by Joe Wilson
I was first introduced to the music of T. Rex, when I watched the childhood classic film Billy Elliot, which opens with Billy placing Electric Warrior on a turntable and skipping the needle to ‘Cosmic Dancer’. However, Electric Warrior was released almost thirty years before the film was, at the end of 1971. It was the second studio album for the band under the guise of T. Rex (fronted by Marc Bolan), and was by far their most successful album to date, becoming the best-selling album of 1971.
Electric Warrior showed a progression of the new sound that had debuted in their previous album T. Rex a year earlier, and was a definitive move away from Bolan’s more folk-oriented hippy sound. Despite this, Electric Warrior retains an acoustic vibe whilst incorporating a full electric band, which I think is most clear in the song ‘Cosmic Dancer’ – a long standing favourite among Bolan enthusiasts. It was this new sound that, in hindsight, many mark as the beginning of Glam Rock, a genre that would go on to influence music giants such as David Bowie. (Bowie’s ‘Lady Stardust’ is in fact written about Bolan.)
Electric Warrior was a form of experimentation for Bolan. In turning away from his previous folky works, he began to dip his toe into the waters of Rock to see what he what he could create next. As it so happens, it was both a critical and chart success both in the UK and stateside. This experimentation comes across both in the relative simplicity of the album and in some rather bizarre lyrics. Just take one of the stanzas from the opening track of the album, ‘Mambo Sun’: : Upon a savage lake / make no mistake I love you / I got a powder keg / and my wig’s all pooped for you.
Electric Warrior’s experimentalism may have its roots in the sporadic fashion by which it was written.. Tony Visconti, the album’s producer, recalled Bolan’s process in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine: ‘He was writing in hotel rooms and on gigs. He would have the guys come in and listen, and I would hear ’em in demo form. I remember when we did “Jeepster” and “Get It On” and all that… He was teaching them the backing vocals, and Bill Legend was figuring out his drum part on the back of a guitar. The whole album was done in that fashion.’ All you have to do is listen to the last thirty seconds of both ‘Jeepster’ and ‘Cosmic Dancer’, and this writing style is very clear. Both feature simple, repetitive chord progressions overlaid with improv-like solos (on guitar and drums respectively).
In addition to ‘Jeepster’, ‘Get It On’ was the other single off Electric Warrior, and has become T. Rex’s best-selling single of all time. Beginning with an immediately recognisable bass, followed by Bolan’s purr-like, silky-smooth voice, it begins restrained and builds throughout the song; you can’t help but smile at it. Dotted with the odd saxophone and lead guitar solo, along with an occasional run down the piano keys, this song is definitely more of a refreshing pick-up compared to the rest of the album (although this isn’t to say in the slightest that Electric Warrior is a downer). This song really has stood the test of time, and makes for an absolute cracker of a driving song.
‘Cosmic Dancer’ is definitely my favourite track off the album. It is quite a long ballad at over four minutes, and you really sink into it. For me, it lets me slip into a bit of a trance that means that, for those few minutes, I worry about nothing. In particular, I love the childhood theme, which really enables you to sit back, relax and reflect on whatever’s on your mind. Thinking back to Billy Elliot, I also love this song so much because it makes me think of one my favourite-ever films.
All in all, Electric Warrior is one of those albums that you can stick on whenever, and I guarantee that you will not get bored. The mix of the more acoustic ballads with the more electric bangers creates an almost addictive, eclectic mix of music that gives a real insight to the famous partying mind that was Marc Bolan. Unfortunately he died in 1977 in a car crash, cutting the short the career of someone on the way to becoming a British music icon. Given that it’s getting to that time of the year, I would heartily recommend it for your revision playlists. It really chills you out, and is both great for when you want a break and for when you really want to crack on as well. Aside from the Electric Warrior album, T. Rex have also produced some great classic standalone singles such as ‘Ride a White Swan’, ‘Children of the Revolution’, and ‘I Love to Boogie’.
If you hadn’t heard of T. Rex before this, I hope you’ll go and give them a listen. Odds are, this early ’70s Rock has inspired and shaped many of the artists you love today.