T. Rex – Ride A White Swan

23rd January 1970 · 1970s, 1971, Glam, Music

Glam didn’t *quite* begin with Ride A White Swan but Marc Bolan was the first to lay down a marker with Ride A White Swan.

This was Glam in all but the costumes and make-up. Unless you count the look selected by Marc Bolan for his debut Top of the Pops appearance – shirtless with dungarees and platform boots.

Sadly, someone has erased T.Rex’s TV debut in November 1970 which helped this song begin its tortuously slow 11-week ascent towards the top of the charts, where it was, disgracefully, kept off the top by Clive Dunn’s execrable novelty hit Grandad in January 1971.

Marc Bolan was my first pop idol, which was deeply unfashionable at my school, where it was forbidden to like any band that made singles, let alone ‘pop’ groups who were actually popular and looked and dressed like girls and had screaming girl fans, rather than a following of morose-looking blokes with patches on their jeans, shaking their stringy long hair to tuneless noodling and interminable drum solos in a filthy haze of patchouli oil and unwashed greatcoats.

I now live barely half a mile from where Bolan grew up by Stoke Newington Common. He attended Northwold Primary School, where he made his first public appearance in a school band – with classmate Helen Shapiro. As a teenage Mod during the Swinging London era, he would jump on the 73 bus to hang out in Soho and visit the groovy fashion boutiques of Carnaby Street.

Before long he had embraced hippiedom, growing his trademark corkscrew hair and forming a band, John Peel favourites John’s Children, who metamorphosed into the folkie duo Tyrannosaurus Rex.

This was the first song after Bolan ‘went electric’ at the tail end of 1970. Out went the acoustic guitars and hobbity percussionist Steve Peregrin Took, and in came a much better-looking percussionist called Mickey Finn and a shorter band name, T.Rex.

This was their first hit under that name and is essentially a solo effort – no drums, just Bolan playing the guitar and bass (Mickey Finn sat on a stool and pretended to play bass on TOTP) plus a tambourine and handclaps, recorded in the studio bathroom for its natural echo.

And here is a tremendous live performance in Paris by the band, featuring a Bolan guitar solo that demonstrates he had far more talent with his instrument than he was ever given credit for.