Sunday, 5 December 2010

T Rex


Like Jimi Hendrix, I can’t begin to tell you how many T Rex albums have been released since Marc Bolan’s death. There seems to be an endless supply of greatest hits sets, and there are numerous compilations cobbling together radio sessions, alternate takes, etc, etc. But the albums and singles released before Marc’s death provide a fairly simple - but lengthy - discography. Furthermore, virtually all of them are available on CD, meaning it’s possible to get hold of a sizeable chunk of T Rex records with a few well timed purchases. Here then, is the beginners guide to the wonderful world of T Rex.

The Early Albums

Before T Rex became T Rex, they were a hippy-ish acoustic duo called Tyrannosaurus Rex, consisting of Bolan on vocals and guitar, and Steve Took on bongos. They signed to Regal Zonophone and released three albums during 1968/69. Whilst working on the fourth album, “A Beard Of Stars”, Bolan and Took began to fall out, and Took was forced out of the band, to be replaced by Mickey Finn. The band's sound remained fairly unchanged, although Finn was not as natural a percussionist as Took.

The point at which T Rex “went electric” is generally considered to be the point at which they shortened their name - the time that they released their fifth album, also titled “T Rex” - although, like Dylan, earlier recordings were certainly “electric“, such as the 1969 single “King Of The Rumbling Spires”. The band were now signed to Fly Records, and a stand alone 45 issued at the same time, “Ride A White Swan”, signalled the real beginning of the band in terms of commercial success. The early albums had all sold quite well, helped along by the backing of Radio 1 DJ John Peel, but some of the singles fared less well - this would change quite significantly during the early part of the 70s.

In 2004, all five of these LP’s were reissued by A&M on CD. Each record came housed in a slipcase using a different photo to the original album cover, although the CD booklet did still use the original LP cover inside. Each CD came bolstered with numerous bonus tracks, with each album being pretty much doubled in length. The extra tracks were a mix of A-sides, B-sides, and outtakes and demos, and are the essential versions of those early records.

Electric Warrior

In 1971, T Rex “officially” expanded from a duo to a full band, and released a second album on Fly, “Electric Warrior”. If the “T Rex” album was the sound of a band gently edging towards the world of electric guitars, then “Electric Warrior” was the point at which they jumped straight in. This record, along with it’s follow up, “The Slider”, were two of the most important albums in the whole Glam Rock genre, and along with Bowie and Roxy Music records from the same era, helped to define it's sound.

The album contained two of the band’s most iconic singles, “Get It On” and “Jeepster”, and as impressive as those early albums were, this one was a monumental leap forward in terms of songwriting and sheer amplification. The band’s success didn’t please everyone - Peel, it seems, went off the band as their music got louder and their record sales increased. Bolan all of a sudden found himself the new pop star on the block - the album was a huge success, with “Get It On” even making waves in the US - Blondie took to covering it during their 1978 shows. Morrissey later covered the album’s highlight, “Cosmic Dancer”, on stage as well.

In 2001, thirty years after it was first released, “Electric Warrior” was reissued in expanded form on CD by A&M. This edition added eight “work in progress” tracks, and came housed in a slipcase, although unlike the A&M reissues of the early albums, the photo on the slipcase was the same as the regular LP. Unlike the reissues of the earlier LP's, the B-sides the band taped during this period were absent from the reissue.

“The Slider” through to “Dandy In The Underworld”

In 1972, T Rex signed to EMI, and began to release records on their own T Rex Wax Company label. These releases used quite possibly the most iconic label design in Rock And Roll history, a (usually) red image of Marc printed on a blue background, Marc bottom right.

The momentum started with “Electric Warrior” continued with the release of “The Slider” in 72, with “Metal Guru” and “Telegram Sam” becoming the soundtrack to a new generation of music loving teenagers. Over the next couple of years, T Rex were everywhere, but a critical slagging of 1973’s “Tanx” by some dissenters, was - in a roundabout way - the beginning of the end. A stand alone single later that year, “20th Century Boy”, remains one of the band’s most famous 45’s, but the records that followed failed to sell in huge numbers, whilst critics were undecided about the albums and singles alike.

