We all know the rocking tune “20th Century Boy” by T. Rex. The track had a glamorous vibe with plenty of hard rock grit. The band T. Rex went on to inspire bands like The Smiths and the Ramones, and even get namedropped by the songs of the Who and even David Bowie. The mastermind behind this renowned band is none other than the man known as Marc Bolan.
Born Mark Field, the man known officially adopted the stage name Marc Bolan and recorded his first single “The Wizard” on Decca Records in August 1965. On November 12, 1965, he played this song on the TV show Ready Steady Go! The British show was supposed to have a minimalist approach to music performances, with little to no choreography or flashy scenery. This may not seem like the place for the guy who would go on to write “20th Century Boy,” but at the time Bolan had a slightly more intimate vibe. The lyrics are about him finding a wizard and all the trippy Floyd-esque images associated with meeting such a magical being.
The single itself was released the following Friday. Bolan went on to go through an experimental solo phase (definitely check out “San Francisco Poet” for an artsy folk take on beat poets). He wrote some songs for other bands and even wrote some fantasy novels before he found his home in the band T. Rex.
The band originally started off as Tyrannosaurus Rex, a duo of Bolan and drummer Steve Peregrin Took. They had small success before switching band members around and changing the official name to the abbreviated T. Rex. After the name change, they went on to record the influential albums Electric Warrior and T. Rex, both with killer sounds that laid groundwork for punk rock music.
I still think the album artwork for Electric Warrior is one of the best around. Stark contrast between the black and the yellow creating the universal image of rock and roll: a guitarist plugged into a Marshall amp stack. Marc Bolan embodied this image, while still keeping his poetic and glamorous sensibilities, and rock music is the better for his work.
Check out “The Wizard”: