Bolanomics (1)
By: James Parker | Categories: Most Visited, Pop Music, Read-outs

First in a series of posts — in honor of his birthday, on Friday — tracing Marc Bolan’s musical and philosophical development.

WARLORD OF THE ROYAL CROCODILES

And with faint pipings of wobbly woodwind, like tiny drunken flageolets falling in a ditch, we’re off. 1969: Unicorn. As one half of acoustic duo Tyrannosaurus (not yet T) Rex, Marc has been peddling his weapons-grade whimsy for a couple of years now, singing in an aesthete’s bleat about wizards and star children while the rat-faced Steve ‘Peregrine’ Took keens and fizzes and patters madly on the bongos. Quite a sound Marc has. Listen to that voice — the wisps, the smears, the flutters. What is he like? (Like Billy Eckstine at 78 rpm, perhaps? Marc once claimed that this was how he invented his ‘style’.)

We chose ‘Warlord…’ because in an egregiously flimsy way it kicks ASS, and because it showcases the beginnings of Marc’s transformation from palpitating jongleur into something leaner and more rocking. Those first comic twangs of guitar presage all sorts of T Rex business to come, and there’s an elemental punky groove in Marc’s strumming — Eddie Cochran meets the Incredible String Band. The production (by Tony Visconti, Marc’s George Martin) is mini-rococo: Marc boasted of having “twenty different types of percussion” on the album and one hears in addition drones, hisses, cell-door clangs, and a swarm of ticcy little vocalizations (foot-ah foot-ah foot-AH! foot-ah foot-ah foot-AH!) Took’s eccentric harmonies are also sort of fabulous. As for the lyrics… Marc loved poetry — his first encounter with Rimbaud, he recalled, made him feel “like my feet were on fire” — but he also loved to boogie. The elements and oceans congregate on his brow/ He moves in style like a royal crocodile. That’s the crux couplet: one line of sub-Blakeian waffle and then a beautiful swerve into rock’n’roll absurdism. Prepare yourself, world.

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READ similar HiLobrow series: ANGUSONICS — the solos of Angus Young | KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM — 25 Jack Kirby panels | MOULDIANA — the solos of Bob Mould | SHOCKING BLOCKING — cinematic blocking | UKULELE HEROES

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James Parker is a contributing editor at The Atlantic.