Nov 08

FT Top 100 Tracks Of All Time: 37: T-REX – Metal Guru

FT10 comments • 1,661 views

Marc Bolan was never one of the great dead pop stars when I was a kid. T-Rex were not on my pop radar, seemingly out of fashion from the late seventies until a Bolan track was used to sell jeans in the late eighties. I really don’t remember hearing them much at all, not in the gobsmacking way I did when, post said jeans commercial, I looked them up in the Guinness Book of Hit Singles. Number ones, big hits, tragic popstar death. Why did I not know these tracks?

So once 20th Century Boy had burned its way into my brain, I made an effort to hear more. The albums were really hard to get hold of, which I put down to their ridiculous title (My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows for example*). And it surprised me that even off of the back of said jeans commercial no T-Rex Greatest Hits was released. Was there some conspiracy to stop me examining the back catalogue of this hugely successful band? I started blaming David Bowie who seemed to be a contemporary who also liked a bit of sparkly make-up and had survived*. I wondered if Bowie had indulged in some form of rewriting history, where he was the kind androgynous pop chameleon and Marc Bolan was just a frizz haired chancer who was lousy at driving.

And then I heard Metal Guru. And I realised I knew it all along. There was not a conspiracy after all. Indeed Metal Guru was sung to me in my crib by the radio. I just did not know that was what it was called. It was a nonsense song whose name waved to me between Midilly Rue, Billy De Do, Jimmy The Who? I think i finally settled on Middle La Rue – perhaps the name of the second eldest of Danny La Rue’s two brothers (who I imagined to look like Liberace). In many ways I was right, Marc Bolan was do some degrees the spiritual heir to some of Danny’s schtick – the maleness of his androgyeny was akin to Danny’s very male drag act.

Anyway this is revealing about the light entertainment stars I remember from a young age: Danny La Rue rather than Pepe Le Pew is telling. But latterly reading the song title, having heard 20th Century Boys fizzing opening riff, I expected more of the same but harder. Actual Metal if you will. Instead it was that song my mum used you replace most of the lyrics with Diddly-do.

And yet were her lyrics any less meaningful. Was my Danny La Rue folderol any less pertinent? You know a song, and you rediscover it. And what I discovered second time around told me next to nothing. Didn’t stop the tune being ace.

*OK, I know Metal Guru is not on My People Were Fair but the album cover is so ropey it was worth an airing.


  1. 1
    Kat but logged out innit on 18 Nov 2008 #

    Oh dear, I just read that as ‘M People Were Fair…’ and was just about to splutter my indignation that no they bloody weren’t. Similar attitude to hair though, it seems!

  2. 2
    Tommy Mack on 18 Nov 2008 #

    ‘no greatest hits in wake of Levi’s ad’ – you still can’t get all their hits on one CD, can you? Because they’re spread over 2 different record labels. Seems frankly preposterous when even The Fall, who’ve to date produced 254 albums for 131 different labels, each one selling an average of 41 copies, managed to corral all their best bits onto one double album.

  3. 3
    Martin Skidmore on 18 Nov 2008 #

    He was a huge idol of mine – he remains one of my favourite singers, lyricists, guitarists, songwriters and sex symbols. I think he was the first man I ever fancied. I saw T. Rex live in, I guess, 1977, their last tour, supported by the Damned, I think it was. Metal Guru may be his loveliest pop number.

  4. 4
    The Lurker on 18 Nov 2008 #

    #2 – Actually, there are a few compilations that span Bolan’s whole career – there’s a Greatest Hits that’s the first album that comes up if you search for T Rex on Amazon – but they are indeed vastly outnumbered by cheapo compliations that only cover half of his output.

  5. 5
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 18 Nov 2008 #

    though you can’t see it on that cover, “my people blah blah” was made by Tyrannosaurus Rex rather than T.Rex — THIS WAS ONCE VERY IMPORTANT

  6. 6
    AndyPandy on 18 Nov 2008 #

    There’s been at least 2 TV advertised big selling Top Ten compilation albums in the past twenty years that span all the hits from 1968-77.

  7. 7
    LondonLee on 18 Nov 2008 #

    I have one of those, plus ‘Electric Warrior’ of course. Think that’s me sorted for my T.Rex needs.

  8. 8

    by the valid scientific test of “what’s available this morning by disreputable download”, i declare

    i: bolan is considered prog not glam
    ii: yet — possibly more than any other pop figure? — his ooo00vre has escaped the prison shackles of its originary LP-ification into starbursts of randomly dodgy singles compilations (true for ever, i suspect: the oldest LP that i “own” which actually belongs to an ex = a hooky mid-70s t rex comp, w.E’s name in neatly melancholy biro on it)

    picking up on pete’s insight, i think bolan had the best ear of anyone in pop for the musicality of real words when considered as mere silly nonsense (“mere silly nonsense” being a territory pop and rock became strangely fearful of, to its detriment)

    and of course “HOT GOBLINISM” — a dismissive term invented by long-forgotten proto-punk rockwriter pete fowler for the thing bolan had done; which is to invest a resolutely sex-averse language territory (two parts tolkien to one part narnia) with unfettered just-post-prepubescent wild maenad energy

    it helped that he was cute and charming: “I wouldn’t have felt safe with Bolan and all his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan,” as the hellbound Pevensie girl puts it in Prince Caspian

  9. 9

    “satisfaction pony” — i smugly rest my case

  10. 10
    Gavin on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Metal Guru has been copied by The Smiths with their track “Panic”. Morrisey & Marr are big T.Rex fans and Louis X1V on their track “A Letter To Dominique”. Marc has influenced more than most over the past 30 years.

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