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Date

September 4, 2020

Kat Bein The Magical Realm of Marc Bolan’s T. Rex

Mighty as a dinosaur with the sensual power of a panther and colorful like a cartoon, Marc Bolan was inarguably one of rock n’ roll’s greatest wonders. Glam rock’s founding father danced and dazzled his way into the hearts of teenagers from London to Los Angeles to Tokyo. Even before that, he won the world with his whimsical poetry and psychedelic lore as the hallucinogenic king of hippiedom.

A bright and bubbly wizard of words as beautiful as he was bizarre, Bolan is best remembered by his band T. Rex, or Tyrannosaurus Rex if you’re freaky. The project birthed 12 albums in 10 years, a prolific achievement outshined only by its influence. The New York Dolls, David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Smiths, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, The Pixies, R.E.M., and more count Bolan and T. Rex as idols.

In November 2020, the Electric Warrior will finally be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. His story is triumphant, tumultuous, and tragic, a wild ride was ended only by Bolan’s accidental death. Not every album is a bolt of genius, but they are each a spectacle to behold. Walking through the T. Rex catalog is a journey of mythical proportions. There are sonic surprises at every turn, and in true rock star fashion, it will get darkest just before the light.

Fairy Fields

The legend begins with Tyrannosaurus Rex’s debut. The album title was a mouthful: My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair … But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows. As if from out of a magical wood, Bolan and his partner Steve “Peregrin Took” Porter frolicked into the spotlight. Bolan’s voice bleated over humming drones and lively beats. His raspy falsetto was instantly iconic, singing blue-jean blues with psychedelic sleekness.

The duo was a wild groove for 1968, a sensual precursor to fellow Brits Led Zeppelin who would take its Delta druid style steps further. Inspired by a Ravi Shankar concert, My People Were Fair mixed Pagan lore with Indian influence. Hypnotic sounds are heavy on “Child Star” and “Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love)” which also features BBC taste-maker John Peel reading a story Bolan wrote.

A lot of hand drums and acoustic guitar colored by Bolan’s signature strangeness, that first album is incredibly important for future freak folkers. I can’t imagine Animal Collective or Devendra Banhart without this shakeup – even less so without follow-up Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages, released just three months later. It took all the childlike fun of the first and honed that spirit into a poppier pocket.

The sophomore release also upped the experimental production. Backward recordings, warbled rhythms, breakneck speeds, African drums, kazoo, Chinese gongs, and other aural inanities flipped the fantastical into something truly trippy. Both LPs were produced by legendary Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti, as were all of T. Rex’s albums until 1975.

The early period was characterized by Bolan’s childlike wonder and playful diction. Poetic lyrics were steeped in metaphor and fairy tale fancy. He would scat, doo-dat, and blast out of nowhere with all kinds of funny noises. The third album, Unicorn, expanded the sonic playground to include phonofiddles, pianos, and children’s toys. It was all visceral words and textures that plopped against your skin.

Took left after that one, but was soon replaced by Mickey Finn and an ever-increasing appetite for expansion. The fairy era ended with 1970’s A Beard of Stars, which also marked the beginning of Bolan’s electric age. Amp-aided guitar came in hot on the “Prelude” and continued strong on mystical “A Day Laye.” There was less Asian influence and more of a yearning for modernity. A growl was born on “First Heart Might Dawn Dart,” and “By The Light of a Magical Moon,” Bolan danced with princesses to neon beats. After that 35-minute saga, a rock star was born.

Golden Glam

To be fair, 1970’s T. Rex record is as close to A Beard Of Stars as it is Electric Warrior. It’s the link between worlds, fitting both phases while acting as a bridge. A transformative effort, nominally and experimentally, it’s the first LP released under the shortened named. Visconti was reportedly tired of spelling the whole thing out. Purposeful or not, Bolan likewise became more direct in his lyrics and composition. T. Rex is mostly minimal and sexually-charged. “Childe” is just hand claps and guitar strums under Bolan’s whispery wails. “Suneye” is an acoustic guitar vocal ballad,” while “Is It Love?” is a handful of sentences repeated, getting right to the source of rock’s appeal.

