“Oh, to have been a teenage in London in 1972!”
That was the comment that started it all, uttered wistfully by a KEXP volunteer last Thursday, as we took phone pledges during The Afternoon Show.* Kevin Cole had just dropped “Virginia Plain” by Roxy Music, from their self-titled 1972 debut album. And as my shoulders did a modified frug (and my hand twitched in anticipation over a then-silent phone receiver), the brain was racing back through the decades.
Had I been an adolescent, in that year and that city, I would have been caught up in the throes of “T. Rextasy,” the commercial zenith of glam rock. Between 1970 and 1973, electric elf Marc Bolan racked up a string of Top Ten singles: “Jeepster,” “Telegram Sam,” “Children of the Revolution.” Yet in the US? Aside from “Get It On (Bang A Gong),” he barely worried the American charts. We were too busy listening to sensitive souls like Bread and Don McLean. They had platform boots, we wore earth shoes.
Consequently, I would have to learn about the relevance of T. Rex from subsequent generations of underground icons. Bolan was one of the few acts from the ’70s who earned the respect of early punks and ’80s alt-rockers — he even toured with the Damned, before his untimely death in 1977 — and many of them praised him, either in the press or via new renditions of his songs. Altered Images, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and Violent Femmes all borrowed from his catalog. (Slick supergroup The Power Station actually took their version of “Get It On” to #9 in the US in 1985, one slot higher than the original had managed. Oh, the indignity.) And that influence continues to this day; KEXP faves The Shins and Placebo have both cut swell T. Rex ditties in recent years.
To get the full T. Rex experience, check out the 2005 deluxe DVD of Born To Boogie. Shot by Ringo Starr, at the height of the 1972 frenzy, this concert film captures highlights from two sold-out shows at Wembley’s Empire Pool — plus a lot more. You get Bolan jamming out with Starr and Elton John in a tiny mirrored studio, complete with stuffed tigers. Nuns and courtiers munching hamburgers in the great outdoors while Marc jams with a string quartet. Little people in vampire capes, eating car parts. Silliness abounds.
And then there is the live footage. Young fans in dodgy sweaters, gold stick-on stars around their eyes, clawing for the stage as Marc and his stylistic foil, percussionist Micky Finn, shimmy through all the hits. And, truly, this is one of the big selling points of Born To Boogie. Because in a decade when the full-length LP was paramount, T. Rex still focused on two- and three-minute singles (except for “Hot Love,” which goes on for an eternity at nearly five minutes). And these shows were packed with them. Sure, the bongo solos for Micky feel a bit gratuitous, but the kids don’t seem to mind. In the audience shots, they look delirious.
Or maybe they’re just gasping for air.
DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org.