Channel 4 once did a list of the 100 best-selling singles in the UK, and one section that I thought was intriguing was ‘Not In It!’, where they profiled artists who surprisingly never made it into the list. One memorable moment was when they introduced Take That, who scraped in at 95 with Back For Good. They interviewed Jason Orange (I think), who said, ‘I bet Robbie [Williams] is in there with Angels‘, and when the interviewer denied this, simply said, ‘Oh’, with barely disguised satisfaction.
But I digress (considerably). This gave me the idea to include an occasional section of the same ilk, featuring artists whom one would expect for one reason or another to be in the Festive 50 due to their association with John Peel, but who unexpectedly were not. Marc Bolan’s career was brutally cut short by a car crash in 1977, just as he was welcoming the new breed of punk stars (the Damned supported him on a UK tour). In the 60s, he and Peel were inextricably linked for a while:
Radio 1 DJ John Peel (who’d narrated a poem on the album [My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows]) virtually made it his mission in life to bring the work of Marc Bolan to the public’s attention, and as a consequence of his patronage, the duo’s debut album-and Debora, the single that preceded it-charted. Throughout 1968, the DJ’s ‘Peelmobile’ made regular trips up and down the nation’s motorways, spreading peace and loveliness across the land at countless group-plus-DJ hippie happenings. Peel and Bolan hung out at gigs, visited ancient sites such as Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor, and sought out old rock’n’roll 45s in obscure secondhand emporiums. [Sleeve notes to Tyrannosaurus Rex, Prophets, Seers And Sages The Angels Of The Ages, expanded edition, by Mark Paytress]
On John’s first Top Of The Pops, he announced he was disgusted that there was no Captain Beefheart or Tyrannosaurus Rex on the programme and was promptly banned from hosting it for the next 14 years. But then:
I got to know him really rather better than I’ve got to know people in bands subsequently, and in a way…it’s not a good thing to have mates who are in bands, because there does come a time, as there did with Marc, when they make a record and you have to say to yourself, well, if this record wasn’t by Marc Bolan, I’d not actually play it: and so therefore you have to not play it and you have to be true to whatever it is you’re busy being true to, in a rather obsessive way. [John Peel talking to John Walters on Peeling Back The Years, 1987].
For a time Marc and his wife June were Peel’s ‘best mates’. They ran together, saw gigs together, drank together. When Peel was booked to do a gig he’d drag Bolan along, long before anyone had ever heard of T-Rex. ‘So, we were very good pals, but it was like with a lot of one’s friends, there’s another side to them, because we all have darker sides which we try to suppress. I suppose a way that one measures people as human beings is by their ability to suppress the disagreeable things which might bubble up. I always knew about Marc that he was very ambitious, but then from the moment he became a real star, we were just cut off like that, which was just upsetting really . . . I saw him once more before he died.’ [John Mulholland, Peeling Back The Years, Guardian Unlimited, August 11 1997].
There is a hint here as to the rift between the two that resulted in Bolan claiming that John was just looking for a band to exploit. Whatever the reason, on that radio programme, John chose the first of the two tracks below as his and Sheila’s favourite from Marc’s early recordings, before the glam rock era (‘Marc, certainly in those early days, had a very extreme voice’): but I chose the second because the energy predated punk in the minor key and explosive guitar riff that opens the song (which was, after all, covered by no less a group than Siouxsie and The Banshees). But neither Marc nor his band appeared in the Festive 50 in any shape or form. See the second song now.
Buy: Tyrannosaurus Rex, Prophets, Seers & Sages