While 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees T. Rex are best known as glam rock pioneers, it’s a descriptor that, while entirely accurate, fails to tell the full picture. Like 2019 inductees Roxy Music, Marc Bolan’s band was a pivotal act in that youth-fueled movement that took the U.K. by glitter-storm in the early ’70s — but just like Roxy, Rex’s roar and sizable footprint went well beyond glam.
A massive pop phenomenon in the U.K. whose popularity reached near-Beatlemania levels for a spell, T. Rex was written off by many critics in their home country and ignored by those on our shores, where the band notched just three Hot 100 entries but enjoyed cult status. But with everyone from Kate Bush to Oasis to Def Leppard to Ringo Starr to Joy Division extolling T. Rex’s virtues over the years, the band’s legend and influence continues to expand, even as some of their more acclaimed contemporaries have become real dinosaurs.
Gradually transforming from a psychedelic freak-folk outfit (then known as Tyrannosaurs Rex) to a trend-setting glam rock band specializing in durable pop songs drenched in a boogie swagger, T. Rex’s greatest asset was androgynous pin-up frontman Marc Bolan, whose mischievous hippie-vampire magnetism proved irresistible and unforgettable, influencing singers long after his 1977 death at age 29 in a car crash.
In honor of the group’s Rock Hall induction, here are 10 songs that are pure T. Rexstacy.
10. “Visions of Domino” (Dandy In the Underworld, 1977)
Melding the energetic urgency of disco strings/synths with the propulsive energy of the nascent punk scene, this non-single highlight from Dandy in the Underworld — T. Rex’s last album before Marc Bolan died — is a tantalizing taste of what Bolan’s distinctive, malleable vision might have achieved had he lived to see the ascent of new wave in the ’80s.
9. “Metal Guru” (The Slider, 1972)
Kicking off The Slider with a wicked vigor and sweet sneer, “Metal Guru” is a potent distillation of T. Rex’s warped, theatrical, relentlessly energetic vision of rock. The verse/chorus line is blurred almost beyond recognition, but who cares? In an era where rock was becoming drunk on its sophistication and self-importance, T. Rex was a corrective and a reminder that disposal pop sometimes has an interminable shelf life after all.
8. “Teenage Dream” (Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow, 1974)
With the Cosmic Choir (his backing vocalists, which included northern soul star Gloria Jones, mother of his son Rolan Bolan) handling the chorus, Marc Bolan’s verses paint vivid, slice-of-life snapshots in the lyrical style of Macca. There’s a wounded urgency to the guitar that pairs nicely with the high Hollywood drama of the strings and the majesty of the piano, courtesy War’s Lonnie Jordan.
7. “Telegram Sam” (The Slider, 1972)
A dispatch from DandyLand, “Telegram Sam” is textbook T. Rex: a sturdily constructed groover where ’50s dancefloor rock n’ roll gets a glam ’70s makeover, with the recording elevated to a higher plane thanks to Bolan’s inimitable haunted hedonist persona.
6. “Cosmic Dancer” (Electric Warrior, 1971)
A mesmerizing ballad on the band’s masterpiece Electric Warrior, “Cosmic Dancer” provides a transitional link between the psychedelic folk of Tyrannosaurus Rex and the seductive glam of T. Rex. But unlike the highlights of those early LPs, “Cosmic Dancer” pulls off that Beatles-esque trick of distilling a genuinely affecting, strange tune into the confines of an immaculate pop song. Plus, regardless of your tolerance for lyrical whimsy, it’s hard to shake a lyric as distinct as “I danced myself right out the womb/ Is it strange to dance so soon?”
5. “20th Century Boy” (single, 1973)
Masters of counterpoint, T. Rex pairs one of its nastiest, booziest guitar riffs with an otherworldly wail of androgynous vocals. “20th Century Boy” is glorious steamroll of a rocker that wraps with some Stooges-styled chaos; when Bolan purrs “I’m 20th century boy, I wanna be your toy,” it smacks of a more authentic bisexuality than anything Bowie ever put to tape.
4. “Children of the Revolution” (single, 1972)
Glam rock was often criticized for eschewing intricacies in favor of straightforward song structures, so it’s deliciously fitting that Bolan’s glam generational anthem barely bothers with verses; at two minutes and a half, “Children of the Revolution” gets to the howling falsetto of the chorus as quickly and often as possible on this surprisingly tough rocker. Leave it to T. Rex to give us a headbanger with strings.
3. “Jeepster” (Electric Warrior, 1971)
Opening with drummer Bill Legend’s shuffling boogie beat (he often deployed a sly trick where the beat sounds like it’s about to trip all over itself before easing into a confident but casual lock), “Jeepster” is a delirious cauldron of jump blues, spiky guitar riffs and libidinous hissing. Bolan is in full Hot Vampire mode here, tossing out pick-up lines straight out of Gothic literature ( “You’ve got the universe reclining in your hair”) while building up to an orgiastic, vaguely sinister conclusion where he reveals, with relish, “I’m just a vampire for your love… and I’m gonna suck ya!”
2. “The Slider” (The Slider, 1972)
The title track to T. Rex’s second-best album is a masterful lesson in musical restraint, with the drum beat stumbling in like a grinning stoner while the electric guitar growls like a drugged wild animal. But it’s Bolan’s childlike yet bacchanalian delivery of his wide-eyed, obtuse lyrics that makes “The Slider” slip right under your skin. And those warped, woozy strings that swoop in for the chorus? Just the icing on a cake that was probably swiped from the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
1. “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” (Electric Warrior, 1971)
Built on a Bo Diddley-esque shuffle, powered by a Chuck Berry-inspired riff, and glistening with a lithe, beguiling sexuality that is all Marc Bolan, “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” is one of those immediately arresting pop hits that never wears out its welcome. The band’s sole top 10 hit in the U.S. (and one of only four Hot 100 entries, alongside “Hot Love,” “Telegram Sam” and “Ride a White Swan”), “Gong” has reverberated throughout the decades, emerging as arguably the definitive glam rock single and maintaining a sway over the dancefloor unequaled by few other early ’70s rock classics.