Get It On... and On
Revisiting T. Rex's sensual Electric Warrior
T. Rex's 1971 opus Electric Warrior has been a musical aphrodisiac for generations of libidinous listeners. But there won't be any big-money reunion tours for the group's front man and sole songwriter Marc Bolan. In 1977, his girlfriend Gloria Jones (the original performer of the carnal classic, "Tainted Love") wrapped his sports car around a tree, instantly killing Bolan, her passenger. By that time, the former sex symbol had degenerated into a bloated, alcoholic narcissist whose later releases upheld the law of diminishing returns.
It wasn't always this way. At the dawn of the '70s, Bolan and his gang of glam-rock lackeys were major players in Great Britain's own sexual revolution. What The Beatles only hinted at, T. Rex delivered, in the form of come-hither cock-rock and slinky cosmic balladry. The band was a pulsing, purring rock 'n' roll engine set on corrupting the sons and daughters of the English ruling class. Electric Warrior found T. Rex at the top of their seductive game, with leader Bolan acting as guru to a nation of erotic initiates.
Even 35 years later, the disc retains an uncanny magnetism -- no wonder it was recently remastered and reissued. Aging classic rockers are undoubtedly familiar with the band's biggest U.S. hit, "Get It On (Bang a Gong)." But T. Rex's reach goes further than radio singles. A whole new batch of kids are discovering Bolan's lascivious grooves, awakening to a world where wizards and witches aren't just Tolkien-esque props but avatars of a salacious, sonic energy.
Electric Warrior holds particular charms for modern indie-rockers, too, as a recent post on local blog Highate -- http://highgatecenter.blogspot.com -- confirms. Its author, musician Tanner McCuin, writes about finding the right music to play at a recent get-together: "At one point, I had to defuse a potentially explosive situation between a group of dance-party-ready ladies and one very obstinate fellow who insisted on playing [T. Rex tune] 'Cosmic Dancer,' 'cause people just wanted to make out." His description seemed to echo my suspicions: T. Rex is the Barry White of rockers.
The case for the record's perennial sexiness can't rest on a single blog quote, however. That's why I created the following travelogue of Electric Warrior's beguiling musical hollows. Consider it a guided tour of T. Rexstacy.
Track #1: "Mambo Sun"
The band's ode to teenage heat and hippie mysticism kicks off with the hip-shaking "Mambo Sun." When first I heard Bolan's toothy guitar and breathy vocals at age 16, I felt I'd been let in on a salty little secret. The throbbing backbeat and arcane yet amorous lyrics conspired to usher me into exotic illumination. Suddenly, getting laid seemed not only possible but probable, so long as this titillating talisman was playing.
When I hear it now, I'm impressed by how well constructed the song is. For disposable music, it's remarkably potent. And while I have no idea what the line "I got stars in my beard / And I feel real weird for you" means, it nonetheless turns me on.
Track #2: "Cosmic Dancer"
This tune is the soundtrack to existential angst and sexual awakening. In it, Bolan takes us on an erotically charged journey from the womb to the tomb. The crown prince of purple prose, Arthur Rimbaud, once wrote that a poet's only concerns should be sex and death. This advice is not lost on our hero, as he dances his way across the universe like a space-age dandy. As Bolan quests for pleasure and self-understanding, his band supplies a chilled-out groove. The backwards guitar in the song's finale is an especially nice touch. This is classic make-out music for the body, mind and spirit.
Track #3: "Jeepster"
"Just like a car, you're pleasing to behold / I'll call you Jaguar if I may be so bold," Bolan croons on this revved- up specimen of road-worthy raunch. The tune is a throwback to rock's early days, when cars and girls were key fixations. But The Beach Boys never sounded like this. Bongos knock and guitars bounce as Bolan struts and swaggers like a horny mechanic. The final verse contains a particularly saucy line: "Girl I'm just a Jeepster for your love / I said girl, I'm just a vampire for your love . . . And I'm gonna suck you!" he sings. Where did I put my cape?
Track #4: "Monolith"
The band slows down with this gorgeous glam ballad. Here, Bolan delivers some of his most enigmatic lyrics. "The throne of time is a kingly thing / From whence you know we all do begin / And dressed as you are girl, in your fashions of fate / Baby it's too late," he purrs. More goofy than seductive, but the wah-wah guitar could melt butter.
Track #5: "Lean Love"
A misdirected slow-blues number that fails on every level. The best part is Bolan's ludicrous battle cry, "One, two, buckle my shoe!" Unfortunately, it takes place before the music even begins. If you want to sustain the mood, skip it.
Track #6: "Get It On (Bang a Gong)"
Not even an ill-advised cover by '80s "supergroup" Power Station could diminish this song's appeal. Once again, Bolan compares the object of his affection to a motor vehicle. "Well you're built like a car, you've got a hubcap diamond star halo / You're dirty-sweet, and you're my girl," he sings gleefully. Of course, he also says she's "got the teeth of the hydra" upon her. That doesn't sound so attractive to me. Still, the tune's delicate bump-and-grind and shimmering background vocals make it an erotic anthem for the ages.
Track #7: "Planet Queen"
My personal favorite. In it, Bolan commands space aliens to assist him in his search for the perfect mate. "Flying saucer, take me away / Give me your daughters," he implores over the tune's serpentine shuffle. Not sure if he's requesting human or alien progeny, but it hardly matters. I would've loved to have heard Elliott Smith cover this one, if he could've stopped being miserable for long enough.
Track #8: "Girl"
Despite the title, this is not a love song. A slow acoustic number, it begins with Bolan singing directly to the Almighty. "Oh God, high in your fields above Earth / Come and be real for us / You with your mind / Oh yes you are beautifully fine," he intones. Is he hitting on the Creator? The next verse deals with a hot chick who, in Bolan's estimation at least, has fallen from grace: "Oh Girl, electric witch you are / Limp in society's ditch / You are visually fine / Oh yes you are, but mentally dying," he accuses. I think our hero has the solution to the lady's troubles, and it's probably dirty.
Track #9: "The Motivator"
Uninspired re-tread of "Get It On (Bang a Gong)." Even Egyptian imagery and Bolan's fashion advice can't save this one.
Track #10: "Life's a Gas"
Very sexy. "I could've loved you girl, like a planet / I could've changed your heart to a star," Bolan sings over a spare arrangement. His Edith Piaf-meets-David Bowie delivery is priceless, as is his metaphysical goading. "I could've turned you into a priestess / I could've burned your fate in the sand," he warbles. Sounds like a fine deal to me. Wonder what she did to spurn his affections?
Track #11: "Ripoff"
The album closer isn't exactly sexy, but it does have spirit. In it, Bolan unleashes a stream-of-consciousness invective as horns blare in the background. I've always thought that Mick Jagger would've been better suited to this tune. But Bolan gives it the ol' college try and, for the most part, delivers.
There you have it. Ryko recently re-issued a deluxe edition, so you've got no excuse not to put this one on when you're feeling randy. And if you've got the stamina, you can always go back to track #1 when it's done!