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Bolan and his producer Tony Visconti sorted out the session for "Ride a White Swan" and the single changed Bolan's career almost overnight. Recorded on 1 July 1970 and released later that year, making slow progress in the UK Top 40, it finally peaked in early 1971 at No.2. Bolan and Visconti largely (and, in many ways, unwittingly) invented the style that would become glam rock and helped restore a brash and exciting feel, when rock bands had grown increasingly self-important.
Bolan took to wearing top hats and feather boas on stage as well as putting drops of glitter on each of his cheekbones (stories are conflicting about his inspiration for this---some say it was initially introduced by his PA, the late Chelita Secunda, although Bolan told John Pidgeon in a 1974 interview on Radio 1 that he noticed the glitter on his wife's dressing table prior to a photo session and just casually daubed some on his face there and then). Other performers-and their fans-soon took up variations on the idea.
The glam era also saw the rise of Bolan's friend David Bowie, whom Bolan had come to know in the underground days (Bolan had played guitar on a few early Bowie recordings). Before long, even Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and Grand Funk Railroad dabbed on a little glitter.
Bolan followed "Ride a White Swan" and T. Rex by expanding the group to a quartet with bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, and cutting a five-minute single, "Hot Love", with a rollicking rhythm, string accents and an extended singalong chorus inspired somewhat by the Beatles's "Hey Jude". It was No.1 for six weeks and was quickly followed by "Get It On", a grittier, more adult tune that spent four weeks in the top spot. The song was renamed "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" when released in the United States, to avoid confusion with another song of the same name by the American band Chase. The song reached No.10 in the States, the only such American hit T. Rex would enjoy.
In November 1971, the band's record label, Fly, released the Electric Warrior track "Jeepster" without Bolan's permission. Outraged, Bolan took advantage of the timely lapsing of his Fly Records contract and left to EMI, who gave him his own record label, the T. Rex Wax Co. Its bag and label featured an iconic head-and-shoulders image of Bolan. Despite Bolan's lack of endorsement, "Jeepster" still peaked at No.2.
In 1972, Bolan achieved two more British No.1s with "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru"-the latter of which stopped Elton John getting to the top with "Rocket Man"-and two more No.2s in "Children Of The Revolution" and "Solid Gold Easy Action". The total of four No.2 singles particularly galled his fans as three were held off the top spot by 'novelty' singles recorded by Clive Dunn, Benny Hill and little Jimmy Osmond. In the same year he appeared in Ringo Starr's film Born to Boogie, a documentary showing the height of T. Rextasy during a concert at Wembley Empire Pool on 18 March 1972. Mixed in were surreal scenes shot at John Lennon's mansion in Ascot and a super-session with T. Rex joined by Ringo Starr on second drum kit and Elton John on piano. At this time T. Rex record sales accounted for about 6 percent of total British domestic record sales. The band was reportedly selling 100,000 records a day; however, no T. Rex single ever became a million-seller in the UK, despite many gold discs and an average of four weeks at the top per No.1 hit. (Documentation of actual sales has been lost.)
In 1973, Bolan played twin lead guitar alongside his friend Jeff Lynne on the Electric Light Orchestra songs "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" and "Dreaming of 4000" (originally uncredited) from On the Third Day, as well as on "Everyone's Born To Die", which was not released at the time but appears as a bonus track on the 2006 remaster.
The move to electric guitars coincided with Bolan's more overtly sexual lyrical style and image, which outraged some of his older hippie fans, who called him a "sell-out". Some of the lyrical content of Tyrannosaurus Rex remained, but the fairytales about wizards and magic were now interspersed with sensuous grooves, replete with orgiastic moans and innuendo. The new image and lyrical content was to influence more sexually explicit performers of the 1980s, such as Prince. "Baby Strange" on The Slider album contained lines like "I wanna ball ya", "In winds of passion my whip is lashin'", and "don't lay me, Baby Strange".
The second T. Rex album, Electric Warrior, released in September 1971, added bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend. Considered by many to be their best album, it brought great success to the group. Publicist BP Fallon coined the term "T. Rextasy" as a parallel to Beatlemania.
Electric Warrior included T. Rex's best-known song, titled (in the UK) "Get It On," which hit #1 on the British charts, like the album from which it came. In January 1972 it became a Top Ten hit in the US, where the song was retitled "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" to distinguish it from a song with the same name by the group Chase, also released in 1971. Along with Bowie's early hits, "Get It On" and Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll" were among the few British glam rock songs that had success in the US. However, the album still recalled Bolan's roots as an acoustic troubadour with ballads like "Cosmic Dancer" and the stark "Girl".
Electric Warrior was the band's last album with Fly Records, whom Bolan left when his contract lapsed and they released the album track "Jeepster" without his permission. Bolan went to EMI, who gave him his own record label in the UK, T. Rex Records, the "T. Rex Wax Co.".
On March 18, 1972, T. Rex played two shows at the Empire Pool, Wembley, which were filmed by Ringo Starr and his crew for Apple Films. A large part of the second show was included on Marc Bolan's own rock film Born to Boogie, while bits and pieces of the first show can be seen throughout the credits at the end of the film. Along with Marc Bolan & T. Rex and Ringo Starr, Born to Boogie also featured Elton John, who jammed with the friends to create rockin' studio versions of "Children of the Revolution" and "Tutti Frutti"; Elton John had appeared on TV with Bolan before, playing (miming, actually) the piano part to "Get it On" on the 1971 Christmas edition of Top of the Pops.
The third album under the name T. Rex, The Slider was released in July 1972. It became the band's most successful album in the US, but wasn't as successful as Electric Warrior in the UK, only reaching #4. During spring/summer 1972 Bolan's old label Fly had released the #1 compilation album Bolan Boogie, a collection of A- and B-sides and LP tracks, which affected The Slider's sales. The two singles released from The Slider, "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru" both flopped in the US, but became #1 hits in the UK.
Born to Boogie was premièred at the Oscar One cinema in London, in December 1972, with Bolan, Ringo Starr, and Elton John in attendance. The film received negative reviews from critics, while it was loved by fans. The film was rereleased as an expanded two-DVD set, released by Sanctuary Records in 2005. This included both concerts from Wembley (18 March 1972) newly mixed into 5.1 surround-sound by Tony Visconti, and edited from the original remastered film negative.
01. Telegram Sam 02. Jitterbug Love 03. Lady 04. Metal Guru 05. Thunderwing 06. Sunken Rags 07. Solid Gold Easy Action 08. 20th Century Boy 09. Midnight 10. The Slider 11. Born To Boogie 12. Children Of The Revolution 13. Shock Rock 14. The Groover