“His moleish mind knew that praying was special”
This song is remarkable for lots of reasons. Simply because it’s Marc Bolan at his most wistful and fey. Then there’s the lyric, a simple and beautiful elegy for lost love and fallen empires. It’s also a fine example of Bolan’s habit of stirring into the pot all the things that interest him. Atahuallpa isn’t someone he made up, he was the last sovereign Inca emperor before the Spaniards came ruined everything. I’m not sure how the title is meant to be read. Either it’s just a general title vaguely relating to the words, or if in the interest of poetic license Atahuallpa has been transposed into an empress to serve as love interest. There’s that. Then there’s the chanting, one of the first uses of Hare Krishna on a pop record, right when Eastern mysticism was coming into vogue. That Hare Krishna is continents away from Atahuallpa is immaterial. And then there’s one of Bolan’s charming Kingsley Mole stories, read by John Peel. Kingsley Mole and his friend Lionel Lark appeared sproadically on Tyrannosaurus Rex records and were plainly inspired by English talking-animal pastorals like The Wind in the Willows and the Pooh books with their whimsy and surprising thoughtfulness. All of which is a rich brew of the cultural tides of 1968. All about the creative set were looking beyond their back doors; exploring exotica both spiritual and chemical; adding bongos and sitars to their sets; adoring books about talking animals, quests and elves; and perming their hair. Bolan was a man of his age, and he pulled it off better than anyone.