Bolanomics (5)

By: James Parker
September 30, 2011

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


1973: the pressure’s on. Still the kids scream, still the ether crackles, but “Solid Gold Easy Action” has been supplanted at Number Two in the charts by “Jean Genie”. Damn that David Bowie! “With no disrespect to David,” bitches Marc loopily, “it’s much too soon to put him in the same class as me. I’d give Slade that credibility but, without being arrogant or unfair, I certainly wouldn’t give it to David. He’s still very much a one-hit wonder, I’m afraid.” Yes, without being arrogant or unfair. No question that Marc is feeling it, though — so what does he go and do, at this Bowie-menaced moment? He goes and writes one of the hardest-charging, most arse-involving rave-ups of his entire career, a handclap-crazy pop grand mal with a riff right out of the Tony Iommi Book of Heaviosity — close cousin, really, to Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut” (released the previous year). And I defer again to Mark Paytress, author of the superb Bolan: The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar, and his description of the intro to “20th Century Boy” as “a bellicose brace of blocked E chords.” What a sound! What power! What tone! Marc produced this track himself, and my only quibble would be that farting-along saxophone — it tends to smudge the clean lines of the riff. But forget that. To pull off the boy/toy rhyme with such flair, at this stage in the rock’n’roll game, is a sacramental gesture, and Marc is here prostrate at the altar of himself. As are we all. Happy 64th birthday! (PS: As a bonus today, and an especial tribute to Marc-as-vector-of-heaviness, we additionally feature Glenn Danzig wrapping his lycanthrope’s moan around “Buick Mackane”.)


MORE original fiction at HILOBROW; and stories by HILOBROW’s Matthew Battles

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


Pop Music, Read-outs

What do you think?

  1. The Bolanomics series is much appreciated in this corner, and not only for the quality of wordbending that T. Rex’s achievement has inspired. It should be noted, as addendum, that The Replacements version of “20th Century Boy” brims both with unabashed affection and power, as good a cover of anything as I’ve heard anyone play.

  2. A fine fine series. Thanks James. You’re getting the hang of this ‘writing’ thing quite nicely.

    Glad to hear that there’s the predictable ‘cool early stuff’. I remember him at the end churning out the shuffling (“I like to boogie, you like to boogie”). They were, a priori, my first favourite pop band because of their name’s instant appeal to a five year-old boy.

    I like David Bowie a lot. But one could argue, a little perversely, that it was Slade who were the true trail-blazers of the era…

    FInal thought:

    Isn’t Marc part of the pantheon of Jewish pop singers who made a virtue out of their lack of vocal technique: Dylan, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, Dean Friedman and of course Arlo Guthrie, who sounds most like Marc. Except Marc’ s swallowed a Tremelo box at full intensity. I’d like to see that show anyway. Especially if Lou Reed did the female duet on Friedman’s Lucky Stars.

  3. oh no – was i being all ‘but check out the cool early stuff!’? cool early stuff is so naff. the great thing about marc was the glory of his selling-out, made all the sweeter by the moanings of his disappointed hippie conferes. i think what i was TRYING to do was show a continuum of marc-ness from underground to overground, wombling free – rather than the warbles/aesthetic fracture/success model…

  4. I loved Popswop and Music Star for the posters as much as THE SLIDER and Tanx for the music, you have to understand that to understand Marc.

  5. I’m tempted to say there are no good T. Rex covers, so perfect– at his peak, which I consider “The Slider” to be– is Marc’s melding of form + lyricism but…

    Once upon a time I liked this OK, and it’s still better than Danzig’s schlock above–

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