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.