Friday, September 21, 2007

No. 160: Electric Warrior

Band: T. Rex
Album: Electric Warrior
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: While it never garnered a huge audience in the States, T. Rex' brand of androgynous folk-rock had a strong following in England. "Electric Warrior" is the band's move to harder rock and, essentially, invented what we know as glam rock. Sleazy and stomping, "Electric Warrior" is a template that Bolan's colleague David Bowie followed throughout his career, to a lot of success.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: T. Rex never really hit is huge and is really only known in America for two songs (one of which is on here).
Best song: What can I say about "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" that hasn't already been recounted hundreds of thousands of times? It's a near-perfect song.
Worst song: I like every song on this record, actually.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

Fittingly, the week between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur was "famous Jews in rock" week at "One Man, 500 Albums." We had the Beastie Boys yesterday and Kiss and Marc Bolan today. It's too bad we couldn't fit Simon & Garfunkel, Lou Reed or Phil Spector in here somewhere.


My disinterest in David Bowie is mostly T. Rex' fault. Marc Bolan and Co. seem to do everything Bowie did -- save for the ludicrous alien concept albums -- only better. Bolan was the first to really push the limits of androgyny, he was one of the first to put a great deal of macho showmanship and sleazy blues rock against said androgyny and he was first to keep his folk roots somewhere in the picture. On "Electric Warrior," it's "Girl," an acoustic little love (sex?) song featuring the odd choice of a fugelhorn.

Otherwise, it's all cars and sex. "Jeepster" is the picture of this combination with Bolan extolling the virtues of both his love and British luxury cars (Just like a car you're pleasing to be hold/I'll call you Jaguar if I may be so bold,"). The sweet beat and overdriven Chuck Berry-esque guitar lick give the same impression as the lyrics: Cars and chicks are awesome. The song devolves into a "My Generation"-type chaos at the end, rounding up the theme in time. The carefree introspection of "Life's a Gas" may be Bolan's best lyrical and musical composition, with its wanking guitar licks and wonderfully laissez faire chorus ("But it really doesn't matter at all/No it really doesn't matter at all/Life's a gas,/I hope it's gonna last").

The only thing "Electric Warrior" suffers from is repetition. "The Motivator" sounds more like "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" than anyone would like to admit and the idea of banging chicks and having fun may get a little tired after a while. Ask Guns 'N Roses. Or The Mooney Suzuki. Or the tens of thousands of other bands that basically copied T. Rex' glam rock.


According to various reports, Bolan wrote "Electric Warrior" with the idea to hit it big in America. Sadly, this didn't happen, but one hit was produced. The highlight of the band's catalog, "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" is a romping roll through Bolan's apparent attempt at coming on to a girl. The riff has been copied more than anyone would like to admit (The Stones' "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)," two Oasis songs, Prince's "Cream," etc.) and the short horn parts and piano banging at the chorus showcase the band's ability to control their chaos.

Bolan's ridiculously sexual recording of the song makes the lyrics that much better. His snake-slither delivery sounds like Alec Baldwin's character in "30 Rock," with -- if you can imagine it -- more grease. And his sexual grunts and moaning doesn't exactly say "subtle."

(And, of course, the chorus of the song is "Get it on, bang a gong, get it on." Not exactly beating around the proverbial bush.)

And the lyrics... The lyrics! First, the exact notion of a girl being "Well, you're dirty and sweet/Clad in black," as the first verse of the song declares is wonderfully gross/sleazy and could only be sung with a guy wearing silk scarves and eyeliner. The brilliantly creepy/sexy second verse only reinforces this notion further:

Well, you're built like a car
You got a hubcap diamond star halo
You're built like a car, oh yeah
Well, you're an untamed youth
That's the truth, with your cloak full of eagles
You're dirty, sweet and you're my girl

Filled with fantastic metaphors ("cloak full of eagles"), cleverly rhythmic wordplay ("hubcap diamond star halo") and well-worn descriptions ("you're an untamed youth") fill the song with a certain grandiosity that bands like the MC5 and other rock and roll outfits never achieved. Almost poetic in its lyricism, "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" is one of the greatest songs of all time. And it's on a great album. This record is rated too low.

No comments: