Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Till Dawn: Top 10 Album Kutz

In the 38 years since Marc Bolan was killed in a car accident his influence has only grown wider. The glam rock stomp and style he perfected is everywhere. Whether it's via his own songs, which are used in movies and commercials several times a year, or in the sounds of new bands. There was even a pronounced T.Rex influence on the new Wilco album, Star Wars. In Rolling Stone, Jeff Tweedy owned it: "Some of those sounds reminded me of glam rock and T. Rex and things like that, which I love. I really adore that stuff, but I've never been androgynous enough to pull it off, you know, stylistically."

Even with all the exposure, Marc Bolan and T.Rex are known mainly as singles artists, especially in this country where you could easier get bipartisan collaboration in Washington than get classic rock radio to play anything other than Jeepster and Get It On. But over the course of the T.Rex phase of his career, the quality stuff was not confined to the jukebox. 

Here then is a list of some of my favorite album cuts from 1970-77. Hopefully you will be intrigued enough to further investigate the entire oeuvre of the man David Bowie called The Prettiest Star.

1. Diamond Meadows (T.Rex, 1970) - Starting with a little guitar noodle, this quickly evolves into a blissful miniature, with Tony Visconti's delightful strings supporting guitar, bass, and Bolan's sweet vocals. Let's do it like we're friends...

2. Rip Off (Electric Warrior, 1970) - Even elves get angry. The last track on Bolan's mega-breakthrough takes potshots at the 60's in surprisingly trenchant fashion: "Dancin' in the nude, feelin' such a dude, it's a rip off." But this is no chaotic catharsis - while the band works up a real head of steam, there's also sax, strings, suspended chords, and an elegiac ending. He knew it was over.

3. Rock On (The Slider, 1972) - This tight-as-hell little wonder could easily have been a single. Visconti's production couldn't be more perfect, with layers of keyboards underpinning Bolan's nasty riff, and signature Kaylan-Vollman backing vocals behind Marc's tough vocal. Bolan's bite-size guitar solo is a marvel. Rock on!

4. Left Hand Luke (Tanx, 1973) - A soul and gospel-drenched mini-epic to end what many think is the last classic T.Rex album. The way Bolan interacts with the backing singers is gorgeous and prefigures some of the things Bowie did on Young Americans. Also, he used the word "myxomatosis" (it's an "animal disease," apparently) 30 years before the Radiohead song.

5. Change (Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow, 1974) - In Dandy In The Underworld, Bolan sang "change is a monster and changing is hard," but the mood is even darker on this brooding song: "Change is coming, you better run." Through the cocaine and brandy haze, a moment of quiet clarity.

6. The Avengers (Superbad) (Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow, 1974) Bolan fell even further in love with funk in 74, and with soul singer Gloria Jones, whose outrageous vocals outdo Kaylan and Vollman. The album, Bolan's last with Visconti, is a bit cluttered, but it all comes together on this sly number.

7. Till Dawn (Bolan's Zip Gun, 1975) - This is really the one that got away. Marc updates 1950's milkshake romance to extravagant lengths. A swoon in song form that should have been a single. There are many alternate takes and they're all fantastic. 

8. Theme For A Dragon (Futuristic Dragon, 1976) - Marc should have been doing soundtracks but his devotion to pop-song form kept things concise. Shredding guitars, sweeping strings, audience noise, and a touch of disco make this a blast from start to finish in just over two minutes.

9. Casual Agent (Futuristic Dragon, 1976) - Frothy, fun, and still funky. It's addictive.

10. Hang-Ups (Dandy In The Underworld, 1977) Bolan gets earthy on this nifty shuffle from his last album. "Get off my back and leave me/Aw, shit, let's get it on," goes one self-reflexive lyric, while the chorus "I'm such a contradiction, I'm just hung-up," makes me think Bolan was becoming more self-aware and understanding his place in what came to be known as the "Me Decade." Somehow, I think he would have sorted out the 80's too.

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