The album peaks on “The Wizard,” a nearly 9-minute experiment that fits acoustic and electric guitars with scats and screeches. Bolan is caught up in the hypnotic and energizing rhythm, echoing various stylings in a cavern, embracing full wildness. Fans loved it. Subsequent single “Hot Love” shot up the charts and brought T. Rex to Top of the Pops. Bolan wore a silvery shirt and put glitter below his eyes. This is the moment many critics point to as the birth of glam rock.

T. Rex (1970)
The Slider (1972)

That baby came dancing out the womb on 1971’s Electric Warrior. The seminal work is a master class in showmanship and rock attitude that explodes with bops and boogies. It has come to define the group for most fans, a must-listen for any student of modern music. From the sensual snarl of “Mambo Sun” to the proto-punk table throwing of “Rip Off,” Bolan and Finn strut and swing their way through sex-charged jams, soulful ballads, and bawdy blues burners. “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” remains a ubiquitous classic.

Electric Warrior gave a voice to a new generation of rockers, while Bolan’s waifish style opened rock’s door to gorgeous androgyny. It’s enlarged sound was aided by backing vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman and brought to life on stage with Steve Currie and Bill Legend.

The sound continued to widen on the seventh album, The Slider, from 1972. Opening track “Metal Guru” comes on like a wall of sound, gritting with guitar, stomping with guitar, and exalting itself toward the sock-hop heavens with a brilliant chorus. Johnny Marr credits that song with inspiring his guitar style, and it’s easy to hear. As important as its predecessor, The Slider is a track-by-track winner with slinky sounds that would inspire Guns N’Roses, Bauhaus, and Gary Numan alike.

Followed by hit single “Children of the Revolution,” these three albums characterize the band’s “golden era.” T. Rex couldn’t miss, and 1973’s Tanx caps the chapter. It leans into trippy production techniques and Americana roots. “Mister Mister” hits piano jazz, “Electric Slim & The Factory Hen” touch on R&B sweetness, and “Born To Boogie” taps into Chuck Berry grooves. The ode to Americana came three years before Bowie’s Young Americans, one of Bolan’s last great leading moments. Follow-up single “20th Century Boy” was a big, bright and ballsy single, one of the band’s most enduring hits and a final smash in the arena anthem style.

Sci-Fi Soul

Bolan’s stardom and ego ballooned in tandem. Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow is grand and explosive, an album that launches straight for the jugular with jarring textures and chaotic compositions. It’s hectic, but it’s not terrible by any means. Bolan’s lyrics aren’t the tightest, but they’re interesting peeks into the rockstar lifestyle. We hear him struggle with excess on “Explosive Mouth” and lose himself on “Galaxy” and “Change.” “Teenage Dream” asks quite plainly what happened to the innocence that gave early Tyrannosaurs Rex albums their life.

The album wasn’t well received and never saw a U.S. release. It was also the last T. Rex effort to be produced with Visconti. Follow-up Bolan’s Zip Gun was self-produced and panned as a Bowie copy-cat, but the important kernel in the whole era is Bolan’s obsession with classic soul. His over-the-top verve never ceases, but it starts to center itself around Motown harmonies and shoo-bop cool. Again, hindsight gives Zip Gun a fairer feel. It’s a bit bloated sure, but it’s funky, especially on “Solid Baby” and “Till Dawn.” He can still whip a wild guitar solo while mastering the mic.

Futuristic Dragon is one of the more perplexing LPs. Released in 1976, it shimmers with disco influence though it tempers that temptation with soul rock guitar. The sound is shinier and more plastic than previous recordings, but Bolan returns to his fairy-tale roots. There’s even some sitar on this one to bring the story right back. “All Alone” is a standout while swingin’ single “New York City” was a UK hit.

Somewhere in there, Bolan fathered a child with his girlfriend and backup singer Gloria Jones (whom originally sang would-be ’80s hit “Tainted Love” in 1964). The responsibility has sometimes been cited with his getting things together, and in 1977, his 12th album, Dandy in the Underworld, felt like a return to force. All his myriad influences converge on a cool, quirky collection that plays with space-age synths and soulful blues. It’s got Motown cool and glam rock bangers, shoo-bee-do scats. and even some country western pop. It’s pluck, upbeat, and fun. Bolan sounds like he’s happy to be there.

