Top 10s – T. Rex

You can’t say you didn’t see it coming…

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I do love T. Rex, and having their 4 number one’s crop up in my countdown has cemented how brilliant they were, how fun it must have been to be around for Marc Bolan’s short-lived explosion into the biggest pop supernova on the planet.

But two of those #1s don’t even make my Top 10… Yes, this is my Top 10 and mine alone, picked for personal preference just as much as musical brilliance.

First up the rules. Well, the ‘rule’, singular… To qualify for my Top 10, the song has to have been released and to have charted on the UK singles chart. No album tracks, or ‘B’-sides, no ‘Mambo Sun’, or ‘Thunderwing’.  Enjoy…

10. ‘One Inch Rock’, reached #28 in 1968 (and #7 on re-release in 1972)

I am well aware that this is not Marc Bolan’s and T. Rex’s tenth-best song, but on a personal level this takes me back to being a kid and singing along in the backseat. Somehow it had ended up on a cheapo ‘Best of the 60s’ cassette. My brother and I found the line ‘I’m kinda hard cos I’m one inch tall’ hilarious… Except it’s ‘I got the horrors cos I’m one inch tall’, and it’s not the only lyric you might struggle to make out.

Released when they were still ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’ and more of a folk-duo, with Bolan joined by the brilliantly named Steve Peregrin Took, it sets the tone for much of T. Rex’s lyrical output while sounding unlike anything they would release in their heyday. On the one hand it is a song about being one-inch tall; on the other it is about being under the influence of some very strong hallucinogenics.

9. ‘New York City’, reached #15 in 1975

Did you ever see a woman, Coming out of New York City, With a frog in her hand…? Why no, Marc, can’t say I ever did. (Though apparently this one was genuinely inspired by Bolan seeing a woman, in New York, walking down the street while holding a frog…) While I wish I could have included more of T. Rex’s mid seventies singles, the truth is they just can’t compete with the ones further down this list. However, this one just about manages holds its own. That intro, sounding like a cartoon super-villain warming up his death-ray, twinned with a honky-tonk piano, is brilliant. Add the performance above, complete with a man in a giant-frog suit, and you have my 9th favourite T. Rex single.

8. ‘Children of the Revolution’, reached #2 in 1972

A grinding, almost menacing, riff that lumbers its way through a song that I want to love more than I do… I don’t know, I just think it lacks a little of their other hits’ joie de vivre. This one makes number 8, though, because it includes Bolan’s Bolanest lyric: I drive a Rolls-Royce, Cos it’s good for my voice… That, my friends, is rock ‘n’ roll, right there.

7. ‘Get It On’, reached #1 in 1971

A sexy riff for a sexy song about sex. Not much more needs written about one of their most-recognisable hits, but if you want to know more my original post is here. As much as I love it, I always think this song could have been chunkier… Know what I mean? Anyway, it gave them their biggest hit in the US, and you may recognise the keyboard player in the video above…

6. ‘Teenage Dream’, reached #13 in 1974

The epic, operatic, pinnacle of Marc Bolan’s genius… Or the sound of him disappearing up his own arse? Opinions are split, but I’d sway towards to the former. In amongst all the bizarre imagery, I think it’s Bolan’s lament towards the fame and adulation that was slipping away from him. He claimed ‘Teenage Dream’ as his finest lyric, and who am I to argue? The single version is already five minutes long, and the video above has an added minute of guitar trickery tagged on. Because, why not?

5. ‘Ride a White Swan’, reached #2 in 1971

The breakthrough hit for ‘T. Rex’ the glam rock icons. The lyrics still referenced the people of the Beltane and looking like a druid in the olde days… But the guitar was electric and funky and T. Rex was a-go. Years later, Bolan would perform this hit while literally riding a giant white swan. Which is brilliant…

4. ‘The Groover’, reached #4 in 1973

Dripping with attitude, and a punky, metal-ish riff, this was T. Rex’s last UK Top 10 hit. It starts off with the band’s name as a chant – T. R. E. Exxxxxx – with Marc going on to tell us just how brilliant he is. Some name me stud (yes they do…) We know he ain’t tame, and we call him the groover etc etc. Sing it to me children… It’s a middle finger to everyone who might claim that T. rex’s music was repetitive and reductive; in the form of yet another gloriously simple, repetitive T. Rex hit.

