bolan's Zip Gun didn't even chart. He made a bizarre, self-indulgent movie called Born to Boogie with Ringo Starr, which is nevertheless fun to watch if you're drunk,
Understandably after being so cool for 3 years, Bolan seemed to struggle to handle not being so popular. He put on weight, started drinking even more heavily and rumours of massive cocaine use began surfacing. He moved to America for a while, for a couple of mid-70s albums.
He embraced and seemed re-energised by the UK punk movement when it broke in '76 and '77. His kids TV show, Marc, even featured some early punk bands. He had a new deal with RCA when, on September 16,1977 his girlfriend Gloria Jones drove their Mini-Cooper into a tree near Barnes Common outside London, killing Marc. He would have been just 30 years old on September 30.
Marc never died really. Both his music and image remain very cool. For a generation of teenagers who grew up to his simple, good looking glam rock, he'll certainly never be forgotten.