HOMEMARC BOLAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC (for the children)UNZIPPING THE ABSTRACT - The Marc Bolan Story
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The Brown Album


The Great Lost Album - DISCOVERED!
by STUART JONES


 T.Rex 'T.Rex' LP (aka The Brown Album)



Let's indulge ourselves for a moment shall we, and concentrate on what I, at any rate, believe to be a little bit of a Marc Bolan mystery. There is one of Marc's album releases which has received much less attention than any other. There was no single taken from it, although that in itself was not unique; I can find very few interviews done around the time of its release; it was reviewed only sparsely; and down the years, it is to my mind the least talked about, the least visible of the now legendary twelve Bolan long-playing record albums. Even the sleeve has been rarely discussed!

And yet this one record, more than any other, was the all important watershed - the critical, necessary transitional piece of work that Marc so badly needed. In order to win over the vast mainstream audience of adult and teenage punters, Marc Bolan, his producer Tony Visconti, his new label, Fly Records and Essex International publisher David Platz were all aware of the need for a wind of change to blow through the attitudes and craftsmanship of the young Marc Bolan's song writing at this time

The vehicle for this difficult changing period was to be a masterpiece - T.Rex, or as it is now widely known, The Brown Album


 Tyrannosaurus Rex 'A Beard Of Stars' LP

Marc's previous opus, A Beard Of Stars was the first LP without multi-percussionist Steve Took and the first with Mickey Finn as his replacement. By this time Marc had picked up an electric guitar again, and had began featuring it more and more in the live act, and on record too - starting with his final Tyrannosaurus Rex single recorded with Steve, King Of The Rumbling Spires, and then extensively throughout A Beard Of Stars

His lead guitar playing on that album is inspired to say the least : it is the sound of a single-minded individual determined to make it work, to be a talent at something which did not come naturally to him. This gives the music a strange charm, quite separate from the unreal charm of Bolan's oddly imperious vocal phrasing and myth-laden lyricism: those spindly riffs and naive pluckings succeeded in enhancing the unreality of the tracks - with no need at all for production gimmicks, sound effects... or even a children's story!

A Beard Of Stars (released March 1970) was the fourth Tyrannosaurus Rex album, and although the introduction of the electric guitar, a new drumming partner and a (very slight) simplification of the material's lyric meant an overall slight change, to most fans of Marc's work it was more of the same: myths, legends and even a Dragon's Ear



T.Rex 'T.Rex' Release Advert (Top) 
 T.Rex 'T.Rex' LP Release Advert (bottom)
 Music Week advert 5.12.1970
                                                                                                       

Which brings us to December 11th 1970 and the release of the new album - T.Rex. To begin with, the sleeve itself: a blaze of colour - a simply wonderful photograph by Marc's pal Peter Sanders (`beautiful' Pete according to DJ John Peel) who had taken the previous three LP shots as well. The photo was taken in the garden of Pete's mother’s house in Sussex, with Marc and Mickey wearing white powder on their faces, giving a sort of ghostly, porcelain effect. Marc wanted to be pictured holding his much-loved Les Paul guitar; and it is the peculiar paradox of these two sepulchral figures in the sundrenched garden, and the burnt orange guitar, symbol of the contemporary world, that casts the first of the Brown Album's many spells over the listener. It is a fantastical image, with Bolan looking like a painting by Ingres or Jacques Louis David, so pure, noble and luminescent is his allure 

In 1968, at the peak of Bolan's obsessions with things sorcerous and mythical, Marc sat down and wrote a story, The Children Of Rarn. It was full of some of his most imaginative characters, a cast of grotesques, miniature-types and beast-things to rival the best in Fantasy fiction anywhere. There were the Dworns, the Lithons, Puretongue, Carm Delf (work that one out), Dardena, Quador the unicorn and Agadinmar the mage (Marc's personal guiding spirit). There were the mountain Stoads (not toads!), Rark Stang the semi-minotaur - and doubtless many more

Marc wanted to record a super massive conceptual three or four-album set, telling the entire tale of the cannibal Lithons, the wise and good Agadinamar, and ultimately of the coming of mankind.... but for reasons unknown, he never did get around to it. The nearest he got was Dragon's Ear on A Beard Of Stars and the Children of Rarn Suite - the sketch which appeared on Words And Music (1978) - and T.Rex. Here were a handful of those same characters, involved in some of the tracks on the record... it sounds like a concept, but any links, story-wise, are always interrupted by what surely must have been Marc's Libran impatience - like the story of the Futuristic Dragon in the future, he was just itching to get certain songs down on vinyl, whether there was a relevant place for them or not. My own theory is that T.Rex began as a sort of peacekeeping device - to keep his `hippy' followers happy, whilst dipping his toes into the ever-tempting pop mainstream


