Monday, October 1, 2012 at 8:28 a.m.
Most Americans know Marc Bolan and his band T. Rex for their 1971 hit "(Bang a Gong) Get It On," but in the U.K., the group was a national phenomenon. Some accountants claimed at the time that these glam gods' records added up to some six percent of the country's domestic record sales. Their albums Electric Warrior and The Slider (no relation to a plate of tiny burgers, BTW) are national treasures.
Bolan, born Mark Feld, fell for rock 'n' roll after discovering Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and Chuck Berry. The singer inspired leagues of young cross-dressers with his top hat, feather boa, and a modish topcoat. He was the proverbial urchin, with his waif-like stature and preoccupation with wizards, stars, white swans, and all sorts of astrological and celestial elements.
Originally taking the stage name "Toby Tyler," he later opted for the moniker "Marc Bolan," supposedly a compressed combination of Bob and Dylan. Part David Bowie, part Incredible String Band, Bolan enjoyed a short stint in the otherwise obscure band John's Children before creating Tyrannosaurus Rex, a free-spirited hippie duo that featured the singer on acoustic guitar, with quirky, quivery vocals, and all manner of percussion courtesy of drummer Steve Took, who was later replaced by Mickey Finn. Shortening their title to T. Rex and adding a full rhythm section, thus electrifying their sound, brought T. Rex to us all.
The fascination with glam had begun to fade and punk was already taking its place by the time of Bolan's death in a car accident on September 16, 1977. But his influence still lingers on through some of the following artists.
* Singer Ty Segall released an EP called Ty Rex that contained six T. Rex songs for Record Store Day in 2011.
* In 1980, a New Jersey power pop band called the Bongos covered T Rex's "Mambo Sun" and made the Billboard charts in the process. Bongos main man Richard Barone subsequently recorded other Bolan compositions, and on his latest solo album, Glow, he not only covered the song "Girl" (from Electric Warrior) but collaborated with Bolan's one time producer Tony Visconti in doing the recording.
* The Replacements recorded Bolan's "20th Century Boy" as a B-side to what may well be their greatest song ever, 1984's "I Will Follow." Adam Ant did a live take on that tune and included it in his Antmusic: The Very Best of the Adam Ant collection. In 1986, X followed suit, included their live version of that same song as a B-side to their single "Kurenai." However, the song got its biggest plug ever when it was used in a Levi's Jeans commercial, and the subsequently climbed into the U.K. Top 20.
* Duran Duran offshoot Power Station gave Bolan one of his biggest hits on the U.S. charts with their1985 top ten single "Get It On." They later performed the song at Live Aid. Other bands that covered the song included Blondie and Santana.
* In 1986, the Violent Femmes included Bolan's "Children of the Revolution" on their album The Blind Leading the Blind. The song was later performed by Elton John and Pete Doherty of the Libertines at the Live 8 benefit. Not to be outdone, Bono and singer/songwriter Gavin Friday collaborated on that composition as their contribution to the Moulin Rouge! Soundtrack.
* Guns N' Roses cut the song "Buick MacKane" on their album The Spaghetti Incident... Unfortunately, the track was mislabeled as "Buick Makane."
* Martin Gore of Depeche Mode did a solo recording of "Life Is Strange" and used it as the B-side of his single "Stardust."
* My Chemical Romance reference Bolan in their song "Vampire Money," which contains the lyric "Glimmer Like Bolan in the morning sun."
No doubt Bolan would be pleased to know his gong was still getting banged by another generation.