Salon des Refusés: T. Rex

In 1863, the Salon des Refusés was launched to counter the conservative aesthetics enforced by the Academy of Fine Arts in the annual Paris Salon. That year, the “rejects” included such later revered painters as Manet, Courbet, Whistler, Pissarro and Cezanne. Perhaps it is now time to establish a Salon des Refusés for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame‘s rejects.

The rules of eligibility for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame include:

Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.

And yet many artists who have had huge impacts on the development and evolution of rock & roll have been snubbed over and over, including: Kraftwerk, Chic, Big Star, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, New York Dolls, T. Rex, Television, The Slits, X-Ray Spex, Sonic Youth, Joy Division.

Technically, T. Rex is nothing but a “one hit wonder” in the United States:

However, the band’s leader, Marc Bolan, was a full blown teen idol in the U.K. And his band’s influence has been huge on both sides of the pond. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Blondie covered that “one hit,” “Bang A Gong (Get It On).”* In Shock & Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century, Simon Reynolds declares Electric Warrior, the album on which the hit originally appeared: “Bolan’s finest album by far, an almost perfect platter” (p. 58). Every serious collection of rock music should contain Electric Warrior. Maybe I should delete the word “serious,” since that is one of the criticisms so often thrown at T. Rex and other groups that appeal to young girls: They aren’t serious! As if serious is, or should he, a defining characteristic of rock.

T. Rex began in the late ’60s as the very serious Tyrannosaurus Rex, which played faerie music, as in music about faeries, and dragons and unicorns inhabiting ancient Albion. To tell the truth, I’ve listened to very little of that dinosaur music, really just the last album released under the name in 1970, A Beard of Stars. Replacing Steve Peregrin Took with Micky Finn on percussion began the shift from progressive folk albums to hooky pop-rock singles:

The follow-up, T. Rex, may have abbreviated the band’s name, but the songs were still about wizards and seagull women. The new sound was fully realized on the following, non-LP single “Ride A White Swan,” which reached a whole new audience . . .

. . .  which Bolan consolidated on 1971’s essential Electric Warrior:

This album taught Joan Jett, leader of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, how to rock:

My mother bought me a cheap Sears electric with a little Gibson amp which cost twenty dollars for the combination. I took lessons for about a month. The guy kept trying to teach me ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’ but I wanted to learn to play rock and roll. So I went home and played with my records in my room. I really taught myself. I’d set up the stereo and amp and tuned my guitar to whatever song I wanted to play. I’d play things like T-Rex songs off the Electric Warrior album, or ‘Honky-Tonk Woman’ really loud. I was thirteen, fourteen years old.

The following album, The Slider, is almost as good. As Johnny Marr attests:

The influence of T-Rex is very profound on certain songs of The Smiths i.e. ‘Panic’ and ‘Shoplifters.’ Morrissey was himself also mad about Bolan. When we wrote ‘Panic’ . . .

. . . he was obsessed with ‘Metal Guru’ and wanted to sing in the same style. He didn’t stop singing it in an attempt to modify the words of ‘Panic’ to fit the exact rhythm of ‘Metal Guru.’ . . .

. . . He also exhorted me to use the same guitar break so that the two songs are the same!!!”

Bauhaus covered “Telegram Sam” from the album and Alejandro Escovedo named his one-off side project Buick Mackane. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Guns N’ Roses covered the song with that title.

T. Rex, along with other British Glam Rock bands that followed in its wake, was a major influence on L.A.’s hair metal scene.

There were a few more great singles, like “Children of the Revolution” . . .

. . . and “20th Century Boy,” . . .

. . . which has been covered by Def Leppard, The Replacements, Placebo and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but these were followed by a very steep decline that ended with the fatal car crash that took Bolan’s life.**

The music has lived on, though, in covers like The Bongos‘ “Mambo Sun” . . .

. . . and Portugal, The Man‘s “Main Man,” . . .

. . . along with the many bands directly influenced by Bolan’s glam sound, such as Opal . . .

. . . David Vandervelde on his The Moonstation House Band album, Butch Walker and the Let’s Go Out Tonites and Louis XIV:

If, as Anton S. Trees has written, “Louis XIV don’t wear their influences on their collective sleeve; you’d need an entire fucking wardrobe to fit them all there,” T. Rex would take up major space in that closet.

T. Rex centrality is acknowledged in a hit song Bolan’s friend and rival, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee David Bowie, gifted Mott the Hoople to revive their moribund career, “All the Young Dudes”:

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees The Who also paid homage to “the sound of old T. Rex” in “You Better You Bet,” . . .

. . . as did Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees R.E.M. in “The Wake-Up Bomb,” where Michael Stipe sings of practicing his “T. Rex moves”:

T. Rex surely deserves to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, both for its “unquestionable musical excellence” and its “significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

If not, clearly, “it’s a rip off”:


* Well, that’s the song’s title in the U.S., where “Get It On” was changed to “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” in order to avoid confusion with a then-recent, but now largely forgotten minor hit, “Get It On” by Chase:

** Although many of Marc Bolan’s songs focused on cars, he never learned to drive. His girlfriend Gloria Jones was driving the purple Mini when it crashed on September 16, 1977. It was not until very recently that I realized this was the same Gloria Jones who sang the original 1964 version of “Tainted Love,” . . .

. . . which would later be covered by so many others, including Marc Almond of Soft Cell, who was inspired to change the K in his first name to C, just like his idol Mark Feld had when he became Marc Bolan.