So with all this in mind - let's to the music
 
 

Indeed, the LP begins just like a story with the 52 second taster (as Marc described it in a 1972 American interview) of The Children Of Rarn itself, hovering over the listener like a godlike praying-mantis, the trebly organ vibrato fading up, Bolan intoning his utopian, collective manifesto as, for the first ever time on a T.Rex record, the highest violin sings sweetly

Much thought had obviously gone into the sequencing of the tracks, as Jewel makes its way in just as Rarn dissolves. I've got a little babe with jewels upon her lip, her hair's like a river, it's fast and slowly drips, run the astonishing opening lines. The bass pulses, the hand-drums beat out a rock-solid thump and suddenly Marc Bolan's electric guitar napalms its fuzzbox way into the listener's brain with lead-guitar playing so mature that this boy must have practised like hell to get to this advanced stage of development. It's a dazzling run, matching the song's flawless words, she walks the wind and has a panther with silver fur... and all this in two minutes, forty-six seconds



The Visit contains some of Marc's best singing, the phrasing gorgeously elegiac. An extra-terrestrial craft lands on earth, and Marc is on hand to record details: a shape of the silverest metal shadowed out all of the moon... it is evident here that Tony Visconti had finally achieved the sort of equalizing (how much treble, how much bass) that had avoided him on all previous albums; the acoustic guitar is crisp, the voice rich and even, and there is a touch of genius in the simple idea of double-tracking only certain lines and not others. This is a clever disorientating device and adds to the graceful, unreal beauty of the song



Childe gets under way with a metronome-like tapping on the centre of a cymbal - and here is another first (if you take into account Cat Black on Unicorn and the Rumbling Spires single); the first use of a full drum kit. Marc follows this rhythm on his chugging, fuzzy guitar, and it is then supported by hand-claps. Such very simple but inventive ideas, continuing those on previous albums (remember the noises behind The Scenescof Dynasty?)  

   Marc Bolan



The track's lyric is concerned with equality, democracy and a brotherhood of love. We are constantly in a state of expectation here because of the tapping beat and guitar riffs suddenly suspended in mid-air. Lovely siren-like backing voices lend the song even more anticipation until finally they merge with lead guitar and - at last! - a tentative little snare drum roll



The Time Of Love Is Now tells it's own story. It is fairly typical of this new type of song, Bolan now freed from the whirling, cascading vocal gymnastics of his previous partner and evidently sick and tired of hearing how people couldn't make out the words to his songs. So now, the words are clear and almost free from staccato affectation, and that sense of freedom runs easily through this lovely song. There are occasional hand-claps, emphasising the climax of the wonderful, eccentric little bass-runs; the chanting and scat-singing is still evident, Bolan uniquely using his phrasing and moans as an extra set of instruments - ten to fifteen years before sampling was invented. And at one insane moment on The Time Of Love Is Now there is the sound of what appears to be a duck-call! It's puzzled me for years!





Bolan: '...strings are magical, they are old and the wood has years and years of history. They are romantic ...the lyrics are very short - these are people's words, like love songs'

 

As if impatient to play as much electric guitar as possible, Marc heralds in the next track with a little caress of the fretboard, immortalising as he does a sort of miniature overture. It deserves such an introduction. Its composer shyly but elegantly mumbles the exquisite title: Diamond Meadows. Producer and arranger Tony Visconti had begged publisher David Platz for the use of four violins, and for the T.Rex album, he finally got them. It is impressive indeed that they were not over used; subtlety is the name of the game here and the strings on Diamond Meadows are tastefully applied: there is no over shadowing of vocals or guitar in the mix. Once again, Marc Bolan's vocal phrasing is simply beautiful, even when singing the distinctly lubricious line: hey let's do it like we're friends


Having holidayed in Cornwall, and stayed with Eric Clapton at his country retreat in Wales, Marc was feeling closer to the earth than ever before. His lyrics reflect this, on A Root Of Star he plays around with phonetics, cunningly rhyming some delightful words. The song itself is poetry incarnate - a jewel of frost that was lost all played out over a hiccuping bongo beat; the final remnant of the Old Period, a pixiephone, charmingly pings along, sounding as if it should be out of place with Bolan's wah-wah guitar... but it all works


