As embarrassing as it is to admit, I somehow heard Devendra Banhart before I heard Tyrannosaurus Rex. Of course I’d heard T.Rex and their glam hits “Get It On” and “Metal Guru”, but I had no idea about Marc Bolan’s past as folk-pop crossover genius, I only knew him as the “Electric Warrior”.
Upon first hearing Banhart I thought he was amazing; such a grasp on melody and not afraid to do semi-hippy folk-pop, such a distinctive voice – I thought it was incredibly original. When I heard Tyrannosaurus Rex’s “Debora” I quickly dismissed Banhart as the flakey shameless Bolan-aper that I still believe him to be.
Perhaps most people were luckier than I and were somehow exposed to Bolan’s early period as the folk-pop duo of Tyrannosaurus Rex rather than his glam period as T.Rex, and were able to get their tastes in order accordingly – but for those who’ve led a Tyrannosaurus Rex-less life, get ready to get excited.
Though championed by John Peel and having a number of hit albums that charted in England, in North America Tyrannosaurus Rex has been largely overshadowed by Bolan’s glam incarnation: T.Rex. Full of Tolkien-imagery, beautiful and original vocal melodies, fast-paced bongos and madly strummed guitar, the first two Tyrannosaurus Rex albums are folk-pop gold – probably the best it’s ever been done.
After Bolan left his first band, John’s Children, he enlisted the help of percussionist Steve Peregrine Took (he took the latter part of his
name from a hobbit), and the two set out as a folk duo, playing concerts and busking around London. Thanks to a huge push from John Peel and his BBC show, they gained national attention with their 1968 debut, My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows. All of the mysticism and majesty that the title suggests is represented on the album. The album follows in typical Bolan fashion by swinging wildly from the otherworldly to American banalities – from “Dwarfish Trumpet Blues” to “Mustang Ford”, from “Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love)” to opener “Hot Rod Mama”.