A sonic time capsule of riffs, glam, and pure artistry.
The poet. The guitar god. Glam rock incarnate. Marc Bolan and T. Rex have been called many things and mean even more to many people. What Bolan did was define an entire generation.
A fatefully tragic tale, T. Rex continues to inspire musicians of every generation. An output of artistic quality rivaled only by the likes of Dylan, Bowie, and The Beatles, T. Rex is sonically as relevant today as they were in the 60s and 70s.
As with any defining list, there is a certain expected range of discord. Consider this instead a conversation.
Some logistical nightmares that needed covering first: As disheartening as it is, though possibly for a future article all it?s own, T. Rex singles have been wiped clean from this list.
That means heavyweights like ?20th Century Boy? and ?The Groover? are precariously left without a say. They crop up on plenty of reissues and collection albums, but those too were not up for considerations.
Pure breed LPs only. Singles not apply.
In lieu of attempting to weigh in on a full history of T. Rex and the life and times of Bolan, let?s opt instead to dive into the list headfirst.
Let the albums speak for themselves ? you might say:
5. T. Rex (1970)
The self-titled album cover alone tells the story. Shortening the previous Tyrannosaurs Rex moniker was a brilliant hand at rebranding ? fewer words mean larger, bolder representation.
It?s also no wonder that this was the final album cover depicting the likes of both Bolan and Mickey Finn ? who himself was the prettier, less talented bongo-boy replacement for Steve Took.
T. Rex is a out-and-out transition album ? from cult following folk band to electric guitar wielding powerhouse.
Even the original fold of the album had audiences turing the record upways, downways, and every which way to get reoriented before listening.
Though technically the fifth studio album, T. Rex is the first in the line of albums most have come to recognize the group as.
To the subtle ear, T. Rex can almost sound like a glimpse at both the past and future at once.
Much of the album is historically defined by ?Ride a White Swan? ? the slow burn, near chart-topping single that preceded the album. Had that been up for full consideration, this list may be different. Maybe not.
A couple carryover works are reimagined, including ?The Wizard? from Bolan?s early group John?s Children, and an electric version of ?One Inch Rock.?
Mellow and meandering at times, Bolan had not full emerged as the guitar god persona. But with a carefree bliss and jangle that heralds the career-defining work of Electric Warrior, T. Rex is made all the more important and a hell of a way to kick off the 70s.
4. Zinc Alloy and the Riders of Tomorrow (1973)
Maybe it?s best known as the album that marked the end of T. Rex chart dominance. Prior to 1974, Bolan and co. could do no wrong. That is, until they finally proved mortal with Zinc Alloy and the Riders of Tomorrow.
Preceding the album was the single ?The Groover? ? T. Rex?s final run at a No.1, ultimately falling three spots shy. The single oozed with ego but is markedly absent from Zinc Alloy (though it?s often included on expanded reissues).
The album?s opening track finds T. Rex hitting chords the group has come to master by this point.
With it?s chorus-backed singers, blues-laden guitars and familiar foot-stomping rhythm, ?Venus Loon? is everything we want from T. Rex ? only our senses had since become dulled.
Bolan lyrically finds a raw chord with ?Teenage Dream,? a tune best heard in the waning hours of summer on the oppressive suburban porches. It?s candid, reaching, and an underserved track from the group.
Though it can feel like the group fell into a groove, and not the one they so fondly sung about, the album brings everything a T. Rex fan could ask for.
If nothing else, the award for greatest T. Rex album title goes to Zinc Alloy and the Riders of Tomorrow ? without dispute.
3. Tanx (1973)
The phallic imagery and bravado glam playboy cometh with Tanx. By 1973, Bolan and co. had found their swing and long since mastered the fuzz-fueled walls of sound audiences had come to fawn over.
Some may say routine?s not always a good thing.
Tanx has all the ethereal wonderment with such tracks as ?Life is Strange? and the hip-shaking, pursed lips wonderment of ?Born to Boogie.? The jangling love of the 60s finds purpose once again.
Striking emotional permanence, closing track ?Left Hand Luke? is carried by wondrous vocal accompaniment and a singer who?s no longer reserved when it comes to expressing himself.
For it?s strides in confidence and vulnerability, Tanx is an achievement in T. Rex?s career.
The album lacks a standout single, something all-too-obvious to listeners of Electric Warrior and The Slider. But Tanx?s consistent quality of output is it?s endearing trait.
Sure, the pages of history are ripe with critics calling Tanx the decent from rock?s forefront chart hits. And that?s fair.
But screw history. Listen to the album now because none of that matters.
Tanx is Bolan at his artistic peak and it?s still goddamn beautiful.
2. Electric Warrior (1971)
That spell of anger that just sprung up at seeing Electric Warrior at No.2, save it. But it?s the iconic album. The image so synonymous with T. Rex. The hit maker. The reason why we still talk about T. Rex.
The rightful masterpiece of T. Rex is Electric Warrior ? but that doesn?t mean it?s their best album.
Electric Warrior is a production engineer?s delight. It?s tight, well produced sound is miles beyond where T. Rex had been in years previous ? guitars, drums, and all.
There?s also a reservedness to be had, with tracks like ?Mambo Sun? feeling like it?s been held back before it can start to throw any real punches. A great listen, but in retrospect one that could have been much more.
Bolan?s undeniable brilliance is best experienced in ?Bang a Gong (Get It On)? ? A precursor to the sex-oozing years to follow and a monolith of heavy fuzz-filled guitars.
The album also brought humor and fun back into rock and roll. ?Life?s a Gas? is a post-hippy musing on the new decade, almost idealist in it?s carefree tone.
Marc Bolan is king of the Nile on Electric Warrior, riding waves of devotion and piles of gold ? though still not strong enough to conquer the divide from American shores.
With it?s No.1 UK charts pole position, Electric Warrior is the realization of Bolan?s vision when he left the cross-legged folk act behind. He was fully in command of his future, his art, and his legacy.
1. The Slider (1972)
Fresh off the heels of Electric Warrior, The Slider finds T. Rex at the group?s most confident and vulnerable stage. Unseen in T. Rex albums preceding it, The Slider is a sound the group spent the rest of their days chasing ? but never quite seeing the results of again.
Start with the heartstrings. Bolan?s eponymous lyrics ?When I?m sad/I slide? give listeners a rare glimpse into the singer?s personal struggles. Depression, isolation, and fatigue had wormed their way into Bolan?s life by the album?s release.
Until now, T. Rex?s lyrical prowess was sexual double entendres and Dylan-inspired ramblings. Bolan?s words shine brightest on The Slider ? and it?s equal never found.
?Metal Guru? opens with a T. Rex trademark wail and backing vocal elevation. It?s fun, irrelevant, sass and pomp ? all together an auditory pleasure.
Bolan?s penchant for rollicking blues licks find their way onto the album in the form of ?Rock On.? His slap guitar rings with an exacted precision and bravado.
With it?s rotating cast of playful character names ? Purple Pie Pete, anyone? ? to it?s self-deprecating humor in ?I ain?t no square/With my corkscrew hair,? the riff may border eerily close to ?Bang a Gong (Get It On)? but it?s difficult not to adore ?Telegram Sam.? It was also the first single released under Bolan?s own label.
By sheer side-by-side, The Slider topples comparisons to any of T. Rex?s other work. It may not be the hip LP in stock at your local Urban Outfitters, but The Slider is the legacy T. Rex deserves.
Take a spin on the ol? record player with some riffs well ahead of their time for American audiences. Hell, throw on some of those singles while you?re at it, too.