3. ‘Jeepster’, reached #2 in 1971

Fun fact: this was released against Bolan’s permission, as their final single on the Fly label. But let’s just be glad they did. Not for the first time, or the last, Marc is comparing his woman to a car. But also, he’s a car. A Jeepster for her love… Everyone’s a car! What is a simple enough, rockabilly number transforms towards the end when he announces that he is also a vampire for her love, and that he’s gonna suck ya! Oh my…

2. ‘Metal Guru’, reached #1 in 1972

T. Rex’s best #1 single – read my original post here – and a record that soars. ‘It is a festival of life song’, Marc said. ‘I believe in God, but have no religion.’ By the time this reached the top of the charts T. Rex were approaching God-like status themselves in the UK, and this was probably their pinnacle. The performance above is a bit ropey, but the brilliance of the song shines through. Why Noel Edmonds is dressed like Robin Hood, however, remains a mystery…

1. ’20th Century Boy’, reached #3 in 1973

‘One Inch Rock’, back at the start of this list, is my earliest memory of T. Rex, before I knew what they were. Hearing ’20th Century Boy’ as a nine or ten year-old was the moment I sat up and said ‘Hello, what is this?’ I don’t think its overstating things to say that the two crunching chords right at the start here is one of the most thrilling moments in rock music, ever… It’s heavier than a lot of T. Rex’s stuff – the guitar sounds more like a chainsaw – and the performance above is even heavier than the recorded version. It’s a brutal, stripping down of glam rock to its essence: power chords and slightly ambiguous lyrics… He wants to be a toy, to a boy, a boy-toy…?

Phew. That was fun. Up next, we launch head first into 1973!

313. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex

I do love the fact that whenever a T. Rex #1 comes along, it usually whacks something terrible out of the top spot. ‘Get It On’ deposed ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, ‘Telegram Sam’ ended The New Seekers’ attempts to teach the world to sing. Now this, T. Rex’s final (!) UK chart-topper ends five long weeks of bagpipes.

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Metal Guru, by T. Rex (their 4th and final #1)

4 weeks, from 14th May – 11th June 1972

And while we wipe a tear at the thought of never hearing Bolan’s boys again in this countdown, are we consoled by the fact that perhaps they saved their best for last…? It’s a record that soars in from on high, one that starts right in the thick of the action: Woah-oah-oah-oah… Yeaaaaaaahhhh!!!

Everything you want from a T. Rex song is present and correct. Stomp and swagger? Check. An irresistible, bubblegum hook? Check. Nonsense lyrics? Check. Metal guru, Is it you… Sitting there in your armour plated chair, Oh yeah… There’s as much point in asking what a ‘Metal Guru’ is as there was in enquiring about a ‘Telegram Sam’. Apparently, it is Marc Bolan’s idea of a God, on his throne. All alone without a telephone, Aw yeah…

And, as usual, in amongst all the madness, there’s a gem or two. Who wouldn’t want to have a silver-studded, sabre-toothed dream? Bolan’s delivery is imperious: camp, floaty, playful. He’s at the height of his powers, and you can imagine this being played at the end of a concert, the final song in the second encore, as the tired and emotional crowd sing and sway along.

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I called this their best #1, as it’s everything that makes T. Rex great, distilled and concentrated into the perfect two-point-five minute pop song. The sound is beefier than their earlier chart-toppers – just listen to the cascading drums, for example – as if glam rock were being mixed and produced by Phil Spector. (If the thought of a Glam-Rock Spector does nothing for you, then you are dead inside.) At the same time, ‘Metal Guru’ is so short and throwaway, so quick and effortless, that you could almost call it disposable. And yet – isn’t that the essence of glam? It’s not to be taken seriously; all sugar and little substance…

Has there been any other band that has had four consecutive number ones of such high quality. ‘Hot Love’, to ‘Get it On’, to ‘Telegram Sam’, to this. The Beatles, for sure, and maybe the Stones. Away from the very top of the charts, their run of ten hits from late 1970 to mid 1973 is superb. The likes of ‘Jeepster’, ‘20th Century Boy’, and ‘Children of the Revolution’ – all of which charted no lower than #4. They were the biggest band in the land, by far, and Bolan was the rock ‘n’ roll idol of his day – a position which he was born to fill.

I’ll do a T. Rex Top 10 soon, so will go easy on the bio for now. Suffice to say, the glory days didn’t go on much longer – glam rock wasn’t built to last – and Bolan started taking lots of drugs and rubbing people up the wrong way. Not that he lost the ability to write brilliant pop songs – some of the smaller hits from 1975-77 are great – but he certainly fell from his pedestal. He was just starting to get it together, working with up and coming punk acts and fronting his own TV series, when the car he was travelling in with his girlfriend Gloria Jones slammed into a tree in South London. He died instantly, aged just twenty-nine. And who knows – perhaps he went on up to meet the big Metal Guru in the sky…?

Follow my playlist below for all the #1s so far: