Between November 1967 and August 1971, Marc Bolan and Tyrannosaurus (later T.) Rex recorded a staggering 14 live sessions for BBC radio, primarily for longtime supporter John Peel's Top Gear show, but also for several of his colleagues -- Bob Harris, Stuart Henry, and Dave Lee Travis. Extracts from these sessions have already seen the light of day once. Back in 1987, Strange Fruit released a 12-inch single featuring the truncated band-name's first appearance from 1970, while the now-scarce Across the Airwaves compilation comprised a further-reaching 20 track cross-section of sessions back in the early '80s. A BBC History combines those two releases, adds four more performances (three songs, one recitation), and rates at least as highly as the best of Edsel's then-simultaneous reissue campaigns -- and maybe even higher, as it concentrates exclusively on a period which has still to be comprehensively exhumed by Bolanic archaeologists, the pre-1972 catalog that laid the groundwork for so much of what T. Rex would achieve thereafter. Tyrannosaurus Rex, the largely acoustic duo that Bolan formed with the late Steve Peregrin Took, make up the first 14 tracks. Primarily drawn from the duo's first three albums, there is little deviation from the "official" versions of the songs. However, stripping the individual songs of the albums' occasionally fussy production does allow Bolan to concentrate more on the proto-boogie that would eventually bear such dramatic fruit, and his leap into full-fledged electric rock suddenly makes a lot of sense. Highlights in this first half include the underrated, lovely "Once Upon the Seas of Abyssinia" and the distinctly prescient "By the Light of a Magical Moon," cut before T. Rex found fame, but predicting their future regardless. From there, a further dozen tracks recorded between 1970-1971 offer an Idiot's Guide to the Birth of Bolan's Boogie, a portrait of the artist in transition. Opening with a very punchy "Ride a White Swan," Bolan's breakthrough hit single, the album then peaks with a truly dramatic "Elemental Child," the stunning guitar workout that single-handedly confirms Bolan's rightful place among the finest players ever. The seldom-heard (but oft-revisited) "Sailors of the Highway" makes a welcome appearance, together with powerful versions of the T. Rex era "Jewel" and "Beltane Walk," while Bolan's love of old Eddie Cochran is consummated with a magnificent "Summertime Blues." And you should hear those bongos bang. A thunderous "Jeepster" and, spotlighting Bolan's too often overlooked mellow mood, "Girl" and "Life's a Gas" wrap up the album, together with a prototype of the Slider-era "Cadillac," proving once and for all that Bolan was already convinced of where his future lay. The electric boogie starts here and radio has seldom sounded so excited. Despite its size, this does not include every session Bolan recorded for the BBC. A 1969 In Concert broadcast has been released separately, while the 1970-76 collection does indeed drive the story up to the end. Further cuts are collected on sundry bootlegs; while one song which has escaped all but the most devoted sleuth -- 1970s "My Baby's Like a Cloudfall" -- is at least covered on Dawnstorm's 2001 album Emotional Vampires, but the original performance is apparently long-lost. Then again, they said that about the Titanic as well. Hands up -- who wants a second volume of this stuff?
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson