|Bolan's T.Rex Flashes 'Light Of Love' On America|
|Written by: Michael Gross|
Early in 1972, Marc Bolan and T.Rex were the biggest, bestest and baddest rock band in England. Every one of their singles shot instantly to the top
of the pops. Their new LP, The Slider, was a mammoth hit. Bolan was the nazz, the flash demon with curly brown hair, makeup, glitter and chrome-plated
flower child lyricism. He was so trendy, so instantly lovable, you could have died. In America, he was slated to be the ultimate teenraver; his single, "Get It On, (Bang A Gong)" hovered near the
top of the Hot 100, and Bolan-mania seemed set to begin.
Something, though, went wrong. The summer of '72 saw Bowie flash, Led Zeppelin conquer, Cooper cavort and T.Rex... fizzle. It's never been the same since. Bolan's slick image faded into quick oblivion. The film he collaborated on with Ringo Starr, "Born To Boogie", didn't become the Seventies' answer to "Hard Days Night." Tanx, the followup album to The Slider, was adjudged dismal by American critics. Bolan's tour with Three Dog Night was ignored as it crept in and out of the biggest halls in the land. With his contract unrenewed by Reprise records, Bolan couldn't find a label for his next LP in early 1974, Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow, and the disc was never released in America. Now, after two years out of the limelight, Marc Bolan is set to re-emerge, with a new label, a new album, and a new sound synthesized from the best of his past work and his incredible capacity to adapt to changing times. Light of Love (on Casablanca Records) represents the punchy guitarist's renewed resolve to stay on top. "It's very direct," he explained to Circus Magazine during a transAtlantic phone call from Nice, France. "Iy has a kind of energy, like 21st Century Chuck Berry. I'm excited about the Casablanca deal because it allows me to work with people who are excited about the kind of music I'm making."
Sliding to stardom: Though the excitement has never quite left, it has been at a lull for Marc in the past two years. When The Slider first appeared, Bolanmania was at its peak in England. Girls crowded around the London flat in which Marc lived with his wife and mentor, June. He'd traveled from a vague working class background to the heights of pop stardom and the white Rolls in the driveway was simply one bit of material proof. "Ride A White Swan" had hit number one. In chart boggling order, "Hot Love", "Get It On", "Jeepster", "Telegram Sam", and "Metal Guru" had followed.
His picture was on and off the front pages oof British scandal sheets, always dressed in some new and outrageous bit of pop drag. When he toured, fans lunged at him onstage, ripping into his hair and clothes, coming away with frayed souvenirs for their hope chests. They swooned, they cried and they loved the little pop boy with all their hearts.
The cover picture of The Slider had been taken by Ringo Starr, the first bit of a collaboration that would lead to the film "Born To Boogie." The movie was, of course, an instant hit in England. It began as a straight concert film, shot at Wembley Pool in London, and ended up a bit more madcap - part documentary, part innocent attempt to examine the phenomena of stardom. Slider was on its way down the charts when the film, which also included Elton John, appeared. The reaction in London was enthusiastic, some said maniacal, though the critics called it dull.
Tanx in trouble: But by early 1973, David Bowie's star was on the rise, and people began to forget that Marc Bolan had started it all with a delicate touch of mascara and a manic stage act. Tanx appeared in February of that year, and the critics immediately began explaining how Bolan and T.Rex could never maintain their 1972 momentum. They called Tanx "nice" and made inevitable comparisons to Mr. Ziggy, comparisons in which Marc always came out second best.
In America, Tanx was greeted by a collective yawn, most notibly from Marc's record company, Warner Brothers. "I have nothing against Warner Brothers as it stood," Marc explained through the fuzzy French phone connection. "I just thought we were getting lost there, y'know. It was a bit unfortunate, especially with Tanx because the other two albums (Slider and Electric Warrior) were top twenty albums and Tanx was about forty or something, but it was a good album." While Bolan was topping charts around the world, his singles were given short shrift by Warner's promotion department in America, according to Marc, and never made it onto radio playlists, the one thing that guarantees high record sales. "The Groover," a hit in England, simply never happened in America, and Marc explained it at the time by saying he was "an album artist" in America. During the first half of 1973, T.Rex was amply represented on the world charts, and the movie palaces of England. By July, though, it was time to hit the road in person, with unconquered America as the first stop.
T.Rex hit the stadium circuit in America as the opening act for a Three Dog Night tour. The critical reaction to his tour was unimpressive. At times, in fact, it was positively abrasive. As an opening act, T.Rex could not be judged on their drawing power, nor on their ability to drive a crowd that had come to see the world's most Middle Of The Road rock act wild. Winding their way through America at the same time as Led Zeppelin, playing music from a non-hit album, Marc and the band got lost in the shuffle.
"The overall tour was very good, in fact," Marc claimed valiantly. "It was strange playing with Three Dog; although they're very nice people, musically we weren't that compatible. We did tend to wipe the floor with them a bit. The audiences were fantastic, so that's the only thing I can judge the tour by. Then we did five dates in England, which doesn't sound like very much but I hadn't played there in over two years. It was very successful, buta bit freaky because it was more like Beatlemania than when I had played before. I found myself still a teenage idol!" After England, T.Rex continued to gig live through Europe, Japan, and Australia, meanwhile recording a new album at each spare moment.
