I do love the fact that whenever a T. Rex #1 comes along, it usually whacks something terrible out of the top spot. ‘Get It On’ deposed ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, ‘Telegram Sam’ ended The New Seekers’ attempts to teach the world to sing. Now this, T. Rex’s final (!) UK chart-topper ends five long weeks of bagpipes.
Metal Guru, by T. Rex (their 4th and final #1)
4 weeks, from 14th May – 11th June 1972
And while we wipe a tear at the thought of never hearing Bolan’s boys again in this countdown, are we consoled by the fact that perhaps they saved their best for last…? It’s a record that soars in from on high, one that starts right in the thick of the action: Woah-oah-oah-oah… Yeaaaaaaahhhh!!!
Everything you want from a T. Rex song is present and correct. Stomp and swagger? Check. An irresistible, bubblegum hook? Check. Nonsense lyrics? Check. Metal guru, Is it you… Sitting there in your armour plated chair, Oh yeah… There’s as much point in asking what a ‘Metal Guru’ is as there was in enquiring about a ‘Telegram Sam’. Apparently, it is Marc Bolan’s idea of a God, on his throne. All alone without a telephone, Aw yeah…
And, as usual, in amongst all the madness, there’s a gem or two. Who wouldn’t want to have a silver-studded, sabre-toothed dream? Bolan’s delivery is imperious: camp, floaty, playful. He’s at the height of his powers, and you can imagine this being played at the end of a concert, the final song in the second encore, as the tired and emotional crowd sing and sway along.
I called this their best #1, as it’s everything that makes T. Rex great, distilled and concentrated into the perfect two-point-five minute pop song. The sound is beefier than their earlier chart-toppers – just listen to the cascading drums, for example – as if glam rock were being mixed and produced by Phil Spector. (If the thought of a Glam-Rock Spector does nothing for you, then you are dead inside.) At the same time, ‘Metal Guru’ is so short and throwaway, so quick and effortless, that you could almost call it disposable. And yet – isn’t that the essence of glam? It’s not to be taken seriously; all sugar and little substance…
Has there been any other band that has had four consecutive number ones of such high quality. ‘Hot Love’, to ‘Get it On’, to ‘Telegram Sam’, to this. The Beatles, for sure, and maybe the Stones. Away from the very top of the charts, their run of ten hits from late 1970 to mid 1973 is superb. The likes of ‘Jeepster’, ‘20th Century Boy’, and ‘Children of the Revolution’ – all of which charted no lower than #4. They were the biggest band in the land, by far, and Bolan was the rock ‘n’ roll idol of his day – a position which he was born to fill.
I’ll do a T. Rex Top 10 soon, so will go easy on the bio for now. Suffice to say, the glory days didn’t go on much longer – glam rock wasn’t built to last – and Bolan started taking lots of drugs and rubbing people up the wrong way. Not that he lost the ability to write brilliant pop songs – some of the smaller hits from 1975-77 are great – but he certainly fell from his pedestal. He was just starting to get it together, working with up and coming punk acts and fronting his own TV series, when the car he was travelling in with his girlfriend Gloria Jones slammed into a tree in South London. He died instantly, aged just twenty-nine. And who knows – perhaps he went on up to meet the big Metal Guru in the sky…?
Follow my playlist below for all the #1s so far: