Marc Bolan is one of rock music’s most tragic figure. Lost to the world far too young, the real sadness comes when you understand that just months before his untimely death Bolan had finally gotten himself back on track after years spent lost in a glittered kaleidoscope of ecstatic highs and tempestuous lows. Bolan had kicked his major vices and, after chatting with his friend David Bowie, was ready to get back to music.
For some years before his death, Bolan’s career had begun to wane. Brought up alongside Bowie as part of the influx of singer-songwriters that swelled the streets of London in the mid-to-late sixties. Born Mark Feld, the singer would soon convince the entire world that he was actually a glam rock god alongside his band T.Rex, only for the crown to slip once the glitter of glam rock began to fade. Soon enough, Bolan was drinking far too heavily and invariably finding his way to cocaine. However, before his death he rekindled his love affair with music, after all, it had been so incredibly fruitful for him.
Below, we’ve pulled together a list of Marc Bolan’s 10 greatest songs of all time, which, considering his comparatively short time with us, is a jam-packed list full of bonafide hits and pure and potent party starters. It’s fitting that an artist who had devoted himself so entirely to music should highlight exactly what makes music so important in the first place.
Like his counterpart David Bowie, Bolan was able to transcend genre tribalism and connected with people in a whole new way. Bolan was there to stand up for the freaks and geeks of the world. Bolan was there to tell you that being different wasn’t only okay, but was the best thing to be. He also said that, when all else fails, throwing yourself into a song and dancing your feet until they’re raw is the only way to go.
Below, find the perfect excuse for a boogie as we revisit Marc Bolan’s ten greatest songs of all time.
Marc Bolan’s 10 best songs:
10. ‘Mambo Sun’
Taken from T. Rex’s critically acclaimed 1971 album Electric Warrior, ‘Mambo Sun’ is perhaps one of the easiest ways to introduce the complexity of Bolan’s character and artistic prowess to a lamen.
Not one of Bolan’s biggest hits, they’ll follow shortly, but one of the songs that showed off exactly what he could do. The hypnotic tone of the palmed guitar alongside the incessant beat makes this song feel like you’ve been staring for too long at that burning ball of gas in the sky. Full of vivid imagery and an unstoppable groove, to see a song like this at number 10 shows just how potent Bolan was.
9. ‘I Love to Boogie’
There’s not much to say about a track like ‘I Love to Boogie’ that cannot be understood by the first bouncing moments of the song. If you didn’t get it from the title of the track, this one is from the aforementioned party-starting set and has a habit of turning any barren dancefloor into a sweat-fest.
Driven by the quirky bassline and underpinned by the rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities that permeated America in the fifties, ‘I Love to Boogie’ is pure unadulterated fun and should rank highly in anyone’s party playlist. Released just a year before Bolan’s death, the song hinted that there was life in the singer yet.
One of Bolan’s most well known hits has all the hallmarks of a classic T. Rex track. A bumping bassline which hints at the classic R&B of old, all punctuated with Bolan’s poetic lyrics and his undeniably charismatic delivery—half waif, half potent poet.
Another track taken from the band’s seminal album Electric Warrior the 1971 hit song may have reached number two on the charts but it isn’t without its controversy. The song was released by Fly Records without Bolan’s permission shortly after he had signed from Fly to the major label EMI. It takes nothing away from a barnstorming track though.
7. ‘Metal Guru’
A number one single is always worth revisiting and 1972’s ‘Metal Guru’ acts as T. Rex’s final moment on top of the pop music pile. The song has a sensational refrain which puts Bolan quite possibly in his prime. Lyrically the song is also from the top draw too.
“It is a festival of life song. I relate ‘Metal Guru’ to all Gods around. I believe in a God, but I have no religion,” said Bolan of the song upon its release. “With ‘Metal Guru’, it’s like someone special, it must be a Godhead. I thought how God would be, he’d be all alone without a telephone. I don’t answer the phone any more. I have codes where people ring me at certain times.”
