T. Rex’s definition album was released the same year NPR debuted the original lineup.

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This story originally aired on September 24, 2021.

In 1971, Joe Elliott was 12 years old and he was on his way to his first rock concert. The group was T. Rex, on tour with their latest album, Electric warrior. Pushing open the swinging doors of the hall with portholes, Elliott found himself in an ecstatic and ecstatic crowd that shouted into his memory. Fifty years later, he remembers it with ease.

“They were already on stage when I arrived.… I just walked through the doors and just saw this sea of ​​people going crazy,” he says. Fans fought, screamed and danced as the band gave it their all on stage. “I had seen a lot of black and white footage from the Beatles and the Rocks and stuff like that on TV … but I’d never seen him in the flesh. “

Elliott’s love for T. Rex stayed with him long after that night. Electric warrior was the first album he owned. And finally, he would become the leader of his own group: Def Leppard.

T. Rex has been around since the late 1960s, originally billed as an acoustic folk duo and called Tyrannosaurus Rex. Lead guitarist and frontman Marc Bolan created whimsical-inspired lyrics and jaw-dropping album titles like, My people were fair and had heaven in their hair … but now they just wear stars on their eyebrows. But by the end of the 1960s, serious folk lyrics and clean acoustics were losing favor. The 1970s demanded something new.

Bolan met American record producer Tony Visconti in London in 1967. Visconti and Bolan became quick friends and they immediately started collaborating. “It wasn’t too official,” Visconti says, “we were just extending our friendship at the studio.”

They recorded four folk albums under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex, which achieved some success in the UK charts. In the late 1970s, as the band’s musical style began to change, they released their first major single, “Ride A White Swan”. They quickly followed with their first No. 1 hit, “Hot Love” in early 1971.

At that time, T. Rex was a more elegant package. They changed their name from Tyrannosaurus Rex to T. Rex. The acoustic duo became a group of four musicians, consisting of a bassist and a drummer. Visconti had gradually developed his production skills, closely studying the work of Beatles production colossus George Martin.

In March 1971, T. Rex appeared on the BBC show The top of the pops and performed what would become their most recognizable hit, “Bang A Gong (Get It On)”. Chelita Secunda, the band manager’s wife, came up with the idea of ​​applying some glue and glitter to Bolan’s cheeks. With this touch of stardust, glam rock was born.

After the success of “Hot Love” and the The top of the pops performance, Visconti returned to New York to visit his parents for the first time in three years. He stumbled upon Bolan by chance. They had both heard of “Hot Love”.

“I asked my boss to call from England saying, ‘Do you have a follow-up? “” Visconti remembers. “That’s when I knew we had a real hit record situation and I had to make an album that would keep us on the charts and provide us with a third single at success. And I said to my boss, “I’ll have one when I get back.”

Over the next three months, Visconti would chase Bolan from New York to Los Angeles to London as he toured and recorded at the same time. The end result was an 11 song album filled with melodies, groove, and beats that begged you to move. Electric warrior rose to the top of the charts in the UK, but Bolan had another country in mind when he was working on the album.

“The only country left in the world is America, for us. And I’d like to be done with it, whether or not people want us here,” Bolan told jazz producer Michael Cuscuna in 1971. As the album ranked No. 1 in the UK, it peaked at 32 on UST Rex’s biggest single, “Bang A Gong”, reached No. 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100, but did failed to climb higher. “T. Rexstasty,” as it was called in England, was not contagious in America.

Although the group had limited success in the United States, their influence remains. In 2020, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and musicians ranging from late David Bowie To Ke $ ha cited Bolan as a source of inspiration. And in the words of the rocker himself, Electric warrior is more than an album: “I think Electric warrior, for me, is the first album which is a 1971 statement for us in England. If anyone ever wanted to know why we were great in the other part of the world, this album says it, for me. “

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You may have heard that NPR turns 50 this year. So we reviewed the news, movies and albums that shaped 1971. One of those albums, T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior”, was released 50 years ago today. This is NPR’s Avery Keatley.

(EXCERPT FROM THE SONG T REX, “BANG A GONG (GET IT ON)”)

AVERY KEATLEY, BYLINE: On September 24, 1971, British rock band T. Rex released “Electric Warrior”.

(EXCERPT FROM THE SONG T REX, “BANG A GONG (GET IT ON)”)

KEATLEY: The 11 song album would be the biggest of their career, with singles like “Bang A Gong” and “Jeepster”. Marc Bolan was the lead singer and guitarist.

MARC BOLAN: You know, I’m a rocker. Music is my first inspiration.

(EXCERPT FROM THE SONG, “BANG A GONG (GET IT ON)”)

T REX: (Singing) Well, you’re dirty and sweet, dressed in black, don’t look back and I love you. You are dirty and kind. Oh yes.

KEATLEY: T. Rex was formed in the late 60’s as an acoustic folk duo, then called Tyrannosaurus Rex. But the music scene was flowing in a different direction.

TONY VISCONTI: In the early 70s we did all we could with electric guitars.

KEATLEY: He’s acclaimed record producer Tony Visconti. He has produced numerous T. Rex albums, including “Electric Warrior”.

VISCONTI: We realized we were the guys making the hits. And it was our responsibility, as the Beatles took it upon themselves, to do something better every time we put out an album.

KEATLEY: By 1971, the band changed their name, their sound, and recorded some hit singles in the UK. A few months before the release of “Electric Warrior”, Bolan made another change. In a Top of the Pops performance, he took the stage with a little more flair than usual. This is historian and writer Simon Reynolds.

SIMON REYNOLDS: He kind of embellished his image. He put glitter on his cheekbones and wore a scarf. And that was all it took, really, to get people to yell at him.

KEATLEY: That little piece of glitter had a really big impact. Glam rock was born.

(EXCERPT FROM THE SONG, “BANG A GONG (GET IT ON)”)

T REX: (Singing) Put it on. Hit a gong. Put it on.

REYNOLDS: A keen sense of image and pomp, simple, hymnic songs, rock’n’roll with that rhythm that forces you to move.

KEATLEY: The slicked back production, makeup, high heels, and music that begged you to boogie have inspired countless musicians. One of them was Joe Elliott, 12, future singer of Def Leppard. His first gig was T. Rex on their “Electric Warrior” tour.

JOE ELLIOTT: I walked through the swinging doors and saw this sea of ​​people going crazy, you know, hair all over, arms flapping, they’re all over, girls screaming, boys screaming and Marc Bolan who moans on stage with his guitar.

(EXCERPT FROM THE SONG T REX, “JEEPSTER”)

KEATLEY: With “Electric Warrior” Bolan has helped to break into a new audience. Here he speaks with jazz producer Michael Cuscuna in 1971.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

BOLAN: The album for me is just about explaining to America, really, that we are worth listening to.

KEATLEY: The album ranked No. 1 in the UK but didn’t peak until 32 in the US. Writer Simon Reynolds.

REYNOLDS: I think that really upset her head. The fame in the UK was too great, but he didn’t quite succeed in spreading it in the US.

KEATLEY: Despite the band’s inability to become a celebrity in the United States, the legacy of “Electric Warrior” lives on. Musicians ranging from David Bowie to Kesha cited Bolan as inspiration. In 2020, T. Rex was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And in the words of Bolan himself, “Electric Warrior” is more than just an album.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

BOLAN: I think “Electric Warrior” is for me the first album which is a 1971 statement for us in England.

MICHAEL CUSCUNA: Oh, really?

BOLAN: I mean, it’s – if anyone wanted to know why we were great in the other part of the world, this album says it for me.

KEATLEY: So dust off those boogie shoes, put the needle down, and go back to 1971.

Avery Keatley, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF T REX SONG, “MAMBO SUN”) Transcription provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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