Marc Bolan should always be remembered as a formidable musician and lyricist, and not forgetting also .... as the "King Of Glam".
When all the reviewers at Fireworks magazine were asked to review our favourite album, or an album that has been significant during our lifetime, there were only two that immediately sprang to my mind. The first (and for those who know me, it wouldn't have come as any surprise) was Ten's unbelievable sophomore album 'Name Of The Rose'. The second was T. Rex's 'The Slider'. For several days I pondered which of these two to choose, but in all honesty, there could only ever be one winner.
'The Slider' was released in 1972, and without question it was the album that truly elevated the relatively "ordinary" Marc Bolan to stratospheric super-stardom. Before I discuss the opus in some detail, it makes sense to rewind a few years, to 1969 to be precise. Back then, it was Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Psychedelic Folk duo consisting of Bolan himself and Steve Peregrin Took. To put it plain and simple, after the 'Unicorn' album that year, Took began to get ideas above his station and wanted a bigger share in the band's output. Took also began to indulge in the drug culture which was rife at the time. Ironically (as years later Bolan himself was to succumb to the dark side) this annoyed Bolan, and immediately following an ill-fated tour of America, Took was replaced by percussionist Mickey Finn. It was from this juncture onwards that the seeds for a new, streamlined band began to be sewn.
The first album with Bolan and Finn, 'Beard Of Stars' hinted at what was to come. It still contained weird and wonderful songs, with weird and wonderful titles about weird and wonderful characters, but the introduction of electric guitars gave both the band, and Bolan in particular, a much-desired sense of kudos. Deep down, Bolan never felt totally fulfilled playing in front of a small, select audience of hippies and misfits; he desired bigger and better things that would transform him into a much-loved global icon. In 1970, this transformation continued, firstly with the stand-alone single 'Ride A White Swan', and then with the self-titled album under the new, streamlined moniker of T. Rex. It featuring songs such as 'Beltane Walk', 'Seagull' and a re-working of a very old Bolan track 'The Wizard', which exemplified the new sound and direction in which they intended to go. In 1971 'Electric Warrior' was released and many, even to this day, wax lyrical about this album and staunchly claim that it is the band's seminal offering. Yes, it was/is a superb piece of craftsmanship, featuring staple classics like 'Jeepster', 'Get It On' and the exhilaratingly manic 'Rip Off', but something was still missing. In my humble opinion, despite such strong songs, it lacked the commerciality that Bolan craved.
'The Slider', released on 21st July 1972 delivered (in spades) that commerciality. With stark cover art depicting Bolan as a Mad Hatter-like character (rather appropriate considering his association with fantastical worlds, wizards, elves et al) it wasted little time in climbing to #4 in the UK album charts. It was the very first album I ever purchased with my own hard-earned money (I now own over a hundred T. Rex albums, the vast majority are compilations, of course) and I emphatically believe that it sounds as fresh, current and relevant today as it did back then. I'd go as far as to say that, alongside David Bowie's 'Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars' album (which saw the light of day just over one month earlier), it was the seventies equivalent of Def Leppard's 1987 masterpiece 'Hysteria'. The classic line-up of Bolan (vocals, guitar), Finn (percussion, vocals), Bill Legend (drums) and Steve Currie (bass) took the Tyrannosaurus Rex template and transformed it into a brash, explosive and highly sexualised sound that would serve them well for the short-term future.
'The Slider' is an album that has everything. It's a concentrated incendiary device full of Funk, Boogie, Soul, a smidgeon of Metal, and of course a huge slice of Pop Rock. The additional backing vocals of Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (more commonly known as "Flo and Eddie"), plus the plush production and string arrangements by Tony Visconti, totally fleshed out the sound which explodes into a commercial barrage of kaleidoscopic delights. The constant factor throughout though, is melody and sing-along-ability; although, if you so wished, you could delve deep into the lyrical content to try and make sense of Bolan's persona and his philosophies. Believe me, the lyrics aren't as crazy and otherworldly as they might first appear, and, depending on your personal outlook on life, are open to innumerable interpretations. Over forty years on and I'm still discovering intricate and covert nuances that help me understand the genius of Marc Bolan.
Back in the day, the two sides (remember?) of the album were introduced by the commercially huge 'Metal Guru' (side one), and 'Telegram Sam' (side two). The foot-stomping 'Metal Guru', which made the #1 slot for four weeks prior to the opus hitting the shops, was the perfect opener; loud, brash, full of swagger and androgynous sexuality. It was Bolan's anthem to Gods everywhere, including (many have said) himself. "All alone without a telephone" was how he imagined these deities; so powerful and omnipresent, yet simultaneously isolated, lonely, and even abandoned – see what I mean about the lyrical interpretation? 'Telegram Sam' was released at the onset of 1972 and also topped the UK singles chart. Its funky, staccato vibe introduced some of Bolan's most famous/infamous characters; Jungle Face Jake, Golden Nose Slim, Purple Pie Pete, and of course Telegram Sam himself, all of whom were not just crazy people from the depths of Bolan's own fantasy world, but real people of some significance during his brief lifetime.
Aside from the "hits", there are another eleven songs that "should" fascinate you. Yes, they are only short compositions that last for not much more than three/four minutes, but even so, they are beautifully constructed and have more hooks than the cloakroom at the Royal Albert Hall. The bouncy, feel-good, mid-tempo delectations of 'Rock On', 'Baby Boomerang', 'Baby Strange' and the semi-acoustical 'Mystic Lady' may come across (to the unfamiliar/uninitiated) as simple and repetitive, yet they are meticulously designed to draw you in, wrap their chords around you, thus culminating in a listening experience that is full of warmth and wonderment. To ensure a nigh on perfect balance, Bolan also does slow and broody; no more so than on 'Spaceball Ricochet', 'Rabbit Fighter', 'Ballrooms Of Mars' and not forgetting the outstanding, self-questioning title track. Interestingly, 'Spaceball Ricochet' is indubitably an autobiographical composition; Bolan sings, "With my Les Paul, I know I'm small, but I enjoy living, anyway", clearly illustrating his diminutive stature and insecurity – towards the end of the song he adds, "Deep in my heart, there's a house, that can hold, just about all of you", which exemplifies how much he loved (and wanted to be loved by) his ever-increasing audience/followers.
If out-and-out Rockers are your particular bent, then look no further than 'Buick Mackane' and 'Chariot Choogle'. Each song displays Bolan's provocative and fierce delivery, both vocally and via his Les Paul. Yes, he certainly had his critics (doesn't everyone), but his guitar attributes, and histrionics whilst executing them were sometimes mesmeric. Just take a listen to the outro of 'Buick Mackane' and you will certainly marvel at his Jimi Hendrix-esque frenetic fret-work. The album comes to a gentle close with the repetitive, yet hypnotic 'Main Man', which gently repeats to fade, leaving the listener with a satisfied soul and an urge to hit that "play" button again (or indeed place the needle back down).
If you have never heard 'The Slider' in its entirety, then please, please do so. There are numerous versions out there and all at very competitive prices too. My advice to you, get the 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' from Edsel, which was released in 2002, as it comes with an alternative version of the album called 'Rabbit Fighter'. Marc Bolan only spent thirty years on this planet of ours, but what he achieved in that time should never be ignored. He truly was a little man who aimed big and who aimed for the stars. With this album he touched those stars and became one himself... albeit briefly. He gained all the respect and love he hankered and strived for, and despite the negativities that ensued, he should always be remembered as a formidable musician and lyricist, and not forgetting also .... as the "King Of Glam".