On 16th Sept 1977, 29-year-old former T. Rex singer Marc Bolan was killed instantly when the car driven by his girlfriend, Gloria Jones, left the road and hit a tree in Barnes, London.
The couple were on the way to Bolan’s home in Richmond after a night out at a Mayfair restaurant. A local man who witnessed the crash said, “When I arrived a girl was lying on the bonnet and a man with long dark curly hair was stretched out in the road; there was a hell of a mess”.
Marc had become a huge star in the UK, and at some time in the early to mid-’70s, he was probably the ‘biggest’ pop star we had. He achieved that rare thing — he had a massive teenybopper audience, yet secretly the cool guys appreciated how good he really was.
Like his friend David Bowie (they first met and became friends in the late ’60s), Bolan’s career looked for a time like it would never take off. He couldn’t quite get it right, as a solo singer or in John’s Children, but after major radio support from John Peel, Bolan’s psychedelic-folk rock acoustic duo Tyrannosaurus Rex started to gain momentum.
One of their highlights was when the duo played at the first free Hyde Park concert in 1968 on the same bill as Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull.
The following year, Bolan shortened the group’s name to T. Rex and wrote and recorded “Ride a White Swan”, dominated by a rolling, hand-clapping back-beat and Bolan’s electric guitar (he was a great guitarist). When released, the single took forever to work its way into the charts, eventually peaking at number 2.
“Ride a White Swan” made Bolan a star and boosted T. Rex’s fame and reputation, and the follow-up single “Hot Love” went to No. 1 for six weeks as the phenomenon of glam rock took hold. These were the days when David Bowie, Roxy Music, Slade, Sweet, Elton John, The Faces, and Mott The Hopple were riding high in the UK charts.
T. Rex, aided by Bolan’s ability to deliver the catchiest of pop songs, saw them ultimately enjoying four #1 singles and four number 2 singles in the UK by the end of 1972.
Trying to crack America, Bolan spent a good deal of his time in the U.S. for much of the next three years (also for tax reasons), continuing to release singles and albums which, while less popular with the masses, were full of unusual lyrics and sometimes eccentric musical experiments.
Returning to the UK in 1977, Marc embraced the punk movement by inviting the Damned to support him on his UK tour. At the same time, Granada Television commissioned Bolan to front a six-part series called Marc, where he introduced new and established bands and performed his own songs.
The last episode featured a unique Bolan “duet” with his old mate David Bowie, during which Bolan fell off the stage before the singing had commenced. With no time for a retake, the performance complete with the stage fall was aired, showing Bowie’s amusement, which was clearly visible.
This became his last public appearance. Bolan died on 16 September 1977, two weeks before his 30th birthday.
I was lucky enough to meet Marc once; I bumped into him on the stairs leading up to EMI’s promotional offices, one late afternoon in Manchester, England. Bolan was in town playing a concert that night. I was 18 and leaving the building as he was coming in. At the time he was the most famous person I’d ever met!
I remember thinking, I have to talk to him, so I said hello, and we chatted, he was so normal. After our brief exchange, he asked me if I was going to his show that night and I told him I couldn’t as I was also in a group and we had a gig that night. To my amazement, he then continued our conversation, wanting to know what we were called, what sort of music we played, what I played… I couldn’t believe it! This was Marc Bolan, the superstar, asking me, a normal kid, about my crappy little group. I’m so pleased I met him that day.
That’s who Marc Bolan was — a normal superstar.
Important Dates In The Life Of Marc Bolan:
23 Jan 2017
African-American soul and R&B singer, songwriter and record producer Bobby Freeman died of natural causes aged 76. He scored the 1958 US & UK No.5 single 'Do You Want To Dance'. The song has been covered (as 'Do You Wanna Dance') by Del Shannon, The Beach Boys, Johnny Rivers, Bette Midler, John Lennon, Cliff Richard, Marc Bolan & T.Rex, the Mamas & The Papas and the Ramones.
11 Jan 2002
Mickey Finn percussionist and sideman to Marc Bolan in Tyrannosaurus Rex (T. Rex), died of kidney and liver problems aged 55. (1971 UK No.1 single 'Hot Love', plus over 20 other UK Top 40 singles).
