Friday, October 19, 2007

Smashed Blocked!

Here's a find that unexpectedly sprang up this week; in fact, Smashed Blocked! by Marc Bolan and John's Children found me at the Amoeba help desk, engaging in such a dialogue:

“Is this the Marc Bolan?!”
“Yes, it's the Marc Bolan.”
“Is it any good?!”
“Eh, it's British garage rock-type stuff.” (Translation: No, it's not that great, but we're going to refrain from offering details because we count on spontaneity and would like your money very much.)

I imagine you'd find yourself engaging in the same dialogue if you were equally unfamiliar with Marc Bolan's brief musical history – given that he'd started Tyrannosarus Rex at such a young age, it would seem nearly unfathomable that he'd already have been in a band by his late teen years. Not the case, however, as Bolan was a late addition to the band John's Children, joining in 1967 as an initally acoustic guitarist who, according to singer Andy Ellison's liner notes, “was amazed at the incredible noise his [borrowed Gibson SG] could make.”

This rock quartet from the “tranquil Surrey hills” of England was, by Ellison's account, one of the loudest and freshest bands around at the time, also kicked off an opening slot on tour with the Who for getting the audiences too amped for the Who to follow as a decent headliner. Ellison says the show that officially got them kicked off involved getting booted from the venue by security and then police, after a set where Ellison destroyed pillows and Bolan thrashed his guitar with chains.

By today's standards, this collection of songs is nothing new, more representative of generic 1960s psychedelic rock, but if the stories recalled are true, then this certainly had to be a lively band for the time. As far as today's relevance goes, the history alongside the music makes it worthwhile. All band members are credited with songwriting, with Bolan listed as having written six of these seventeen songs; there are early versions of “Hot Rod Mama” and “Mustang Ford” which would later appear as reworked Tyrannosaurus Rex songs on My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair...But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows. Unlike the later versions, which would feature acoustic guitar, bongos and Steve Tooks' Chinese gong, the recordings here are fully electric rock and roll songs, with Bolan and Ellison sharing vocal duties. “Hot Rod Mama” is one of four songs here recorded at a BBC session, just prior to Bolan's departure from the band.

To give you a decent idea of the humor you'll find in this band, there's a great bit in the liner notes referring to an interview by radio DJ Brian Matthew, who asked the band's manager Simon Napier-Bell at the BBC session, “Are the band on some kind of drugs?” The response in print: “As it happens we never experimented with drugs during any of our performances.” (Drug humor hasn't changed much in forty years, it seems.) John's Children existed prior to the arrival of Marc Bolan, so have a listen to the track “Strange Affair,” which was co-written by Ellison and manager Napier-Bell and does not feature Bolan's light, airy voice. It does, however, appear to be a predecessor to Cameron's phone call with Mr. Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Note: The lack of crisp sound is a result of the original recording, not your MP3.

Marc Bolan and John's Children - Strange Affair

Marc Bolan and John's Children - Mustang Ford

Marc Bolan and John's Children - Hot Rod Mama (BBC)

Purchase Smashed Blocked! by John's Children
Purchase My People Were Fair... by Tyrannosaurus Rex

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