Until he joined John's Children, in March, 1967, Marc Bolan had never even owned an electric guitar. And once he quit the band, it is said, he abandoned it as quickly as everything else which that band represented -- freakbeat pop, adrenalined psych, electric soup. In fact, Bolan never lost sight of his electric destiny, even as Tyrannosaurus Rex sawed away on their acoustic toys, a point which producer Tony Visconti cottoned onto the first time he ever saw the duo play, "Marc sitting crosslegged on stage playing his strange little songs in a wobbly voice, while Steve Took was banging on his bongos." Visconti himself was a novice producer, "holding out for something really different and unusual. I thought Marc was perhaps that." He was, and the album which he and Took delivered emphasized all the qualities which Visconti had spotted that night at the UFO club. My People Were Fair approaches the listener from a totally unique angle. The Bolan voice, hardened from the slight warble which carried through his early solo material (still noticeable on the backups he performed for John's Children), remains uncompromising, but it blends so perfectly with the bizarre, almost Eastern-sounding instrumentation that the most lasting impression is of a medieval caravansary whose demented Bedouin cast has suddenly been let loose in a recording studio. It is an irresistible affair, if absolutely a child of its psychedelically-inclined time -- "Frowning Atahuallpa" even recruits DJ John Peel to read a Tolkien-esque fairy tale. But one of Bolan's loveliest compositions is here -- the gentle and deceptively melodic "Child Star," layered by harmonies which hit you sideways and are all the more mighty for it; one of his weirdest, too, is included, the mutant fairy dance of "Strange Orchestras," which sounds like it was recorded by one. Together with fellow highlights "Chateau in Virginia Waters" and "Graceful Fat Sheba," both are so far ahead of the material Bolan had been composing just a year earlier (subsequently made available on the Hard on Love/Beginning of Doves retrospective), that the inclusion of the "oldies" "Hot Rod Mama" and "Mustang Ford" is almost disappointing. They are, however, the only sour notes sounded on an album whose magic is discernible from so many different angles that it is hard to say which is its most astonishing factor. But it's hard not to be drawn to the actual dynamics of My People Were Fair, the uncanny way Tyrannosaurus Rex take the slightest musical instruments, pixie phones, glockenspiels and a Chinese gong included, to make them sound like the heaviest rock & roll band on the planet. Anyone could play power chords, after all. But who else would play them on acoustic guitar? ~ Dave Thompson
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- Electric Jewels (Bolan, Marc)