Disjointed 'Alloy': That album, Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow, has made it to America only as an imported British disc. Warners and T.Rex parted company after Tanx, and no other record company seemed interested enough in Marc to put a deal together. "The Zinc Alloy material was done in three periods over the course of a year," Marc recalled, "first at the end of the Three Dog thing in New York. Three or four tracks were done. The single, "Teenage Dream," was done in L.A. Some tracks were cut in Germany. It all began to get a bit behind itself. There was no general theme to it although the overall album is very good, one of my best albums I think. It's not being released in America by my choice. I've got all this new, very current stuff and I want to come on with new material. What I may eventually do is put all the English hits which have never been out in America and the rest of the Zinc Alloy out as a double album at a cheap price. I've also got about 25 other songs that have never been released. I will put them out, but I work so fast. The new album evolved over a couple of weeks and it's all very hot."
The new album had to be hot. According to a source at Casablanca records, whose negotiations with Bolan led to a new American record deal just that spring, "We told him he'd have to record a new album. We didn't like Zinc Alloy." On that basis, Bolan entered studios in Los Angeles to work on the new record, Light Of Love. What resulted has been called "the closest thing he's done to Electric Warrior" by one radio station programmer who had a sneak preview of the unfinished tapes.
'Clockwork' and Bowie: Asked to describe the general feel of the new LP, Marc first described a visit with David Bowie in New York, a few days before the diamond pooch took to the road on his summer tour.
"I spent a couple of days with David. We sat in his hotel room and talked and watched "Clockwork Orange" about four times on the TV they had in the room. We just got back into what we were like when we were kids. None of the feuding that was reported was real. David and I have always been the closest of friends. People always do that. As far as it goes with David it's been very healthy because we have similar sould=s, we write similar material and we have a similar outlook. We sat down in that room and decided our futures. We took care of our business.
"I've known David for about eleven years. Another thing we spoke about was the timing thing 'cause its taken him a really long time to get started; two years, working much harder that I did." The back-to-the-roots, back-to-the-streets feeling that pervaded Marc's chat with David also pervades his new album. The selling point of Light Of Love is that it combines a Fifties feeling musically with Bolan's distinctly space-age mentality.
Swift kick of street poetry: "The last album I approached like that was Electric Warrior," Marc said. "I wrote most of the songs in the studio which is a new thing for me. It's also the first one I've produced myself. I wanted to get a lot of energy down on tape. I was feeling an excitement about words and music that I haven't felt for about a year now. All the lyrics are very swift, kind of street poetry as opposed to long, heavy thought things. It's almost straight rock and roll, but it's not heavy metal as you Americans understand it."
The title track of the album, "Light Of Love," is also the single. Although the LP is being released in America first, the single is premiering in England. The song is straightforward, simple high-energy rock. It promises to reach out of the radio, grab, and twist. The band includes T.Rex mainstay Mickey Finn on percussion, Steve Currie on bass, Davey Lutton on drums, Marc on guitar and vocals, with female backup chorus. The sound is kept relatively raw throughout, with no strings at all, saxophone on two cuts and mellotron on two cuts. "Space Boss" is the biggest production number, recorded with five drummers, a large horn section and about ten overdubbed guitars. Stealing a phrase from jazz, Marc calls it a "wall of sound." "Zinc Zinc" [sic] has already proven itself as a single, reaching the German Top Five.
In fact, Marc feels there are at least five singles on the album. "'Girl In The Thunderbolt Suit' is another that will probably be a single," he explained. "In America, we are basically an album band, but through the Casablanca thing I will change that because I want to start putting singles out." Some tracks from Zinc Alloy are being included on Light Of Love, including Marc's last big English single "(Whatever Happened To The) Teeenage Dream?" Singles are important because, Casablanca Records feels, the only way T.Rex will break into the top orf the American market is with a strong AM radio hit. Underground radio accepted T.Rex long ago. The record company's sights are set on the top 100.
Confidence in the clutch: "In the past," Marc said thoughtfully when asked about his position in the States, "T.Rex has been ahead of its time in America. It's just the right time for us now, because we have the credibilityb of not being overexposed. We never got stuck in the glam-rock glitter bag fortunately, I'm in the nice position of almost being able to recap and come on like a fresh face, but with all the knowledge of rock and roll that I've got behind it. It's a nice position to be in because we have a good name and we can gigs easy enough and, thak god, the kids come. It's just down to me giving them a good show."
The fact is that Light Of Love marks an important stage in the history of T.Rex and Marc Bolan. Though he plans to continue working with the band, as well as recording a solo album, Marc seems aware that America is not yet his. Called arrogant, egocentric, stuck up and talentless in the press, Bolan is actually a slightly grown up kid, just like his friend David Bowie, with a feel for the streets no matter how far away they are. He knows he has to connect with his audience, and he thinks he knows how. "I think that if more singles came out in America it will change my audience. It won't necessarily make them younger or older. I would just like them more aware of the music. I'm giving the American tour a lot of thought. We'll rehearse for seven weeks. I think the kids'll be stunned by the overall effect of it. I still work with a group thing, whereas David is away from that now, but it will still be quite pictorial. We've really only done three tours of America and they didn't cover a lot of area. Some bands do fourteen!"
The image of American audiences crying out for him like their British counterparts may play heavily on Marc's mind. For awhile he was IT, the Ultimate, the Slider. But he knows he still has that one world left to conquer, and with the help of Casablanca records, he hopes to storm America and finally teach it what Bolan-mania is all about. "I don't want to get into that complacent, laid back kind of Dylanesque atmosphere," Marc explained just before returning to his Riviera vacation. "At the moment, I'm a rock and roller."