Marc Bolan’s reputation as one of the 20th Century’s greatest pop stars is forever tied to the material he released as the frontman of T.Rex, one of the finest glam rock bands of the 70s. Of course, much like his contemporary, David Bowie, Bolan’s journey to the crown prince of sequinned pop stardom had been a long one.
As well loved as T.Rex’s hit singles and full length albums of the 70s have proved to be, it’s a shame that this period has overshadowed the previous output of the band released when they were known as Tyrannosaurus Rex, when the band consisted of just Bolan in acoustic hippy mode and percussionist Steve Peregrin Took. During this period the duo released a trio of albums, all of which are being rereleased in beautifully remastered and much-expanded deluxe editions.
Tyrannosaurus Rex’s debut album was 1968’s floridly titled My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows, a charming, perhaps even naive psychedelic folk album that boasted exactly the type of album cover you’d expect an album with that sort of title to have. Lyrically, it is of it’s time, but that does make it something of a classic of the period, especially when you factor in John Peel’s spoken word contribution to the closing “Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love)”. This reissue of My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… offers the original album in both mono and stereo versions, which offers the chance to play spot the difference between the two versions. What this debut album did lack was a stand out hit single, however stand-alone single “Debora” should have been a big hit, but didn’t chart until years later when T.Rex and Bolan were at the height of their fame.
It is a re-recorded and rejigged version of “Debora”, “Deboraarobed” which opens Tyrannosaurus Rex’s second album, the more economically titled, Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages. An evolution of the debut album, it found Bolan maturing as a writer, with slightly greater emphasis on Took’s chattering hand-drums. Like its predecessor, Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages was produced by Tony Visconti, who was continuously improving his recording methods and ensuring that he made the most of the entirely acoustic sound for the band.
Unicorn is the final part of the trilogy and combines the memorable elements of both its predecessors while still pointing towards the band’s more commercial future, despite its over-reliance on indecipherable hippy lyrics and yet another spoken-word mystic/twaddle contribution from John Peel. For all its flaws, Unicorn is the musical apex of the Bolan and Peregrin Took duo, but it’s already obvious that things were not going to stay the same for long and that changes were imminent.
All three of these deluxe double disc editions find the original albums quadrupled in size, with the original albums being bolstered by a whole host of radio sessions, demos, snippets of interviews and stand alone singles which lend increased texture and depth to the original albums. Musically they still stand up today, indeed with folk music enjoying something of renaissance in recent years, they sound oddly contemporary in places.
Post-Unicorn, Took departed from Tyrannosaurus Rex after becoming frustrated with his lack of input to the band’s creative process. Bolan subsequently replaced him with the considerably more supplicant Mickey Finn and between them they recorded the final Tyrannosaurus Rex album Beard of Stars, before the band metamorphosed into T.Rex and Bolan embraced the electric guitar and they rode a white swan into the pop charts.
Long-overshadowed by T.Rex, the output of Tyrannosaurus Rex deserves re-appraisal and these three generously expanded re-issues are the ideal place to start for anyone with an interest in the pre-history of one of the great bands in the history of popular music.