And now, dear readers, we have reached the end of 1971; some may rue this, but some may not, knowing full well what is to come. The brown suede maxi-skirtedness of this year, loved by some, is about to be replaced by a new year, and to see us into this different time is…T. Rex. Yes, they started out ’71 and here they are to finish it, with a boogie so simple and even off-handed that the band didn’t want it put out as a single, didn’t even considerate single material, but the label felt otherwise, mainly because by this time T. Rex were huge. I cannot even begin to imagine the legions of kids and pre-teens who latched on to T.Rex, real fans, ones who were not about to be conned into thinking anyone else really mattered. T.Rex inspired them, many of them becoming musicians as a result, all going their very different paths but all starting here.
T. Rex by this time, lest we forget, had already had two number one singles, a number one album with Electric Warrior , and one of those singles was even a hit in the US (I grew up knowing it as “Bang A Gong”); all this with a style that went right back to the essence of what rock ‘n’ roll was about – cars, girls, boogie with an extra added sense that Bolan was not quite like everyone else. Not superhuman, just different, glamorous – as glamorous as the vampire he is at the end of this song, wanting to “Ssssssss-suck ya!” (apply own metaphor of your choice).
But the beat for me is the primal thing – just off-kilter, not quite the Bo Diddley beat but not that far away from the clave either; a seductive waltz of sorts, a kind of roughness that sounds paradoxically smooth as well, due to the long notes both sung and played in the song*. The total effect is a knockout: Bolan could be singing anything here and it would be a smash, but his lyrics are the icing – from the title on down. The elegance of “I’ll call you jaguar if I may be so bold” – (Bolan considered this song to be “very funky” and a step above general love song lyrics**) must have had some effect as well, if only to show that rock/pop did not have to be predictable, clichéd, generic. The self-consciousness that rock/pop has about itself now – one that will be dramatized in this blog in the coming year – is best dealt with by just making good music, and Bolan was writing songs that he hoped would last.Number two hits are often in opposition to the number ones, and this one is a fine example, for many reasons. Benny Hill had the Christmas number one with a song that was silly and full of double meanings (as you’d expect) – strictly for the kids, kids too young to need or understand the grooviness of T.Rex, the importance of Bolan’s hair, the glamor. Hill went right for the obvious, Bolan took the obvious and made it fresh, made it new.
Rock ’n’ roll has lasted long enough to be considered its own art form; regular pop, for lack of a better term, continues right alongside the fall-and-rise drama to come, as rock increasingly is albums-only stuff and pop, which, if I can put it this way, is the essence of the whole thing, (the beating heart, as Huey Lewis sort-of sings later) has to figure out what the hell to do with itself. T.Rex stand as the inspiration to not just another generation but to other musicians and songwriters, who figure this glamor thing doesn’t just belong to elves, but belongs to everyone. The battle coming up is between those who rue the past and those too busy looking for a new costume to think about anything else; in the meantime, T.Rex remind everyone just what it is they are fighting about, in the first place.
Next up: when in doubt, get your own tv show.
*It is more than possible that he picked up some of this from the Os Mutantes hit “A Minha Menina”; Bolan spent a lot of time and money buying and listening to records, when he wasn’t busy writing and recording his own.
**Bolan goes back to Gene Vincent, as he says, for “The wild winds blow/upon your cheek/the way you flip your hip/always leaves me weak.”