Glam-rock wasn’t just about dudes putting on women’s clothing, it was about giving rock ‘n’ roll itself a makeover by filtering ’50s hot-rod rave-ups through ’60s psychedelia and turning pop music into science fiction. At T. Rex’s early ’70s commercial peak, Marc Bolandidn’t so much write tunes as devise characters begging for their own comic book and action figure spin-offs. His songbook is populated by prosaic subjects transformed into superheroes with single, evocative descriptors: “Mystic Lady,” “Rabbit Fighter,” “Cosmic Dancer,” “Baby Boomerang,” “Telegram Sam.” The songs were mostly nonsense, but rather than sounding like gibberish, Bolan seemed to be speaking in an alien code that, to this today, we’re still not cool enough to decode. And “Metal Guru”—the grand-slam capper to a string of four consecutive UK No. 1 singles—is the most deliriously inscrutable of them all.
Emerging at a moment when rock stars had stopped getting spiritual guidance from maharishis and were starting to think they were deities themselves, “Metal Guru” is Bolan in excelsis, an all-chorus/no-verse bacchanalia of platform-boot stomps, regal orchestration, and helium-buzzed harmonies. At the time, “T. Rextasy” was a popular buzzword in the British music weeklies, but “Metal Guru” renders it as an actual physical sensation; from its opening blast of symphonic fuzz, the song makes you feel like you’ve been thrust into a New Year’s Eve party one second after midnight amid flying streamers, gushing champagne bottles, and a raging dance floor united in screaming, wordless elation. The song’s swooning, swaying melody famously inspired Johnny Marr to write the Smiths’ “Panic,” but its spirit of instantaneous excess can still be felt today every time Wayne Coyne fires off a confetti cannon. –Stuart Berman