Unfortunately, the musical madman was killed in a car accident six months after Dandy‘s release. A shrine now stands in London to mark the spot, a statue of Bolan with the epitaph “them mourning you / when you are here / within the flowers and trees.”

Bolan and his band were bold and frisky, a lightning streak of lavish and unbridled imagination from start to finish. His legacy burns brighter after his death, growing stronger with every chord and lyric his spirit influences.

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Phil England presents Adventures In Sound And Music

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Happy Birthday to my mate Mark Ronson! xM

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Marie Jaëll

Donald Macleod delves into the life and career of the piano prodigy Marie Jaëll.

For the first time in the history of Composer of the Week, Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Marie Jaëll [1846-1925]. Jaëll was a piano prodigy, a composer across a wide spectrum of genres including opera and chamber music, and a revolutionary when it came to the art of teaching and playing the piano. She knew many distinguished musicians including Liszt, Saint-Saëns, César Franck, Brahms, Fauré and Rossini, but hers is a name which has been largely forgotten. Donald Macleod uncovers Jaëll’s music, and tells her story.

Music Featured:

Aube (Promenade matinale, esquisses pour piano)
Dans le doute; Essaim de mouches; Entrainement (Promenade matinale, esquisses pour piano)
Folies d’ours (La Légende des ours)
Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor
Reflets Chantants (Prisme. Problèmes en musique)
Armour brûlant (La Légende des ours)
Album Leaf
Dans les flammes (18 Pièces d’après la lecture de Dante)
Cello Sonata
Dein (Five Lieder)
Douze Valses et Finale
Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor
Sphinx
Reflets dansants (Prisme. Problèmes en musique)
Cello Concerto in A Minor
Ce qu’on entend dans le Purgatoire (18 Pièces d’après la lecture de Dante)
Rêverie; Clair de lune (Les Orientales)
6 Melancholy Waltzes: No 5 in A minor; No 3 in G sharp minor
Ce qu’on entend dans le Paradis (18 Pieces for piano after reading Dante)
Pieces for Children
Désirs ardents; Amour involontaire; Union malheureuse; Épilogue (La Légende des ours)

Presented by Donald Macleod
Produced by Luke Whitlock for BBC Wales

For full tracklistings, including artist and recording details, and to listen to the pieces featured in full (for 30 days after broadcast) head to the series page for Marie Jaëll https://ift.tt/351GUTn

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Cecil Taylor and his Mendota Players – Snapshots. By Paul Ruppa

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Classic Album Sundays Joni Mitchell ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ Musical Lead-Up Playlist

A playlist to whet your appetite in preparation for listening to Mitchell’s seventh studio album. This includes some of her earlier work, music from her contemporaries and collaborators and one of her favourite jazz compositions from one of her favourite artists.

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Classic Album Sundays The Story of Joni Mitchell ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’

Joni Mitchell is one of my favourite musicians of all time, an artist who helped evolve popular music into an artform, inventing a new language. She did this both musically with an expansive range of her own guitar tunings and lyrically, painting pictures with words. Mitchell is able to evoke feelings that most of us are unable to express in words, submerging us into emotive stories. Her songs lead us to dig deeper into our own psyches in a way that is poetic, unexpected and profound.

I have been making my way through her discography, almost chronologically, and you can hear the progression of her artistry – the melodies becoming more complex, exploratory, her guitar-playing evoking different colours through 57 different open tunings. I have had various obsessions with most of her albums through to the end of the seventies (I will soon embark upon her work from the 1980’s onward) and my initial favourites were albums from her folk years.

Clouds belied her age and bore an old soul with ‘Songs to Aging Children Come’ and ‘Both Sides Now’ – a song that should have been written by an older person looking back over their life of which Mitchell has said she prefers the version she performed in her 50’s. However, Mitchell had endured some tough life experiences by the time she had written this masterpiece. As a young girl, she contracted polio and spent a lot of time alone in hospital – an enforced solitude that allowed her to create a rich interior life. She had also been married, divorced and had given up her daughter for adoption as she had no idea how she would be able to both work and care for a young baby on her own. It seems she had already lived a lifetime.


