#64, "20th Century Boy," T. Rex (1973)

Apart from Bowie of course, neither Pete nor I were really heavy into glam until 2016 or so. After Bowie died, we explored his British glam-era contemporaries beyond a passing familiarity with Sweet songs that showed up in 90s movies and "All the Young Dudes." It was a fun process. Sweet is great po fun at times and painful at others, Slade is unlistenable, I wanted to like Suzi Quatro than I ended up actually liking her (though not British, I want to put her in this bucket). I find Mott the Hoople's non-"All the Young Dudes" songs just ok. They're certainly listenable but they're more straight-up classic-rocky than I usually like. 


How is it that T Rex flies under the radar to the extent that they do? I think we were an extreme case of managing to avoid them for a long time but given how good and at least in their time how crazy popular they were, but I think a lot of people have delayed exposure to them. This is an injustice. They're so good! Before we resolved to Get Into T Rex, I *believe* I heard a Columbus local band perform a cover of "Bang a Gong" at a Treehouse show and I remember thinking "good lord, this is excellent" and maybe even saying as much to Pete who was like "I think this is a cover?" I was like "by who?" He was like "T Rex?" I was like "what?" 


Pete one time asked Facebook why nobody told him that T Rex was so good and Robby, our friend of many years whom we believe is the ultimate rock and roll authority responded plainly that he thought it was obvious. I felt a little weird about this until another friend Amanda wondered aloud to Facebook how she managed not to know how good T Rex is after all these years, so I felt better. She was even aware of Marc Bolan's weird-ass tv show before she knew how good his band was! I do think it's a syndrome. 


I learned that they were at one time the biggest band in the world. At the risk of belaboring my previous incredulity about T Rex's being oddly obscure in my universe, REALLY?! It almost seems like an elaborate and pointless ruse. But their four worthwhile albums, Electric Warrior, Slider, Tanx (questionable as to whether that one belongs here), and Dandy in the Underworld are all fantastic, start to finish. T Rex's place on this list almost went two other ways. They were almost a Whitney, where I love them, but was unable to pick just one song. T Rex is an experience, their songs are just building blocks. I also could have picked "Get it On" which to me is an extreme case of a band that has one single that is FAR better known than the others, but somehow the band isn't a one-hit wonder. I consciously did not select that one because zzzzzzzzzzz even though it is a banger of staggering proportions. 


Our first T Rex purchase was a collection. Although as I mentioned their four strongest albums are great, none of them include what I think is their best or second-best song, "20th Century Boy." This was the first track on the collection we got and the internet tells me that it was released on the Visconti Mix of the Tanx album I guess as a bonus track. Leave it to Tony. I'd also like to mention that if you stick with the big four, you also miss out on a couple of songs from their pre-glam, hippie-dippy days, "Deborah" which might be my third favorite T Rex song and "Ride a White Swan" which was also just released as a single. Goddamn, what a band.


"20th Century Boy" also has a distinction of being the only T Rex song (or T Rex inspired song) to be featured in the 1998 major motion picture Velvet Goldmine, a film I cannot recommend because it's fucking stupid. It's literally fanfiction set to film in which Bowie and Iggy Pop have an affair. The Velvet Goldmine universe also has the "old Bowie" faking his death before releasing Let's Dance under a new name. Bowie famously refused to let the film use any of his music and he was right to do that. So rude; equally stupid. Furthering my point about T Rex being shoved to the rear, I kept waiting for them or their music to pop up and it didn't until the very end and there was some house party or small club show and there they were, performing "20th Century Boy," the Marc Bolanness demonstrated with a top hat and a sparkly feather boa. 


I'm going to be 100% honest and offer that your enjoyment of T Rex is ALWAYS enhanced by Marc Bolan's INSANELY handsome face. My husband, who is as plausibly close to 100% heterosexual as any man I know, would probably make out with Marc Bolan if not for his being 73 years old and dead. It follows then, that the frequent sexy references in T Rex tunes are not just well placed but necessary for the total T Rex experience. They're sexy. The songs are sexy. It's an overall sex experience. That's their distinguishing characteristic and the sex therein somehow manages to be obtuse, slightly cheesy, and extremely appropriate all at once. I don't think this combination has been replicated before or since. Marc Bolan mugs, but he should. 


I've heard theories about T Rex having been overrated in their own time and severely underrated after their time and none of them make 100% sense to me, so I think it's probably a combination of factors. In their heyday they were a band that was extremely popular among middle school-aged girls. I can see it. I've seen the magazine covers. They were almost the New Kids of their day. Marc Bolan turned into a cocaine and cheeseburger-fueled raging asshole when he hit rock bottom. They put out several very lousy albums between Tanx and Dandy. Their comeback was a strong one, but I can imagine that many of their fans kind of grew up and moved on during their low stretch. Marc Bolan died young and suddenly in a car accident, which I wonder whether that has contributed to his muted legacy even though you'd think it would enhance it? Idk, it's a mystery for the ages.