Up to this point of the album, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that big changes are afoot; but nothing could have prepared us for Beltane Walk (not even Elemental Child on the previous release). Suddenly, Marc Bolan embraces bubblegum pop music in one fell swoop... bearing in mind that Ride A White Swan was recorded during these sessions, and that Marc had played guitar on his own composition Oh Baby, the out-and-out pop single that he and Visconti had pseudonymously issued that very August, it is all the more surprising that he would push the thing through by including this joyous, bouncy romp on the LP. Like Bugs Bunny on heat, Bolan happily belts out the song with no trace of hypocrisy... God and Beltane are briefly mentioned en route, but these elves drink moonshine, not blue moon juice. The main guitar riff is nicked from Jimmy McCracklin's The Walk (and Marc stole it again, slightly altered, for Baby Boomerang later on) but somehow he makes it his own. The searing vocal, climbing ever higher towards the song's climax, gives it the aura of greatness and exhilaration that he himself must surely have felt singing it, and the string arrangement by Tony Visconti is tailor made for the track, mimicking Bolan's vocal line, as the two of them would do time and time again on the brilliant ‘formula' T.Rex singles to come





 

Is It Love asks Marc - an awkward question

More chugging rhythm guitars, stuttering drums and some attractive lead-riffs take us along on a journey of uncertain destinations... but Marc knew where he was going; and the open fuzzbox-drone throughout this track is a pointer for things to come. The lead guitar lines have obviously been meticulously thought-out in advance; they are brilliantly executed. This is more rock 'n roll!


The next track is the first of two major renovations: old favourites from Bolan's long list of songs, both issued some years before. So why do them again? I can't recall ever seeing a quote from the man himself on this, but presumably he wanted to improve them, to stretch them in another direction. He certainly achieves that on his new version of his 1968 A-side, One Inch Rock. It was always a happy, lilting track, telling the tale of Germaine, the girl who spouts prose, got a roman nose, who piggybacks a ride to her bizarre messed-up little shack; until ultimately our hero is shrunken to one inch! Just everyday, normal Marc Bolan thought-patterns at work. The Brown Album version kicks off in great style, with wonderful exuberant scat-singing, clearly very well worked out in advance. Guitars sparkle just underneath in the best rockabilly tradition, and there are some inspired moments of isolated heavy studio reverb on some of Bolan's more spiky shrieks 

winds of birds blow through the fields again 

Winds of birds blow through the fields again, just one of the many beautiful lyrics featured on one of the highlights of a classic LP - Summer Deep. Bolan sings in his most appealing manner, and you can almost feel the wind in your face, or even find yourself believing that there is such a thing as a pterodactyl-beak hat. Double-tracked, twangy guitars (going for a different effect here) are alternated with more falsetto harmony back up voices for the middle-eight sections of the song ...be like you could all my friends say. In heading for the pop market, perhaps Marc was listening to some advice! It's interesting to note that an out take from the Brown Album was issued in the early 1980's, a guitar epic instrumental with the title Deep Summer... I wonder which came first?

Summer Deep is followed straightaway (more careful thought concerning the effect on the listener) by the ominous yet poetic beginning of a fantastic song Seagull Woman - If there was one song to sum up this LP, it would have to be either The Visit or Seagull Woman. Cold, alienated atmospheres, yet warm and caring at the selfsame time! How did he do it? Here is Bolan in a philosophical mood: ...one day we change from children into people, over a steady percussive drum that rarely lets up. On digital sound it is like having Marc & Mickey in the corner of your front room, so crystal-clear is it all 


The guitar playing here is adorable, with Marc never over-reaching himself; and those trademark Brown Album ghostly voices are much in evidence. The solo is perky, intelligent and magically childlike: the result is, that it touches you. Dramatic tension is brilliantly realised by suddenly allowing certain instruments (or voices - or both) to drop away at a given moment - a trick Marc would use time and time again in years to come


Suneye is clearly directly from the aforementioned Children Of Rarn story: it opens as a love poem, gentle words aided by acoustic guitar and Marc charmingly thumping the side of it to slow the pace down and allow space and time to almost stand still. If you listen to Suneye - try pausing the track at exactly 1.17; wait a moment, then play on... I could be wrong (probably am) but this may well have been two different songs originally. It's an interesting thought. However: at this point, genius intrudes with some amazing vocalising, which is dramatically punctuated by some forceful, savage acoustic guitar strumming, in between which, Bolan spits out a litany of evil-sounding characters, name checking his own group on the way