Listen: Joni Mitchell ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ Musical Lead-Up Playlist

In my late teens my favourite album of Mitchell’s was Ladies of the Canyon that includes favourites ‘The Circle Game’, a bittersweet reflection of time being out of our hands, slipping away with the seasons and her big hit ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ decrying environmental degradation. The record also features her poignant performance of ‘Woodstock’ a song she penned but was made famous through a jauntier version by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Mitchell never made it to the legendary festival and instead, through a series of mishaps, ended up watching it on television. The song’s lyrics embodied the voice of her generation and her performance has an almost dirge-like quality that signals the end of sixties idealism. She said she would have never been able to write it had she actually been able to perform at the festival as instead she would have been backstage witnessing the great egos of artists and show biz impressarios rather than seeing the concert through the eyes and ears of the audience.

Blue seemed to question the values of this generation (free love is only free for a man she would later quip), and she dug deep, revealing more of her own personal life than ever before. There were reflections on past loves including Leonard Cohen (‘A Case of You’), her first husband Chuck (‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’) and Graham Nash with whom she lived but ultimately turned down his marriage proposal (‘My Old Man’). And for the first time, she sings about the daughter she put up for adoption on ‘Little Green’.

The album was her biggest seller to date, only topped by her next record Court & Spark – the album that saw Mitchell abandon the notion of performing acoustic and solo and instead saw her ‘go electric’ featuring an actual band of jazz musicians and friends like David Crosby, Graham Nash, The Band’s Robbie Robertson, Jose Feliciano, members of LA Express and The Crusaders and even a cameo from comedy duo Cheech & Chong. The record stands as her most successful album ever, reaching number one in her native Canada, two in The States and spotlights her biggest hit single ‘Help Me’ and the wonderful ‘Free Man in Paris’ about her good friend and agent David Geffen.

And here lies the turning point. At the height of her success, Mitchell defiantly took a creative U-turn into more experimental territory with an album that clearly states, ‘I’m not going to do what you think I will do, nor what you may want me to do, as I have chosen the path of an artist rather than a commercial hit machine’. Rarely does popular music witness one of its biggest artists turn their back on the machine and chose artistry over financial success and popularity, but with The Hissing of Summer Lawns that is exactly what Mitchell did, shocking some of her less adventurous fans and critics. In her own words: “I got interested in moving away from the hit department, to the art department.”

She once said that music was like her life – she didn’t want to stay in one key or one modality, so rather than repeat the formula that won her awards for Court & Spark, Mitchell used it as a launch pad to continue her musical evolution. Her seventh studio album was her most challenging to date with its intricate melodies and harmonies woven together to sonically portray her narratives, weaving around the rhythm of her lyrics. She took exhilarating musical leaps and she had the band that allowed her to do it.

While old friends Graham Nash, David Crosby and James Taylor helped out with some backing vocals, it was the instrumentalists who helped push her music forward. In her own words, she “cut the players more slack, went more towards jazz, began to use the colours of their background more.”

Once again she recruited members of L.A. Express including drummer John Guerin, bassist Max Bennett and also keyboardist Joe Sample and guitarist Larry Carlton also from The Crusaders whose Wilton Felder also appears on a couple of songs. There is a large cast of musicians appearing on different songs helping give each track its own sound. She forays into freeform jazz territory but it’s not quite jazz – it’s Joni Mitchell music.

Nowhere does she take a more experimental approach than on ‘The Jungle Line’, a song that features one of the first samples on a commercial record. Its a field recording of Africa’s Drummers of Burundi that underpins a solo Mitchell on Moog and acoustic guitar and it sounds futuristic – like something Bjork would do two decades later. The song pays homage post-impressionist painter Henri Rousseau and paints Mitchell’s own impressionistic picture of city life, drug use and the music industry. Her stance is critical and questioning – a gaze cast not only on urban living, but even more so on American suburban life on the rest of the album.


