Marc Bolan – At the BBC (2013)

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Marc Bolan had been championed by John Peel long before he had a chance to hang a hub-cap diamond star halo on music lovers with T Rex. The proof is in this 6-CD set featuring every appearance he ever made on the BBC.

As with anything this expansive, covering this much ground — At the BBC, due September 2, 2013 from Universal UK, actually goes back to his psych-garage band John’s Children — we find as much diamond as we do rough. (I mean, three versions of 1968’s bongo-festooned “Deborah”? Really?) Still, sometimes-cheeky, sometimes-utterly fawning interview segments before the songs offer unique insights into the man, and the times. And Bolan has a way of adding an in-concert toughness to the familiar glam sheen found on later songs like 1970’s “Ride a White Swan” and “Hot Love” — though, notably, 1971’s “Get It On” sounds like a note-for-note copy. He’d boiled the formula down to a eye-popping potency by then.

Getting there, it turns out, is half the fun: Bolan starts out with a White Stripes-like affinity for camp-blues (1968’s “Hot Rod Mama”) then begins to lace those basic influences with a wild-eyed lysergic flair (“Jagged Time Lapse”). Oddly, Bolan’s next move was a swerve into psychedelic folk with the occasionally prosaic Tyrannosaurus Rex (“Salamanda Palaganda”).

How that led to T-Rex might have been a greater mystery, if not for the step-by-step evolution mapped out here — beginning with 1969’s “Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart,” a colorful outburst of winkingly sexy, funky prog weirdness. It wasn’t long before a confused-looking Peel, who seemed to have a greater affinity for the previous era’s hippy-dippy singer-songwriter vibe, was referring to one of their songs (not kidding here) as “a little rock-a-boogie opus.”

They were, really. And when Bolan tried to move away from that, after 1973’s Tanx, with things like “Blackjack” he found himself a man without an audience — and Bolan’s muse seemed to vanish with them. 1974’s “Light of Love” finds him combining rock and soul, to tremendously underrated success. When nobody bit, he turned to disco (1975’s “Dreamy Lady”) and then Marc Bolan was gone — the victim of a 1977 car crash a mile from his home, two weeks before his 30th birthday.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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