Marc Bolan is perhaps known only as the purveyor of a few shiny glam-rock singles in the U.S., but he and his vehicle T. Rex were a much bigger deal at home in the U.K. in the ’60s and ‘70s.
Had he not died in a 1977 car crash – which many believe he predicted years earlier – there’s a good chance Bolan would have achieved the career scale of pals like David Bowie and Elton John.
Even though he died at only 29, Bolan had done enough to remain an icon of pop culture to this day. Here are five reasons why Bolan and T. Rex deserve induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
They Created the Glam Rock Sound
Bolan's first bid for fame came when he knocked on producer Simon Napier-Bell’s door and announced he was going to be a star. After listening to his songs, Napier-Bell arranged a recording session. Initially lined up to become a member of the Yardbirds, Bolan briefly became part of John’s Children and managed to have a song, “Desdemona,” banned by the BBC because of the line “Lift up your skirt and fly.” He then reinvented himself as a psychedelic-folk artist, embracing the hippie scene while never showing any interest in its politics. As his band Tyrannosaurus Red became the abbreviated T. Rex, Bolan began experimenting with different guitars and a production sound masterminded by Tony Visconti. That led to the 1971 single “Hot Love” and the launch of what became the glam-rock sound. Within months, the British charts were crowded with bands copying the idea, becoming the biggest musical movement in the nation for much of the decade.
They Created the Glam Rock Look
It wasn’t just the music. When Bolan, preparing for a photo shoot, saw some of his girlfriend’s glitter on a table and splashed a little on his face, he changed the pop fashion look for ever. Within a short time, everyone from David Bowie to Elton John were openly exploring more outlandish looks. The U.K. music show Top of the Pops became a hotbed of friendly rivalry as bands tried to out-glam each other. The fashion trend has returned on a number of occasions after its initial fade, and it’s all because of Bolan. As U2 frontman Bono once admitted, “I've always said there's only one man I fancied as a prepubescent, and that was Marc Bolan.”
They Helped Expand the Punk Movement
In the mid-‘70s, like many of his colleagues, Bolan became a victim of excess and drug issues, leading to a career slump. He eventually faced his problems down by doing what he had done before: He reinvented himself. Aware that the generation he initially appealed to had grown up and moved on, he decided to tour in 1976 with the rising-star punk band the Damned as his opening act. While it may not have seemed so at the time, in retrospect it turned out to be a genius move that put Bolan at the center of a third burgeoning musical movement.
Marc Bolan Was a Poet as Well as a Musician
Bolan often described himself as a poet who put his words to music and believed the sound and feel of his lyrics (“I drive a Rolls-Royce ‘cause it’s good for my voice”) were more important than his music. He was a published poet, having enjoyed success with his 1969 book The Warlock of Love – one of the best-selling poetry titles of the year. That exploration of word sound lent an additional otherworldly quality to everything he did, so his songs felt as if they carried more specific meaning than they usually did and added to the longevity of his time in the public eye. Even after his mid-‘70s slump he was still deemed worthy of his own weekly TV show, the last episode of which saw him perform a duet with David Bowie.
Most of His Peers Are Already In
Bolan was seen in newspapers, magazines, TV and movies cavorting with David Bowie, Elton John, the Beatles – John Lennon and Ringo Starr were once filmed performing as members of T. Rex – and most of the big stars of the era. An ambitious and forthright character (influential DJ John Peel called him “a flower child with a knife up his sleeve”), his influence as a scene-maker is undeniable. It’s easy to argue that his sheer personality contributed to the success of artists like Bowie and John, who found a new wave of energy in the ‘80s and onward. “You'll find T. Rex in many groups making records now,” producer Tony Visconti said in 2007, in an article that cited Slash, the Scissor Sisters and others. In many ways, Bolan is already in the Rock Hall via his influence on those other artists. The logical last step would be to make it official.