T. Rex: Dandy in the Underworld (EMI)
Like most 50-somethings I truly believe that I was lucky to grow up with some of the most exciting music imaginable.
Even before I’d reached my teen years there was Bowie, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, Slade, The Sweet (yeah!), Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, Cockney Rebel, Sparks and more who all seemed to routinely bring out a sparkling new album every year (or maybe even two albums in the same year) and make regular must-see appearances on Top of the Pops to be dissected at length in school the very next morning. Bliss it was in that glittered and feather boa’d dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven. Well, that’s how it felt at times.
Firstly though there was T. Rex fronted by glam rock trailblazer, Mr. Mark Feld, better known as Marc Bolan.
Bolan’s first words to manager Simon Napier Bell back in 1966 were supposedly: ‘Hi, I’m a singer and I’m going to be the biggest ever British star.’ Marc really did patholigically crave fame and although not many would argue that he achieved that particular mid-’60s prediction, for a couple of years at the height of T. Rextasy in the early 1970s, few would have totally dismissed the idea as his band let rip with a string of pure pop classics with crunching guitar hooks that instantaneously lodged in your brain – Ride a White Swan, Hot Love, Get It On, Jeepster, Telegram Sam and Metal Guru – that my fellow children of the revolution lapped up.
They all still sound fantastic today.
The world of pop was fast-changing back then and, by 1972, Bolan was already talking of how his success couldn’t last, that the fans’ tastes would change as they got older, how they would want to find new stars to adore and how pop music was all based on cycles anyway.
This proved to be a more accurate prediction. Soon there were no sell-out shows at enornodomes throughout the country, no ex-Beatles wanting to colloborate on films and diminishing sales returns. Bolan’s Zip Gun, released in February 1975, failed to even chart in Britain, although a single taken from it, Light of Love was a minor hit; the follow up, though, Zip Gun Boogie, stalled just outside the top forty.
Critics at NME and elsewhere loved to sneer, especially about the few extra inches that had been added round his waistline. By 1977, Marc looked to many like yesterday’s man, a little washed up, still capable of making some very good music but far from the sensation of his Electric Warrior days.
Yesterday’s man, though, had a few aces up his sleeves. He recorded an album Dandy in the Underworld, which was likely his best since The Slider and he notably became one of the relatively few elder statesmen of rock and pop to fully embrace punk, persuading The Damned to support him on his British tour and launching Dandy that March at London’s punk central, the Roxy in Covent Garden.
He also agreed to host the late afternoon ITV pop show Marc where he showcased many of his own tracks as well as inviting on the likes of The Jam (or Jam as he introduced them), The Radio Stars and Generation X. ‘They have a lead singer who’s supposed to be as pretty as me,’ Marc cooed as he introduced that latter group while sniffing a flower. ‘We’ll see now.’ He didn’t look too convinced by the possibility.
In his new book, The Age of Bowie, Paul Morley describes Marc’s presenting style as: ‘a cross between kindly wizard, scatterbrained sweetheart and lapsed hipster, as though his years as pop star had made him possessed by a general sense of mind-altering cosmic jive.’
Marc, as you’ll see, may have looked kindly on the new breed and even went as far as to introduce a ripped T-shirt into his wardrobe but he wasn’t quite ready to completely ditch the satin, mascara and Tolkien.
Taken from Marc, here is Dandy in the Underworld:
The highlight of the entire series promised to be the duet with David Bowie that would close the sixth and final episode of the show. Since the 1960s the two men had been involved in a (usually) friendly rivalry, with Bolan winning the race for superstardom before Bowie came up on the rails, racing ahead in both the artistic and commercial stakes with Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane.
In fact, by 1977, the rivalry looked as lopsided as the footballing one between England and (West) Germany. By this point Bolan maybe wished that he had set himself up in competition against someone who didn’t quite possess the stratospheric capabilities of musical invention and consistent reinvention of Bowie; Ian Hunter, say, of Mott the Hoople or Steve Harley – who incidentally provided some backing vocals on the Dandy album.
The tour and album and even the TV series did though help rehabilitate Bolan but as you’ll know, his comeback was cut sadly short. On the sixteenth of September, Marc was killed instantly when his Mini 1275GT, driven by girlfriend Gloria Jones, crashed into a steel-reinforced fence on Barnes Common only a mile away from their home, before hitting a sycamore tree.
Recorded only days before his untimely death, the final episode of Marc was shown eight days after his funeral (attended by Bowie, Tony Visconti, Steve Harley, Rod Stewart, members of The Damned and hundreds of fans). Their race against the clock jam was an anti-climax and ended embarrassingly for Bolan, who tripped over a wire causing him to fall off the stage, although the incident is mostly hidden by the programme credits.
Better though is Bowie in his solo slot. This is “Heroes”:
Bolan had also taken on the task of penning a regular column for Record Mirror and, a month before his own death, Marc had commented that it was sad that Elvis was gone but that it was probably better that he went before he turned into the Bing Crosby of rock’n’roll. Bizarrely enough, not long afterwards Bowie agreed to bridge the generation gap by appearing on Bing Crosby’s annual Christmas TV special, the pair performing Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.