1970s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #378: 20th Century Boy (1973)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


T. Rex – 20th Century Boy (1973)

We’re staying in the UK today, dear reader, so no flying for us. Rejoice. From Scotland yesterday, we head down to England and onto London to check back in with T.Rex. They last appeared in 1971 at the start of their peak period of success. We join them again in 1973 with the successful run of hits in the charts about to come to an end and from then on it would be a steady decline. 1001 Songs has opted for the band’s last big hit in the form of 20th Century Boy.

Written by Marc Bolan, 20th Century Boy sees glam rock’s electric warrior opening proceedings with some powerful and exemplary guitar riffs. The lyrics of the song see Bolan sing about a guy who wants to be with a girl, to be her “boy” and “toy” to do with as she pleases. Raised eyebrows moment here for me. Let’s leave that to the imagination. There are debates online about some of the lyrics here and whether Bolan uses the phrase “Robin Hood” or “rock and roll”. He actually uses both but at different times. The song is clearly of a sexual nature with its high energy riffs complementing the desire of the guy in the song to be the “20th century boy” of the title. Whatever floats your boat, mate. 

20th Century Boy would hit no.3 in the UK and it remains one of the pinnacles of T. Rex’s career. I would go so far as to say this might be T. Rex’s best song. The guitar work here from Bolan, so full of power, really brings the song to life and the rest of the band ably support their frontman throughout. The song marked a change of sorts in the group’s approach but despite its success the glory days were soon to pass. T. Rex continued to release new material for the remainder of the 1970s, though formation changes soon occurred. The group disbanded in 1979 following Marc Bolan’s tragic death in a car crash at the age of 29.


Favourite songs so far:

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)

The Doors – The End (1967)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

The Kinks – Days (1968)

Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)

David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)

Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain (1972)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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