5 Sep 1981
Soft Cell were at No.1 on the UK singles chart with their version of 'Tainted Love.' The song had been a hit for Gloria Jones in 1964. (Jones who became Marc Bolan's girlfriend was the driver of the car, that crashed and killed Bolan on 16 September 1977. Jones nearly died in the accident).
19 May 1980
Ringo Starr and his future wife were involved in a car crash less than half a mile from where Marc Bolan was killed, the car was a write-off but Starr and Bach were not seriously injured.
16 Sep 1977
29-year-old former T Rex singer Marc Bolan was killed instantly when the car driven by his girlfriend, Gloria Jones, left the road and hit a tree in Barnes, London. Miss Jones broke her jaw in the accident. The couple were on the way to Bolan's home in Richmond after a night out at a Mayfair restaurant. A local man who witnessed the crash said, 'When I arrived a girl was lying on the bonnet and a man with long dark curly hair was stretched out in the road - there was a hell of a mess.'
9 Sep 1977
David Bowie appeared on Marc Bolan's ITV show, Marc, singing ‘Heroes’ as well as a duet with Bolan, ‘Standing Next To You’, which was prematurely terminated when Bolan fell from the stage, much to Bowie’s amusement. After the show the pair recorded demos together which were never finished because Bolan was killed in a car crash a week later.
14 Dec 1972
Born To Boogie the Ringo Starr directed movie premiered in London. The film was based around a concert at Wembley Empire Pool, London, England starring Ringo Starr, Marc Bolan and T. Rex and was released on The Beatles Apple Films label.
19 Sep 1970
The first UK Glastonbury Festival took place featuring Marc Bolan, Ian Anderson, Keith Christmas, Quintessence, Amazing Blondel and Sam Apple Pie.
12 Jun 1970
David Bowie released the single 'Memory of a Free Festival', which featured guitarist Mick Ronson and drummer Mick Woodmansey's studio debut with Bowie's band, bringing together the line-up that would shortly record The Man Who Sold the World. The track also featured Marc Bolan on lead guitar and backing vocals.
6 Mar 1970
David Bowie released the single 'The Prettiest Star' in the UK as a follow-up single to 'Space Oddity'. The track featured Marc Bolan on guitar, with whom Bowie would spend the next few years as a rival for the crown of the king of glam rock. Despite receiving good reviews, the single reportedly sold fewer than 800 copies, a major disappointment on the back of the success of 'Space Oddity'.
15 Mar 1969
Tyrannosaurus Rex singer Marc Bolan's first book of poetry 'The Warlock Of Love' was published, priced at 12s/6d.
26 Jan 1968
Pink Floyd played their first gig without Syd Barrett at Southampton University. They were supported by Tyrannosaurus Rex, (later to be renamed T Rex) featuring Marc Bolan and percussionist Steve Peregrine Took.
11 Jun 1967
Printed in this week's music weekly Melody Maker's ad's pages, 'Freaky lead guitarist, bass and drummer wanted for Marc Bolan's new group. Also any other astral flyers like with car's amplification and that which never grows in window boxes, phone Wimbledon 0697.' The band who formed as Tyrannosaurus Rex, went on to release four underground folk albums before becoming known as T. Rex.
13 Dec 1966
Jimi Hendrix made his TV debut on ITV's 'Ready Steady Go!' (Marc Bolan was also on the show). The Jimi Hendrix Experience also recorded 'Foxy Lady' on this day. The United States version of Are You Experienced listed the song with a spelling mistake as 'Foxey Lady' and this is how it is still known among many North American fans.
23 Nov 1965
Marc Bolan appeared live on the UK TV show Five O'Clock Funfair, performing 'The Wizard'.
12 Nov 1965
After changing his name from Toby Tyler to Marc Bolan, the future T. Rex star performed his first single 'The Wizard' on the UK TV show Ready Steady Go!
6 Jan 1958
Gibson guitars launched it' 'Flying V' electric guitar. Guitarists who played a Flying V include, Albert Collins, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.