Read: The Story of Crosby Stills Nash & Young ‘Deja Vu’

With The Hissing of Summer Lawns nobody could any longer call her a ‘confessional songwriter’ (try to find any reference to ‘I’ in this album’s lyrics). Instead, much of the album is devoted to the ennui and the superficiality of upper middle-class America, especially the trophy wives. These were the baby-boomer women who were moulded and bound by the ideals of 1950’s nuclear family, indoctrinated by beauty and manners rather than creativity and intellect. These women were encouraged to marry and have children rather than a vocation of their own and many were strangers to their own innermost feelings and dreams. Many of the characters in The Hissing of Summer Lawns have succumbed to the boredom and claustrophobia of suburban living and a nagging sense of unfulfillment.

The album’s opener, ‘In France They Kiss on Main Street’ casts the Gallic nation as a beacon of excitement and liberty – a place a young girl dreams of visiting (the song reminds me of the dreams and disappointments of Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Ballad of Lucy Jordan’). Mitchell sings, “Under neon signs/A girl was in bloom/And a woman was fading/In a suburban room’. The teenage years of Rock N Roll is almost like their early battle carry only to have “been broken in churches and schools/And molded to middle-class circumstances.”

Edith of ‘Edith and the Kingpin’ falls under the spell of The Kingpin, a two-timing married ‘big man’ whom she meets at the disco, competing against other expectant women to call him her own and becoming one of the ‘women he has taken, who grow old too soon’. Even though it may seem she has more freedom than the wife left at home, her choices are still limited and small in vision.

The women in ‘Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow’ are more like Joni- ‘I’m leaving on the 1:15, you’re darn right, since I was seventeen, I had no one over me’ – these are the women who eventually stand up against patriarchic values, much like Mitchell did when she left her husband Chuck, a man who went back on his promise to help her raise her daughter by another man and who didn’t want to let her break away from their musical performing duo. She felt she had to break out on her own, as many women were beginning to do in that era.

‘Shades of Scarlett Conquering’ portrays a modern version of the high maintenance Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’ and the title track, ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ opens the second side and is about a woman who chooses to stay in a marriage where as a trophy wife, she is treated as an object in her husband’s portfolio.

In ‘Harry’s House – Centerpiece’, the protagonist looks at his wife and conjures up the young, bikini-clad version of her – a girl full of life and vivacity who now breathes the dead air of a claustrophobic suburban life sequestered away. The businessmen receive the same critical stare: ‘A helicopter lands on the Pan Am Roof like a dragonfly on a tomb. And businessmen in button downs press into conference rooms, battalions of paper-minded males taking commodities and sales, while at home their paper wives and their paper kids, paper the walls to keep their gut reactions hid’.

The song has two motifs, sliding into the jazz standard ‘Centerpiece’ by Harry Sweets Edison and Jon Hendricks – the gaiety reflecting the couple’s early courtship. Mitchell’s vocal ability within this more standard sound of jazz made some fans long for her to do a traditional jazz album, but Mitchell’s take on jazz would never be bound by limitations.

When the album came out in 1975, many of her fans and critics didn’t get it – they couldn’t detect running theme nor understand the social commentary. And they certainly could understand why she would move away from the musical styles that had bode her so well, that had catapulted her into international stardom. The album was often ridiculed and slated as pretentious.

But once again Mitchell marched to her own drum and looking back we can say she was ahead of her time as for many this became one of her best albums. Prince says it was the last album that he loved all the way through, and The Hissing of Summer Lawns is an obvious inspiration to the works of other female artistic iconoclasts like Kate Bush, Bjork, PJ Harvey and Julia Holter. It’s my favourite Joni Mitchell album, at least for the moment, as there is much more to discover.

– Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy

Join in our monthly Album Club featuring albums voted upon by our Members. For £10 per month, Members have access to three events hosted by Colleen: The Album Club, Classic Album Pub Quiz and the Safe & Sound Webinar with tips on how to improve your sound system and home listening experience. Sign up here.

 

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Robert Wyatt guests on new Mary Halvorson album

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