Like his friend and rival David Bowie, Bolan served a long apprenticeship in the lower echelons of the music industry.
His folky, elfin hippie duo Tyrannosaurus Rex was championed tirelessly by Radio One’s John Peel, but mainstream success eluded him until he abbreviated his band’s name, bought a bag of glitter, hired himself a rock rhythm section and most importantly hooked up with super-producer Tony Visconti.
Here are the highlights from his golden period:
Get It On
Retitled Bang A Gong in the US, this is the quintessential T.Rex number. Its influence can be heard in everything Bolan did afterwards. And in a couple of Oasis songs too.
It's unclear what, if anything, a Jeepster was. Bolan lifted a chunk of this from Blues singer Howlin' Wolf but added his unique spin to a T.Rex single that, like a number of others, fell tantalisingly short of the top of the hit parade.
Bolan’s appearance on Top of the Pops in February 1971 to promote this single is seen as the beginning of the Glam Rock craze.
Children of the Revolution
A No.2 single for Marc in 1972, his first 45 to fail to reach the top spot after a successful four-single run.
T.Rex’s last No.1 single wasn’t, as you might expect from the title, a modinsh embrace of eastern mysticism.
Marc helpfully explained that it "is a festival of life song. 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."
The first single on the band’s own imprint is a close relative of Get It On, mixing Chuck Berry riffs and whimsical psychedelic lyrics. It’s reputedly based on Bolan’s accountant of the time, Sam Alder.
20th Century Boy
This primal heavy metal roar was a Top three single in 1973. It’s a popular choice of song to cover, partly because it’s such a joy to play. It’s been recorded by – among others – Def Leppard, REM and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Avant-garde metal guitarist Buckethead also covered it on a 1998 tribute, Great Jewish Music: Marc Bolan
Ride a White Swan
The first release under Tyrannosaurus Rex’s new, snappier, name it still carries some of the softness and whimsy of the earlier incarnation but the funky guitar groove hints at the future rock’n’ roll style of imperial-period Bolan.
Solid Gold Easy Action
Another T.Rex single that just failed to reach the top of the charts, hitting No.2 in December 1972.
There’s a fanciful belief that this song somehow predicted Bolan’s untimely death, based on the lyrics’ tenuous connection with the number plate of the car he died in.
Born to Boogie
The apogee of Bolan’s career. After a spectacular run of hit singles he made a feature film. Directed by a Beatle no less.
Featuring Bolan, Ringo Starr and Elton John the movie took viewers on stage with Bolan at T.Rex’s Wembley Empire Pool concert, as well as into Bolan’s pixieish imagination.
As a bonus, here's Marc in a classic interview with chat show host Russell Harty.