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Credit: Ian Dickson

Music

Watch T. Rex perform 'Mambo Sun' in 1972

After major musical acts began performing on American variety shows like The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand across the 1950s and 1960s, European television broadcasters started to see a profitable connection between their shows and rock ‘n roll music. It didn’t take long for some legendary programmes to begin popping up across the continent, including Top of the Pops in England along with Beat-Club and Rockpalast in West Germany. Before the days of MTV, these shows gave legions of music fans exposure to some of the most legendary artists of all time.

Hits à Gogo is a slightly more obscure example of this type of show. Produced in Switzerland and first broadcast in 1967, Hits à Gogo was originally formatted to closely mimic the “beat show” format of Beat-Club, which was frequently finding its way onto Swiss televisions in the mid-1960s. Performances from major music acts like The Beach Boys, Badfinger, and Sparks could be seen, as could emerging glam rock acts like Mott the Hoople and Slade.

Among that group of British glam rockers was T. Rex, who arrived at the Swiss studio to mime a version of their Electric Warrior cut ‘Mambo Sun’ just a few months after the album’s release. At the dawn of the 1970s, Marc Bolan decided to abandon the band’s psychedelic folk sound in favour of hard-edged rock music, releasing the standalone single ‘Ride a White Swan’ in 1970. From there, glam musicians began to sprout up across England, most of whom were taking visual and musical cues directly from Bolan.

Less than a year later, Bolan doubled down on the theatrical look and swaggering sound of ‘Ride a White Swan’ with 1971’s Electric Warrior. The first sounds you hear when you put on that particular record are the sensual tones of ‘Mambo Sun’, a sexually-charged strut defined by the stinging tones of Bolan’s electric guitar. It would prove to be the perfect opening to glam rock’s defining album, and although Electric Warrior has its softer moments, the rollicking rhythms of ‘Bang a Gong’ and ‘Jeepster’ would permanently change the direction of rock music for the next decade.

The actual performance on Hits à Gogo is comical, to say the least. The poor MC doesn’t even have time to finish his introduction before he gets cut off with the familiar beat of ‘Mambo Sun’ and hangs around among the group for a few seconds too long after his microphone is muted. Bolan only barely attempts to sync up with the clearly non-live performance, preferring to focus his energy on puts, hip-shakes, and thrusts of his guitar. Percussionist Mickey Finn gamely tries to imitate the chorus of female backing singers present on the track, but he also seems more focused on getting the audience to participate.

Every once in a while, though, Bolan looks directly into the camera and commands the attention of the entire audience. The silliness of the lip-synched performance is not lost on the band, but Bolan still embodies his rock star persona without any kind of wink or nudge to undermine himself. At that moment, Bolan was as pure of a rock star as there ever was, demanding that all eyes stay on him without actually saying a word.

Check out the performance of ‘Mambo Sun’ from 1972 down below.