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Encore: Defining T. Rex album came out the same year NPR debuted original programming

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Maybe you've heard, NPR is 50 years old this year. So we've been looking back at the news, movies and albums that shaped the year 1971. Here's NPR's Avery Keatley on the album "Electric Warrior" by T. Rex.

(SOUNDBITE OF T REX SONG, "BANG A GONG (GET IT ON)")

AVERY KEATLEY, BYLINE: On September 24, 1971, British rock band T. Rex released "Electric Warrior."

(SOUNDBITE OF T REX SONG, "BANG A GONG (GET IT ON)")

KEATLEY: The 11-song album would be the biggest of their career, with singles like "Bang A Gong" and "Jeepster." Marc Bolan was the lead singer and guitarist.

MARC BOLAN: You know, I'm a rocker. Music's my initial inspiration.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BANG A GONG (GET IT ON)")

T REX: (Singing) Well, you're dirty and sweet, clad in black, don't look back and I love you. You're dirty and sweet. Oh, yeah.

KEATLEY: T. Rex formed in the late '60s as an acoustic folk duo, then called Tyrannosaurus Rex. But the music scene was flowing in a different direction.

TONY VISCONTI: By the early '70s, we did as much as we could with electric guitars.

KEATLEY: That's acclaimed record producer Tony Visconti. He produced many of T. Rex's albums, including "Electric Warrior."

VISCONTI: We realized that we were the guys making the hits. And it was our responsibility, like the Beatles took it upon themselves, to do something better every time we put a record out.

KEATLEY: By 1971, the band had changed their name, their sound and scored major hit singles in the U.K. A few months before "Electric Warrior" was released, Bolan made another change. In a Top of the Pops performance, he came onstage with a little more flair than usual. Here's historian and writer Simon Reynolds.

SIMON REYNOLDS: He sort of glammed up his image. He put some glitter on his cheekbones and wore a scarf. And that was all it took, really, to get people to scream at him.

KEATLEY: That little bit of glitter had a great big impact. Glam rock was born.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BANG A GONG (GET IT ON)")

T REX: (Singing) Get it on. Bang a gong. Get it on.

REYNOLDS: A strong sense of image and glitz, simple, anthemic songs, rock 'n' roll with this beat that just forced you to move.

KEATLEY: The slicked-up production, the makeup and high heels and the music that begged you to boogie inspired countless musicians. One of them was 12-year-old Joe Elliott, future lead singer of Def Leppard. His first concert was T. Rex on their "Electric Warrior" tour.

JOE ELLIOTT: I went through the swing doors and just saw this sea of people going mental, you know, hair everywhere, arms flailing, they're all over the place, screaming girls, shouting boys and Marc Bolan wailing away on stage with his guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF T REX SONG, "JEEPSTER")

KEATLEY: With "Electric Warrior," Bolan helped to break through to a new audience. Here he is speaking with jazz producer Michael Cuscuna in 1971.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOLAN: The album for me is about just explaining to America, really, that we're worth listening to.

KEATLEY: The album charted at No. 1 in the U.K. but peaked at just 32 in the U.S. Writer Simon Reynolds.

REYNOLDS: I think it really kind of messed with his head. The fame in the U.K. was too much, yet he didn't quite manage to extend it into America.

KEATLEY: Despite the band's inability to rise to stardom in the U.S., "Electric Warrior's" legacy endures. Musicians ranging from David Bowie to Kesha have cited Bolan as an inspiration. In 2020, T. Rex was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And in the words of Bolan himself, "Electric Warrior" is more than just an album.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOLAN: I think "Electric Warrior" for me is the first album which is a statement of 1971 for us in England.

MICHAEL CUSCUNA: Oh, really?

BOLAN: I mean, that's - if anyone ever wanted to know why we were big in the other part of the world, that album says it for me.

KEATLEY: So dust off those boogie shoes, put the needle down and step back into 1971.

Avery Keatley, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF T REX SONG, "MAMBO SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.