[Review] Tyrannosaurus Rex: Unicorn (1969)

Bolan and Took go deeper down the rabbit hole on their third and most musical adventure to date.

Kronomyth 3.0: The unicorn spoke from the eye in its head, and the words that you heard were the sounds that it said.

Honestly, I found the first two Tyrannosaurus Rex records a bit underdone (okay, a lot underdone), but Unicorn is T-riffic. For the first time, Marc Bolan’s highly imaginative lyrics get equally imaginative accompaniment, with multi-tracking in many cases. No longer contained to the chrysalis of his youth, Bolan the butterfly is reborn on Unicorn. Bolan was, of course, on a strange and mystical trip; you sort of watch from the wings on the first two records, and ride along on the third. You don’t have to imagine what “The Throat of Winter,” “Catblack,” “She Was Born To Be My Unicorn,” “Evenings of Damask” and “Iscariot” might have sounded like under different circumstances; they’ve already been fully imagined for you.

“The third album, Unicorn, that was by far the best Tyrannosaurus Rex album. It’s got magic in it, it’s got a lot of texture in the lyrics and the instrumentation.” – Tony Visconti, in a Guardian interview.

From the beginning, you knew Bolan was special, but he seemed to scratch at the door of his own Xanadu. Here, he boldly enters the world of his imagination. Melodies intersect in mid-air, sounds and rhythms are strung together into a beautiful banner, and Bolan flies triumphant through it all in his chariot of silk. For T. Rex/glam fans, Unicorn is the place to start. You’ll not only hear the Bolan of the future in these songs, but the Bowie of the future too (compare “Iscariot” to the end of “Memory of a Free Festival”). The often overlooked Peregrin Took also employs broader brushstrokes on Unicorn, and it’s the combined creativity of the pair that gives the album added richness and depth.

The first two records? They’re dry history lessons. Unicorn is a living, breathing, magical beast. Also featured toward the end of the record is an untitled story narrated by John Peel that shows Bolan capable of spinning new worlds. The record closes with the whispered word “unicorn,” now a secret password into Bolan’s technicolored faerie kingdom. Decades later, the bones of Bolan and Took long silent, Unicorn was expanded with alternate takes and tracks including a 54-song Deluxe Edition.

Original elpee version

A1. Chariots of Silk
A2. ‘Pon A Hill
A3. The Seal of Seasons
A4. The Throat of Winter
A5. Catblack (The Wizard’s Hat)
A6. Stones For Avalon
A7. She Was Born To Be My Unicorn
A8. Like A White Star, Tangled And Far, Tulip That’s What You Are
B1. Warlord of the Royal Crocodiles
B2. Evenings of Damask
B3. The Sea Beasts
B4. Iscariot
B5. Nijinsky Hind
B6. The Pilgrim’s Tale
B7. The Misty Coast of Albany
B8. Romany Soup

All songs written by Marc Bolan.

Expanded CD reissue bonus tracks
17. Pewter Suitor (single version)
18. King of the Rumbling Spires (single version)
19. Do You Remember (single version)
20. Pon A Hill (take 1)
21. The Seal of Seasons (take 1)
22. The Throat of Winter (take 1)
23. She Was Born To Be My Unicorn (take 1)
24. Warlord of the Royal Crocodiles (take 1)
25. Evenings of Damask (take 5)
26. Iscariot (take 3)
27. The Misty Coast of Albany (take 1)
28. Romany Soup (take 2)
29. Pewter Suitor (take 1)
30. King of the Rumbling Spires (take 7)
31. Do You Remember (take 3)

The Players

Marc Bolan (vocals, guitar, harmonium, lip organ, fonofiddle), Steve Peregrin Took (bongos, vocals, African talking drums, bass guitar, piano, drumkit, assorted percussion, pixiephone, gong) with John Peel (narrator on children’s story), Tony Visconti (piano on A4). Produced by Tony Visconti; engineered by Malcolm Toft and Rob Cabel.

The Pictures

Photographs by Pete Sanders.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, 8-track and reel-to-reel tape on May 16, 1969 in the UK (Regal Zonophone, LRZ 1007) and the US (Blue Thumb, BTS 7) with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1972 in the US (Blue Thumb, BTS 7) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-packaged with A Beard of Stars on 2-for-1 2LP in 1972 in the UK (Cube, TOOFA 9) and Germany (Fly, 2635 008).
  3. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in Europe (Sierra, FEDB/CFEDB 5024) under the “Replay” series.
  4. Re-packaged with A Beard of Stars on 2-for-1 2LP, 2CD and cassette in 1988 in the UK and France (Castle, TFOLP/TFO/TFOMC 15-1/2).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc on April 21, 1989 in Japan (Teichiku, 20CP-10).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 1994 in Europe (Disky, CUCD 11 TR).
  7. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on October 4, 2004 in Europe (A&M, 982 251-1) and December 15, 2004 in Japan (A&M, UICY-9495) with 15 bonus tracks.
  8. Re-released on 200g vinyl elpee on October 18, 2007 in Japan (A&M, UIJY-9035) with gatefold cover.
  9. Re-released as expanded, remastered Deluxe Edition 2CD in 2014 in the UK (Polydor, 535 391) with 38 bonus tracks.

2 thoughts on “[Review] Tyrannosaurus Rex: Unicorn (1969)

  1. Re-packaged with A Beard of Stars on 2-for-1 2LP in 1972 in the UK (Cube, TOOFA 9) and *Germany (Fly, 2635 008)*.

    Is this correct? I cannot see any version UK or Germany that was on the Fly label. They all seem to be ‘Cube’.

    1. That may very well be poor recordkeeping on my part. The 2365 008 number appeared alongside the UK TOOFA 9 number which, combined with the similarity in logos as the label transitioned, may have resulted in me taking the wrong notes. I’ll double-check that and, if I don’t find a match, I’ll delete the Germany entry. Thanks for catching that!

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