Earlier entries of this series can be found here: http://www.acclaimedmusic.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=3065&p=45337&hilit=archive#p45337
“Sitting there in your armour plated chair”
106. T. Rex – Metal Guru
Genre: Glam rock.
Country: United Kingdom.
Album: The Slider.
Acclaimed Music ranking: #1589.
Song ranking on Acclaimed Music in the artist’s discography: 6th.
Ranks higher than 12:51 by The Strokes, but lower than Nowhere Man by The Beatles.
Place in the Acclaimed Music Song Poll 2015: Unranked.
Produced by Tony Visconti.
Written by Marc Bolan.
Lead vocals by Marc Bolan.
Backing vocals by Mickey Finn, Howard Kaylan & Mark Volman.
Guitar by Marc Bolan.
Bass by Steve Currie.
Drums by Bill Legend.
Percussion by Mickey Finn.
We’re back to T. Rex again. Not too long ago I wrote about the disappointing way this group paid tribute to the gong (but made an awesome song anyway). The title of this week’s entry might look like it alludes to heavy metal, an up and coming genre in 1972. But no, that is not the case. With this song T. Rex paid tribute to a fictional religious figure made up by Marc Bolan himself. In his own words:
“I relate 'Metal Guru' to all Gods around. I believe in a God, but I have no religion. With 'Metal Guru', it's like someone special, it must be a Godhead. I thought how God would be, he'd be all alone without a telephone. I don't answer the phone any more. I have codes where people ring me at certain times.”
All right, I guess Marc Bolan interviews could be as odd as his lyrics. What I get out of the lyrics myself is that Bolan asks the Metal Guru to give him a lover. To no avail (I think). Do not ask me what “just like a silver-studded sabre-tooth dream/ I'II be clean, you know, pollution machine” means in this context. For the most part, I don’t listen to T. Rex for the lyrics. I know some people like the odd poetry of Bolan and in some way I do too. I just don’t think it really means anything.
Bolan also said that Metal Guru was like a festival of life. Now that is something I can get behind. This is another one of his jubilant songs: upbeat, catchy and jumpy. Although the music doesn’t seem the be particularly inspired by funk or any other kind of R&B there is a certain groove that Bolan creates with his guitar. Add to that Bolan’s recognizable woops, shouts and sexy phrasings and you get something positively celebratory. That starts right of the bat, with a large scream by Bolan.
All this is very typical for the T. Rex sound and Metal Guru isn’t that far removed from Get It On. There are more varied songs on The Slider; Metal Guru is for the people who wanted more of what Electric Warrior offered. Nothing wrong with that if is done as well as it is here. If you like glam rock and T. Rex you will very much like Metal Guru, but this is probably not the song that is going to convince you if you don’t care for the genre or the band.
Perhaps tellingly for a song that mostly continues an already established sound there hasn’t been written much about it. Outside of Bolan’s vague theology there doesn’t seem to be any big backstory here. It offered some artists inspiration, though. In my review of The Smith’s Panic I already mentioned that they based they based that one on Metal Guru and yes, you can hear it. The band Louis XIV also based the melody of their song A Letter to Dominique on this T. Rex song. Oddly, when I hear that one I think first and foremost of Panic. Funny how that works sometimes. Other than these two tracks (and a boatload of covers; see below) there isn’t any legacy to speak of. This is because the sound of T. Rex was so well established a year earlier. I’ve noticed that many fans of the band actually think The Slider is a better album than Electric Warrior, but the 1971 release is more acclaimed simply because it introduced all the ingredients that the 1972 album would build upon.
So yeah, little remains to be said about Metal Guru. It’s simply glam rock at its most shamelessly entertaining. There were times when Marc Bolan’s words didn’t seem to be crazy, because in between the weird stuff here he describes his dream girl and unintentionally he described the appeal of this song: “She'll be wild, you know a rock and roll child”. Indeed.
Before we get to the covers we have to go through the different T. Rex versions. There is only one famous version, the one on The Slider, but there are different recordings out there. First of all, The Slider was rereleased in 1995 in an alternate version named Rabbit Fighter (The Alternate Slider), where every song is replaced by another take. Metal Guru got an acoustic version that highlights the percussion. It’s a real demo and rough around the edges, but interesting for those who want to know how the song was build up. Book remixed the original recording and made it heavier. It’s a very good remix. Finally, T. Rex still exist, albeit under the name Mickey Finn’s T. Rex (Mickey Finn has passed away in 2003, but this version of the group still performs regardless). Percussionist Finn decided that it would be a good idea to rerecord all the great T. Rex classics. I don’t see the point of it, but there is a version of Metal Guru from this iteration of the band. It’s very close to the original.
And so are most covers. There are many of them, but most of them are faithful to a fault. Even Bolan’s vocal sound seems to be copied. I hoped we would at least get a real heavy metal cover. It would seem fitting, wouldn’t it? Sadly, it was not to be. Instead we get more karaoke versions than anyone could possibly want. There are only two covers of note. Dvala did an electronic version, that completely loses the iconic groove. In fact, the only recognizable part of Metal Guru that remains are the lyrics, which for some reason are sung in very emotive and drawn-out vocals as if the singer is sharing the deepest feeling of his soul. Combine that with the wacky lines of Bolan and you get a song that I unintentionally silly. Finally, there is the instrumental guitar version by Willie Logan that sounds the closest to metal we get. Not an original take, but it works.
The cover by Mickey Finn’s T. Rex is named Get It On - Bang a Gong for some reason. In fact all the covers by that act are there under the wrong name. If you look up Metal Guru there you actually hear Jeepster. Someone was sleeping at Spotify it seems.
Rooney’s cover of Metal Guru, especially recorded for the soundtrack of your favourite movie (Herbie: Fully Loaded).