6. ‘Hot Love’
From the last to the first, one of the band’s finest songs is, of course, there first number one single. Perhaps more important than the release of the track, which is as bolshy and bruising as the title may lead you to believe, was Bolan’s appearance on Top of the Pops because of it.
It allowed Bolan to bring his very special brand of glam rock to the mainstream and give a generation of kids a reason to sit in front of the television, awaiting their new glittered-up overlord.
5. ‘Children of the Revolution’
Apart from being a rallying and unifying moment in rock, a song which suggests that the best is yet to come with the current crop of youngsters providing the cultural revolution the world was in such desperate need for (whether they did it or not is a mother conversation), the song also has an all-star band.
As well as Bolan on vocals and T. Rex filling the spots on the song admirably, it also contained Elton John playing the second piano and none other than The Beatles’ own Ring Starr on the drums. So, sit back and take a listen to one of the most jam-packed pop songs you’ll ever hear.
4. ‘Ride a White Swan’
T. Rex’s first song released with their shortened name (having previously gone by Tyrannosaurus Rex) ‘Ride A White Swan’ has gone on to embody everything that made Bolan such a force to be reckoned with. Notorious for its hand-clapping beat and electric guitar the song slowly made its way up the charts.
The song was released on the 24th of October 1970 and didn’t reach number two until January 23rd, 197, a whole 11 weeks later. The classic track shows the traits of many Bolan songs notably his accomplished guitar skills and his ability to create catchy and memorable hooks alongside some poetic lyrical developments.
3. ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’
If there was one song that fans and non-fans of Marc Bolan could point to as his most famous song then it would be ‘Get It On’. Taken from the band’s album Electric Warrior, the song has become a mainstay tune for anyone looking to revisit the best of the 20th century. Re-titled for America, it was the first song to make waves across the pond for T. Rex.
Inspired by Chuck Berry’s track ‘Little Queenie’, the song has become a piece of classic rock iconography. It also ended one of Bolan’s strongest friendships as he and John Peel, the legendary DJ, refused to speak following Peel’s condemnation of the track shortly after he had played his white label advance copy. Considering the value of the song still rearing its head to this day, we can all agree that Peel was very wrong on this one.
2. ‘Cosmic Dancer’
There are few songs which distil the grandeur and gilded personality of Marc Bolan as well as ‘Cosmic Dancer’. From the song’s most poignant refrain “I was dancing when I was 12” which hints at a life waiting to be given the spotlight, to the track’s incandescent groove, it’s almost impossible to dislike this song. It is, quite simply, one of Bolan’s most beautiful and heartening compositions, perhaps the song where we see the most naked and vulnerable piece of Bolan’s soul.
A song that is compounded by the duality of a gentle lilt and the dazzling beat that permeates it at every turn. Bolan’s performance of the song often saw the star-crossed singer deliver an intense version of the track completed by an unstoppable staring match with his audience. Check out this show form 1972 for all the proof you need.
1. ’20th Century Boy’
If you ever needed a riff to wake up your soul, shake the sinews of your tired body into something a little freer, and fill your heart up with the good grace of groove-filled glam rock then all you need is T. Rex’s ’20th Century Boy’. Quite possibly one of the decade’s defining anthems, this song has a habit of making you feel good or, at the very least, supremely energised.
Written by Bolan and released as a standalone single, ’20th Century Boy’ will forever remain one of Bolan’s finest tracks. His command of the lyrics during his various performances of the song suggest this one was close to his heart. Though it may not have some of the more touching moments of previous tracks, what this one lacks in heart it makes up for in guts.
Guts is something Bolan had in spades. The singer was unafraid of the reaction he would receive for wearing make-up or women’s clothing. He was not threatened by the masculinity of the heavy rock movement that was swirling around him. Bolan was a fearless, electric warrior, and his songs are his undying battle cry. ’20th Century Boy’ is undoubtedly his call to charge.