1974’s “Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow” was - strangely - credited to “Marc Bolan And T Rex”, not the last T Rex record to be so released. Future studio albums reverted to the T Rex moniker, as the band began to experiment with soul music. In 1977, the band released what would be their swansong - “Dandy In The Underworld”. It’s release coincided with the emergence of punk, and T Rex found themselves being cited as an influence by several punk acts. Although it wasn’t quite a punk record, “Dandy” was seen as a return to form, and the band even landed their own TV show - or at least Marc did, as it was simply called “Marc”. The band’s new found “punk” connections saw the likes of The Jam appear, plugging their latest wares, on what was essentially a Childrens TV show. The band also headed out on tour with The Damned in support, but it was all over too soon - Bolan dying in a car crash on 16th September 1977, a month after Elvis Presley had passed away.

The six albums released on an annual basis between 72 and 77 have been reissued numerous times over the years, and in the mid 1990s, it was the turn of the Edsel label to issue them all on CD. Soon after, companion albums for each of the six releases were issued by the same label, featuring “alternate” versions of each of the albums. Each album was presented, pretty much from start to finish, in demo and alternate take form, using the same artwork - but with “visual” alterations - as the original release, and with titles like “Rabbit Fighter - The Alternate Slider”. In 2002, Edsel reissued the six studio albums as double disc CD packs in digipack sleeves - stray A sides and B sides from the period were put at the end of disc 1, whilst the “alternate” album was included on disc 2. These remain the most interesting of all the reissues, although all of the albums have since been reissued - without some or all of the bonus tracks - on at least one more occasion on a different label, Code 90 Records.

There are several other releases of note from this period. In 2002 and 2003, Thunderwing released another pair of “alternate albums”, which consisted of further outtakes of “The Slider” and “Tanx”. These CD’s appeared as “The Slider Recordings” and “The Tanx Recordings”, released as mail order only. “The Slider Recordings” was credited to “Marc Bolan And T Rex”, and came with a free T-shirt featuring the album cover image.

Also of interest, is last October’s “Classics” 5-CD box set, including bonus track-less reissues of all of the albums from “Tanx” through to “Dandy”. The lack of bonus tracks is not a disaster, as all of those recordings are available on other singles or the aforementioned Edsel “Alternate” album releases, and given that this box was retailing in some places for under a tenner, is a perfect introduction to the less celebrated part of the band’s career.

The Early Singles

Although the pre-T Rex 45’s are not all entirely unknown songs, the band didn’t manage to do so well with their singles as they did with their albums in those early days. The band released five singles on Regal, all of which featured either an A-side or a B-side that was not on the band’s last/forthcoming LP. Quite unusually for UK releases at the time, was that most of the singles also came housed in picture sleeves.

“Debora”, one of only two of the 45’s that hit the top 40, was later included - in a new form - on their second LP, “Prophets, Seers & Sages” - titled “Deboraarobed”, it was a strange beast. Halfway through, the song suddenly went backwards…hence the new title. The follow up single, “One Inch Rock”, would later be re-recorded in a more “electric” style on the “T Rex” LP. The original a-side versions of these two 45’s now appear as bonus tracks on the 2004 reissues of the first and second LP’s, respectively.

The next singles, “Pewter Suitor” and the aforementioned “King Of The Rumbling Spires” were both stand alone 45’s, both now on the expanded edition of the band’s third LP, “Unicorn”. The b-side of the latter, “Do You Remember”, also appears on the same set. Single number 5, “By The Light Of A Magical Moon” (also known as “…The Magical Moon” is some circles), was lifted from the “Beard Of Stars” LP. It’s B-side, “Find A Little Wood” is - to me - a bit of a strange one. From what I can gather, it started life whilst Took was still in the band, but was abandoned once Finn joined, and I think that the “Take 1” mix of the track that appears on the expanded “Beard Of Stars” is the same mix that appeared on the 45. If anybody can shed further light about this single, please get in touch.

The Fly 45's

The four singles released on Fly during 1970 and 1971 remain four of the most famous T Rex songs of all time. The first of these, “Ride A White Swan”, came backed with “Is It Love” from the “T Rex” LP plus a previously unissued cover of “Summertime Blues”. It’s follow up, another non-album 45 called “Hot Love”, included two other new songs on the flip, “King Of The Mountain Cometh” and “Woodland Rock”. Whilst both “Ride A White Swan” and “Summertime Blues” are now on the expanded “T Rex” CD, the “Hot Love” b-sides seem to be absent from any current T-Rex CD. An alternate take of “Mountain Cometh” is on a 2002 4-CD box set, “20th Century Superstar”.

“Get It On”, the next single, came backed with “There Was A Time/Raw Ramp”, both of which are also on this box, whilst “Jeepster” was released as the final single by the band on Fly. In 2007, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Bolan’s death, the first three of these four singles were reissued on 7”. Where a single was previously issued in a picture sleeve, it came in the same sleeve - the exception was “Hot Love” which instead used a previously foreign sleeve.

Each release came as a numbered edition, but for some reason, there was no re-release for “Jeepster”. This could be that the B-side, “Life’s A Gas”, was also from “Electric Warrior”, meaning that of the four singles, this one was the least interesting as it offered no (originally) exclusive material, whilst the one picture sleeve version of the original single that I have seen also used the same cover as the “Electric Warrior” album. A reissue would probably have been deemed to have been pointless for these reasons. However, given that all of the band's following 45's were later reissued on CD (at least, those singles released during Marc's lifetime), it means it's the only T Rex single from the late 1970-early 1978 period that has been unavailable since it's original release.

The T Rex Wax Singles

As briefly touched on earlier, T Rex then formed their own “T Rex Wax Co” label. The majority of singles that the band released on this label were housed in custom designed T Rex company sleeves, iconic pieces of art, although the band’s last handful of singles came housed in normal picture sleeves. After the release of the “Telegram Sam” 45, with it’s T REX 101 catalogue, the remaining singles had a “MARC” catalogue prefix, and 18 singles were issued on the label - running from MARC 1 to MARC 19. Nineteen? Yes, as MARC 12, a planned Christmas single called “Christmas Bop” was cancelled, getting no further than the label printing stage.

The band recorded a sizeable chunk of stand alone A sides and B sides whilst on the label. Each of these tracks are available as bonus tracks on the relevant “expanded” Edsel CD reissues from 2002 - for the record, the stand alone A-sides were “Children Of The Revolution”, “Solid Gold Easy Action”, “20th Century Boy”, “The Groover”, “Truck On (Tyke)”, “London Boys” and “Celebrate Summer” - the last being T Rex’s final single. “Dandy In The Underworld” was also issued as a single in alternate form.

In 2002, a pair of CD Singles Box Sets were issued, featuring reissues of all nineteen of the T Rex Wax singles, along with a special pressing of “Christmas Bop”. Each box included a bonus single - box 1 included a single called “Blackjack”, originally issued back in the 70s by a group called Big Carrot, which was actually a T Rex record in all but name. Box 2 included a solo single by Marc and his then beau Gloria Jones (yes, the Gloria Jones who originally did “Tainted Love”) called “To Know Him Is To Love Him”. As this was not a T Rex 45, it originally appeared on the standard EMI label when issued in 1976, but both the A and B sides of this single now also appear as bonus tracks on the expanded “Dandy In The Underworld”. It’s also worth pointing out that the Bell label were responsible for releasing a 45 by Dib Cochran back in 1970, although how much involvement this has by T Rex, or indeed even Bolan himself, I am not too sure about. Jones also provided vocals on one of the B-sides of the "Dreamy Lady" 45, "Dock Of The Bay", the only T Rex record to feature lead vocals by somebody other than Marc.

Discography

Listed below are the most important T Rex releases. For the albums, I have listed details of the expanded editions released by A&M and Edsel between 2001 and 2004. For the singles, I have listed the original 7” pressings.

It is worth pointing out that this is only the tip of the iceberg. I have in my collection a picture sleeve copy of “Telegram Sam”, reissued using it’s original catalogue number some point after Marc’s death, whilst many T Rex discographies will list another album called “Light Of Love” - a US only T Rex album, which ultimately ended up featuring songs that were either already released, or would later be released, on UK T Rex albums. Some singles were re-released by former labels whilst Marc was still alive, with new catalogue numbers, B-sides, etc, but I have not listed these for clarity.

There are other posthumous reissues of some singles, with the B-sides changed around - “Metal Guru” was released on the Marc On Wax label during the 80s with a MARC 502 catalogue number, and with “Bolan’s Zip Gun” replacing “Lady”, and was also housed in a picture sleeve. “Bolan’s Zip Gun” was not on the LP of the same name, but was one of a mountain of tracks released after Marc’s death across a seemingly never ending procession of “rarities” albums. The amount of posthumous T Rex releases are far too numerous to mention here, although I would like to try and detail some (such as the various Greatest Hits collections doing the rounds) in a future blog.

T REX EXPANDED ALBUMS

My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair…But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows (A&M 982 250-9)
Prophets Seers And Sages The Angels Of The Ages (A&M 982 251-0)
Unicorn (A&M 982 251-1)
A Beard Of Stars (A&M 982 251-2)
T Rex (A&M 982 251-3)
Electric Warrior (A&M 493 113-2)
The Slider (Edsel MEDCD 715)
Tanx (Edsel MEDCD716)
Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow (Edsel MEDCD 717)
Bolan’s Zip Gun (Edsel MEDCD 718)
Futuristic Dragon (Edsel MEDCD 719)
Dandy In The Underworld (Edsel MEDCD 720)

T REX 7” SINGLES

Debora/Child Star (Regal Zonophone RZ 3008, initial copies in p/s)
One Inch Rock/Salamanda Palaganda (Regal Zonophone RZ 3011, initial copies in p/s)
Pewter Suitor/Warlord Of The Royal Crocodiles (Regal Zonophone RZ 3016)
King Of The Rumbling Spires/Do You Remember (Regal Zonophone RZ 3022, initial copies in p/s)
By The Light Of The Magical Moon/Find A Little Wood (Regal Zonophone RZ 3025)
Ride A White Swan/Is It Love/Summertime Blues (Fly BUG 1, p/s)
Hot Love/Woodland Rock/King Of The Mountain Cometh (Fly BUG 6)
Get It On/There Was A Time/Raw Ramp (Fly BUG 10, p/s)
Jeepster/Life’s A Gas (Fly BUG 16)
Telegram Sam/Cadilac/Baby Strange (T.Rex Wax Co T.REX 101)
Metal Guru/Thunderwing/Lady (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 1)
Children Of The Revolution/Jitterbug Love/Sunken Rags (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 2)
Solid Gold Easy Action/Born To Boogie (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 3)
20th Century Boy/Free Angel (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 4)
The Groover/Midnight (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 5)
Truck On (Tyke)/Sitting Here (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 6)
Teenage Dream/Satisfaction Pony (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 7)
Light Of Love/Explosive Mouth (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 8)
Zip Gun Boogie/Space Boss (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 9)
New York City/Chrome Sitar (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 10)
Dreamy Lady/Do You Wanna Dance/Dock Of The Bay (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 11)
London Boys/Solid Baby (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 13)
I Love To Boogie/Baby Boomerang (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 14)
Laser Love/Life’s An Elevator (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 15)
The Soul Of My Suit/All Alone (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 16)
Dandy In The Underworld (Single Version)/Groove A Little/Tame My Tiger (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 17, p/s)
Celebrate Summer/Ride My Wheels (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 18, p/s)
Crimson Moon/Jason B.Sad (T.Rex Wax Co MARC 19, Double A side, p/s)

Note: Between MARC 3 and MARC 4, the band issued a special Christmas flexi disc. It included a very short song known as “Xmas Riff”, which appears on the expanded edition of “Tanx”.

Further reading:
The Groover Fan Site: http://www.thegroover.com/
Expanded Discgoraphy listing at "Progrography": http://www.connollyco.com/discography/trex/index.html

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