Today we celebrate a gentleman named Mark Feld, although you probably don’t know him by that name unless you’re a particularly big fan of T. Rex. Yes, that’s right: we’re talking about Marc Bolan, born on Sept. 30, 1947. To commemorate the occasion, you won’t be surprised to discover that we’ve put together a collection of some of T. Rex’s biggest hits, but what may surprise some Americans is that every T. Rex song in this list was a Top 10 hit in the UK...and four of them were actually chart-toppers!
Oh, yes, and you’ll soon see that we actually closed things out with a cover of a T. Rex tune, but we couldn’t resist (and we doubt you’ll complain).
“Debora” (1968): For the longest time, this track – originally released when the band was still calling themselves Tyrannosaurus Rex – flew almost completely below the radar of most Americans, but thanks to the soundtrack to Baby Driver, it’s been introduced to a whole new generation of music fans in America.
“Ride a White Swan” (1970): Some have called this the song that effectively started the glam rock movement, but even if you don’t buy into that premise, it’s true that it was T. Rex’s first big hit after shortening their name. It was also the start of the band’s new sound, one which eschewed the acoustic sound of their early years in favor of going electric. Bolan implied that he wrote the song while under the influence of LSD, but whether he did or didn’t, it’s still a tremendous piece of work that kicked off the classic era of T. Rex’s career.
“Hot Love” (1971): The band’s first No. 1 hit in the U.K., this song also found Bolan performing on the iconic British music series Top of the Pops in full glam attire. Of course, it wasn’t actually called “glam attire” at the time, but once Bolan wore it, that’s absolutely what it became.
“Bang a Gong (Get It On)” (1971): In England, this iconic track possessed no parentheses, but because of a band called Chase releasing a song called “Get It On” right around the same time, the decision was made to avoid any possibility of confusion between the two tracks. Bolan reportedly wrote the song because he wanted to record a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” so he just kinda sorta borrowed the guitar line. There’s also an ad-lib at the very end of the song that’s partially borrowed from Berry’s song: “Meanwhile, I’m still thinking.”
“Jeepster” (1971): What’s a Jeepster? We don’t really know. We do, however, know that the music of this song was borrowed from Howlin’ Wolf’s “You’ll Be Mine.” As he once said in an interview, “I don’t sing the old rock ‘n’ roll songs myself. I prefer to change the words and make new songs out of them. That’s all ‘Jeepster’ is.”
“Telegram Sam” (1972): Musicologists will note that this song’s riff is similar to the one in “Get It On,” except that it’s in A rather than E. Most everyone else, however, will just enjoy the glam-rock goodness. Bolan wrote the song about his manager, Tony Secunda, hence the shared initials, and it was respected well beyond the glam-rock community: in 1980, the song was covered by Bauhaus.
“Metal Guru” (1972): One of the most unabashedly poppy tunes in the T. Rex catalog, it’s still staggering that this song never even so much as cracked the pop charts in America despite arriving less than a year after the success of “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” There’s just no accounting for taste...although it’s clear that the Brits had gallons of good taste, since they made it the band’s fourth – and final - No. 1 hit.
“Children of the Revolution” (1972): Recorded at Ascot Sound Studios, the original version of this track was earmarked for the band’s movie, Born to Boogie, and featured Elton John on piano and Ringo Starr playing on a second drum kit. A 12+ minute version was also recorded during sessions for The Slider, with Flo & Eddie on backing vocals. The single version, however, was recorded during the sessions for the band’s Tanx album, and the song eventually made its way to No. 2 on the U.K. singles chart...and, no, of course it didn’t chart in the U.S.
“Solid Gold Easy Action” (1972): One of the lesser-known T. Rex singles (relatively speaking) because of its inclusion not on a proper album but, rather, on their best-of compilation, Great Hits, the song still continued the band’s chart reign, once again providing the band with a No. 2 single in the UK.
“20th Century Boy” (1973): By this point in their career, T. Rex was so successful that this single debuted at No. 3 on the U.K. singles chart, but the song never went any higher. (It did, however, stay there for three consecutive weeks before beginning its descent.) That said, it was one of those songs that found additional chart success several years later: thanks to its usage in a Levi’s commercial starring Brad Pitt, the song re-entered the U.K. Top 20, topping out at No. 13 this time around.
“The Groover” (1973): Sadly, this song’s greatest claim to fame is that it was the last T. Rex song to make it into the U.K. Top 10, hitting No. 4. A standalone single, it can be found these days as a bonus track on either Tanx or the deliciously-titled Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow.
BONUS TRACK - The Power Station, “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” (1985): To make this list an even dozen, we decided that it was worth wrapping things up with this cover of T. Rex’s only U.S. hit, but we must do so by adding a thoroughly depressing fact: by taking it to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, The Power Station successfully took this tune a notch higher on the chart than T. Rex ever took this or any other of their songs. Sigh...Marc Bolan, America hardly knew ye...