 Marc Bolan 'The Wizard' 7"  

And then, the second of the re-worked old songs, an all-new opening-up of Marc Bolan's very first single, The Wizard, first issued back in 1965. And if he wanted to make this version radically different, he couldn't have done a better job. It is an extraordinary piece of work: helped by some baroque strings from Tony Visconti, Marc and Mickey belt out the song with some head-spinning freeform staccato scat-singing; layers of lines are mixed carefully together until the listener is gripped by a feeling that the room is going to spin away! Thankfully, things slow down a little, and then Marc begins to sound single-minded...he was, he mumbles (a wizard, that is), the multiple voices (personalities?) return, slowly building into a frenzy of mesmeric proportions... Marc's scorching vocal screams almost fry your brain at times, thanks to his incredible delivery and Tony Visconti's deft use of Recording Studio Magic Dust - no, not cocaine: (not yet!) - reverb, giving the Bolan tonsils the sound of an insane ghoul from a phantom hell


The LP closes as it began, with another short burst of The Children Of Rarn


TCOR end intro by venusloon

On its release, the Brown Album or more correctly, T.Rex appeared in an innovative semi-gatefold sleeve, the folding front section strangely only half the width of the back, the disc hidden away inside like a piece of treasure... which is surely what it was

And always will be. Now go and play it - LOUD! 


 
Released December 11th 1970 on FLY Records
Catalogue No. HIGHFLY 2
The Band:
Marc Bolan on guitars, vocals, organ and bass / Mickey Finn on drums, bass, vocals and pixiephone
Extra personnel: Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals for Seagull Woman
Production & String Arrangements
by Tony Visconti
Engineered by Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded at Trident Studios, London, June - August 1970
Chart action:
Reached No.12

(p) + (c) Straight Ahead Productions Ltd.


REFERENCES:

The Brown Album: So called, not suprisingly, because the sleeve, excluding the colour photograph, is brown. It has made referring to this particular album a lot easier

A Beard Of Stars: Released March 1970 on the Regal Zonophone label

King Of The Rumbling Spires: Rel. July 1969 on RZ. Reached no. 44

Jean-August Dominique Ingres (1780-1867). A pupil and follower of David (see 5)

Jacques Louis David (1747-1825). Leading French Artist of neo-classical style

Dragon's Ear: Lyric - Dragon's Ear and Druids spear / Protects you while the *Dworns are here. (*Dworns - Machinery of war, a bronze frame with wheels of white ivory and the horns of a gazelle for steering, so sayeth Agadinmar). M.Bolan

Marc, Words & Music of Marc Bolan (1947-1977): Rel. April 1978 by Pye/Cube (interestingly as HIFLY1). Featured a previously unreleased acoustic Children Of Rarn demo., recorded at Tony Visconti's flat and augmented for this release by Tony with an orchestral score and bass, drums, bongos etc. The original demo. was later issued with the orchestral version on a 10" in June 1982 on Marc On Wax.

Unicorn: Rel. May 1969 on RZ

Scenescof Dynasty: A 4 minute 7 second spoken/sung (rap!) track with no instrumentation, only human percussion and vocalising which closed the Prophets, Seers & Sages, The Angels Of The Ages album, rel. October 1968 on RZ

Elemental Child: Extensive primarily electric guitar workout track that closed A Beard Of Stars LP

Ride A White Swan: Rel. October 1970 as the first single on the new FLY label. Reached No. 2

Oh Baby: Rel. August 1970 under the name of Dib Cochran & The Earwigs, featuring Tony Visconti on lead vocals. Issued on the Bell label

Baby Boomerang: Track from The Slider LP, rel. 1972 on Bolan's own T.Rex Wax Co. label

One Inch Rock: Rel. August 1968. Reached no. 28

Deep Summer: 12" single rel. July 1982 by Marc On Wax. Also featured Oh Baby (see 12) and One Inch Rock (possibly the demo. for the LP)

The Wizard: Rel. November 1965 on Decca


The Next Release was ELECTRIC WARRIOR
 


T.Rex
has been re-issued on CD a number of times, most recently on August 29th, 2011, a re-issue of 2004's T.Rex - Expanded Edition which includes 10 bonus tracks and comes with detailed sleeve notes from Mark Paytress. Label: Universal Music Company

 
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HOMEMARC BOLAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC (for the children)UNZIPPING THE ABSTRACT - The Marc Bolan Story