Cover Letters: Five Versions of "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" for Marc Bolan's Birthday

Marc Bolan of T-Rex, born on September 30, had a huge hit with "Bang a Gong (Get It On)."
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Michael Putland/Getty Images

Today we're tipping our top hats to Marc Bolan, born on this day in 1947. In a brief but highly influential career as the frontman for British band T. Rex, Bolan perfected a glittery, campy subgenre of rock and roll known the world over as glam.

T. Rex notched 10 consecutive Top 10 singles in their native England between 1970 and 1973, but their most famous may be "Get It On," a stomping number written during an American tour in an attempt to gain more exposure overseas. Inspired by Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie," the track (renamed "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" in the States to avoid confusion with a single by jazz-rockers Chase) did what it set out to do, becoming the band's sole Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In honor of that signature song, here are five killer covers of the track you've got to hear:

Gloria Jones (1976)

Known as the originator of the Northern soul classic "Tainted Love" (a 1982 hit for Soft Cell), Gloria Jones was performing in a touring cast of the musical Hair when she encountered Marc Bolan in England. By 1973, she became a touring member of the band, performing on the albums Bolan's Zip Gun and Futuristic Dragon; in 1975, she gave birth to Bolan's son, Rolan. A year later, Bolan produced her third album Vixen, which featured several T. Rex covers including two versions of "Get It On." Sadly, Jones and Bolan were driving together in 1977 when their car hit a tree; Jones suffered a broken jaw while Bolan didn't make it - just two weeks shy of his 30th birthday.

Blondie (1978)

Bolan's glam style was highly influential, to the point that New York dance-rockers Blondie incorporated "Get It On" into their live sets. This version closed a set The Paradise Rock Club in Boston in November 1978, two months after the release of their breakthrough album Parallel Lines. Debbie Harry's snarl is a perfect match for the track - she even throws a bit of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Were Made for Walkin'" into the mix - and the set was coveted by bootleggers for years before getting released on the 1993 collection Blonde and Beyond.

The Power Station (1985)

If it weren't for "Get It On," The Power Station may never have plugged in. Guitarist Andy Taylor and bassist John Taylor were on a break from conquering the world in Duran Duran when John's then-girlfriend, model Bebe Buell, recruited the pair to back her on a planned cover of the T. Rex classic. With CHIC's Tony Thompson on drums, the trio's blend of hard rock, funky low end and thundercrack percussion proved to be too good to resist. The initial plan (called "Big Brother") was to feature a rotating cast of lead singers, but when U.K. singer Robert Palmer got into the mix, the chemistry was even sweeter. Palmer, the Taylors and Thompson recorded a full album as The Power Station and electrified the charts; their version of "Get It On" reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 on August 3, 1985, a spot higher than the original. (The week it peaked, Duran Duran's own "A View to a Kill," which topped the charts just weeks before, was sliding down the survey at #11.)

Ministry (2008)

After wrapping up a trio of albums criticizing then-president George W. Bush and shortly before a planned breakup (which ended three years later), industrial iconoclast Al Jourgenson assembled a limited album of covers with "Ministry and Co-Conspirators," including members of Fear Factory, Static-X and others. Their thrashing arrangement on "Get It On" isn't terribly unlike the onslaught of Bolan's original, and the vocal performance by Josh Bradford (then-vocalist for Jourgenson's side project Revolting Cocks) really delivers.

U2 feat. Elton John (2020)

The most recent go at "Get It On" was featured on Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T. Rex, a tribute album assembled by legendary producer and Saturday Night Live music producer Hal Willner (who passed away after battling the coronavirus earlier this year). The double-disc set features takes on T. Rex classics by everyone from Kesha and Nick Cave to Todd Rundgren and David Johansen of the New York Dolls, but it's U2 who get the prize cover of Bolan's best-known hit. Their "Get It On" features a bright burst of horns throughout as well as piano from the one and only Elton John. (His appearance is a great callback to T. Rex history: he appeared alongside T. Rex in a 1971 appearance for BBC's Top of the Pops.)


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