Ride It on Out Like a Beard in the Skyway
“Marc was not a classic electric guitarist; he didn’t come up through the Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page schools. It was more as if the Hobbit had learned to play electric guitar.” – Tony Visconti, as quoted in an article on Bolan World.
This is a transitional record between the acoustic Tyrannosaurus Rex and the electric T. Rex. As such, it could be considered the first “classic” T. Rex album, although I would tell you that Unicorn is the true beginning of the goodness. Beyond the introduction of electric instruments (electric guitar, bass, organ), the album is notable as the first to feature Mickey Finn in place of Steve Peregrin Took.
Now, both Finn and Took were visual foils more than musical collaborators, so the difference in sound is slight. Finn is relegated to a corner of the music most of the time, playing occasional bass guitar and banging on a variety of exotic Eastern drums. He sings a little too (e.g., “Wind Cheetah”). Bolan is, of course, the central star. Multitracking himself on guitar, bass and organ (an instrument he thankfully lost interest in), Marc is a virtual one-man band as he cuts off such slices of sublime strangeness as “A Day Laye,” “Woodland Bop,” “By the Light of a Magical Moon” and “Dragon’s Ear.”
While much of this music points forward to the abbreviated T. Rex, it also points forward (or parallel) to David Bowie, who shared a producer with Bolan. “Fist Heart, Mighty Dawn Dart” and “Wind Cheetah” (foreshadowing Diamond Dogs’ “Future Legend”) are examples of where the two artists intersect. Bolan would hit his stride on The Slider and Electric Warrior, but he was clearly building up to bigger things on A Beard of Stars. His lyrics had always made use of amplified imagery; now he was using amplified instruments to bring that imagery to life. The only knock on this record is that Bolan isn’t a particularly good guitarist or bass player or organ player, and Finn hardly fits that description either. For vision, A Beard of Stars earns an A-plus. For execution, probably a B-minus. Not that I have any intention of actually grading music, as school is a sort of prison for children, and A Beard of Stars is its anithesis: a playground of the imagination.
Original LP Version
A1. Prelude (1:03)
A2. A Day Laye (1:56)
A3. Woodland Bop (2:18)
A4. Fist Heart, Mighty Dawn Dart (3:25)
A5. Pavillions of Sun (3:30)
A6. Organ Blues (3:28)
A7. By the Light of a Magical Moon (2:52)
A8. Wind Cheetah* (3:20)
B1. A Beard of Stars (1:34)
B2. Great Horse (2:24)
B3. Dragon’s Ear (2:37)
B4. Lofty Skies (3:35)
B5. Dove (2:05)
B6. Elemental Child (6:16)
All songs written by Marc Bolan.
* Sometimes listed as “Wind Cheater” on early pressings.
Reissue bonus 7-inch single
A1. Ride a White Swan (Marc Bolan) (2:16)
B1. Is It Love (Marc Bolan) (2:20)
CD reissue bonus tracks
15. Ill Starred Man
16. Demon Queen
17. Once Upon the Seas of Abyssinia
18. Blessed Wild Apple Girl
19. Find a Little Wood
20. A Daye Laye (take 1)
21. Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart (take 2)
22. Organ Blues (take 2)
23. Wind Cheetah (take 4)
24. A Beard of Stars (take 1)
25. Great Horse (take 1)
26. Dragon’s Ear (take 1 & 2)
27. Dove (take 5)
28. Elemental Child (Parts 1 & 2, take 1)
29. By the Light of the Magical Moon (take 3)
30. Prelude (take 1)
2LP Deluxe Edition bonus tracks
C1. Prelude (take 1)
C2. Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart (take 1)
C3. A Day Laye (take 1)
C4. Organ Blues (take 2)
C5. Black Cat Sittin’ On My Shoulder (take 2)
C6. Pavilions of Sun
C7. By the Light of a Magical Moon
C8. Find a Little Wood
D1. Great Horse
D2. Wind Cheetah
D3. Pavilions of Sun (take 2)
D4. Oh Baby
D5. A Beard of Stars (take 1)
D6. Dove (take 5)
D7. Elemental Child (Part 1) (take 1)
Marc Bolan (leads, guitars, organ and bass), Mickey Finn (backing vocals, Moroccan clay drums, tabla, bass and finger cymbals). Produced by Tony Visconti; engineered by Malcolm Toft.
Photography by Pete Sanders. Cover design by June Child.
Released on elpee on March 13, 1970 in the UK (Regal Zonophone, SLRZ 1013), the US (Blue Thumb, BTS 18) and Germany (Ariola, 80 932 IT) with gatefold cover; reached #21 on the UK charts.
- Re-issued on elpee in 1971 in the US (Blue Thumb, BTS-8818) with gatefold cover and bonus 7-inch single.
- Re-issued on elpee in 1972 in the US (Blue Thumb, BTS 18) [feat. 1972 publish date on label} with gatefold cover.
- Re-packaged with Unicorn on 2-for-1 2LP in 1978 in the UK (Cube, TOOFA 9) and Germany (Cube, 2635 008) with gatefold cover.
- Re-packaged with Unicorn on 2-for-1 2CD and cassette in 1988 in France (Castle, TFO 15-1/2/TFOMC 15).
- Re-issued on compact disc in 1999 in Japan (A&M, POCM-2100).
- Re-released on expanded compact disc in 2004 in Europe (A&M/Universal, 982 251-2) and Japan (A&M/Universal, UICY-9496) with 16 bonus tracks.
- Re-released on expanded 180g vinyl 2LP and 2CD Deluxe Edition in 2014 in the UK (A&M/Universal, 534 733 6/534 732 9) with 15 bonus tracks.
- Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2014 in the UK (A&M/Universal, 535 407-8).