20th Century Boy

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"20th Century Boy"
T Rex 20th Century Boy Ariola Cover.jpg
Picture sleeve from Germany
Single by T. Rex
B-side"Free Angel"
Format7" single
Songwriter(s)Marc Bolan
Producer(s)Tony Visconti
T. Rex singles chronology
"Solid Gold Easy Action"
"20th Century Boy"
"The Groover"

"20th Century Boy" is a song by T. Rex, written by Marc Bolan. It was released as a single in 1973 and reached No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart.[4] The song was not featured on an original studio album but was included as a bonus track on a reissue of 1973 album Tanx.

It later returned to the UK Top 20 in 1991, peaking at No. 13,[5] fourteen years after Bolan's death, when it was used in a Chris Hartwill-directed commercial for Levi's starring Brad Pitt.


20th Century Boy[edit]

20th Century Boy was recorded on 3 December 1972 in Toshiba Recording Studios in Tokyo, Japan at a session that ran between 3:00PM and 1:30AM.[6][7]

Backing vocals, hand claps, acoustic guitar and saxophones were recorded in England when T. Rex returned to the country after their tour.[6]

The single version of the track fades out at three minutes thirty nine seconds, however the multi track master reveals that the song ended in nearly a full three minutes worth of jamming.[7][6] A rough mix of the full length version can be found on the Bump 'n' Grind compilation.[7]

20th Century Boy's lyrics are, according to Marc Bolan, based on quotes taken from notable celebrities such as Muhammad Ali. This can be seen through the inclusion of the line "sting like a bee", which is taken from one of Ali's 1969 speeches.[8]

Although the lyrical content of a lot of Marc Bolan's songs is ambiguous[citation needed], analysis of the multi track recordings of 20th Century Boy reveals the first line of the song to be "Friends say it's fine, friends say it's good/Everybody says it's just like Robin Hood," and not the often misquoted "...just like rock 'n' roll."[6]

"Free Angel"[edit]

"Free Angel" was recorded during the first session for the Tanx album, between 1 and 4 August 1972. The single was mixed for release at Air Studios on 16 December 1972.[7]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "20th Century Boy"
  2. "Free Angel"


Def Leppard version[edit]

"20th Century Boy"
Single by Def Leppard
from the album Yeah!
Songwriter(s)Marc Bolan
Producer(s)Def Leppard
Def Leppard singles chronology
"Rock On"
"20th Century Boy"
"Nine Lives"

English hard rock band Def Leppard covered the song on their 2006 album, Yeah!, which features cover versions of 1970s rock hits. It was released as the third and final single from the album, on 21 August 2006.[9] The band used the song extensively as promotion for including two TV appearances and a regular rotation in the setlist of their 2006 Yeah! Tour. Def Leppard performed "20th Century Boy" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on 23 May 2006[10] two days before performing the song with Queen's Brian May on VH1 Rock Honors broadcast on 31 May.

Other cover versions[edit]

Since its release it has been covered by artists such as Ty Segall, Adam Lambert, Bang Tango, Naked Raygun, Kiyoharu, Adam Ant, Drain STH, Chalk Circle,[11] The Replacements, Girlschool, Pink Cream 69, R.E.M., The Three Johns, Scott Weiland, Placebo,[12] and Siouxsie and the Banshees.[13] It has also been covered live by X Japan, playing the song at many of their earlier performances, one of which was used as the live B-side to their 1989 single "Kurenai". Count Zero, a Boston-based experimental rock band, has released a live performance of the song for download on their website. The song has been covered by Bang Tango in their live album Ain't No Jive...Live!.

Avant-garde metal guitarist Buckethead also covered it on a 1998 tribute, Great Jewish Music: Marc Bolan.[14] On 29 September 2007, Moby joined Richard Barone onstage for "20th Century Boy" at the T. Rex tribute in Central Park, NYC, with Tony Visconti on bass. British rockabilly band The Big Six recorded a version for the 1998 movie The Truman Show.

During their cameo in 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, Placebo performed this song as fictitious band The Flaming Creatures. It also appeared as a Double A-Side on their single "You Don't Care About Us" and in their album Covers. The band also performed it live at the 1999 BRIT Awards with David Bowie.

Powerman 5000 covered the song on their 2011 album Copies, Clones & Replicants.

The Featherz included a cover of the song on the 2018 CD release of their 2017 single Ordinary Girl.

A slightly different segment of the song, with the addition of a harp, was used in a Jameson Irish Whiskey television advertisement.

Further appearances[edit]

Japanese band Buck-Tick cites the chorus in their 2001 single "21st Cherry Boy".[15] Another Japanese band, Fake?, covered the song live in September 2013.[16] The Spike Network series Lip Sync Battle used the song as its opening theme song for the first three seasons, and it was featured during a shootout in the pilot episode of The Good Guys. The song was included in the soundtrack to the 2010 music game Rock Band 3. It plays a key role on the science fiction-mystery manga 20th Century Boys and was subsequently featured in the film adaptation.

Chart performance[edit]


  1. ^ Savage, Jon (1 February 2013). "The 20 best glam-rock songs of all time". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  2. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 822. ISBN 978-0-7432-0169-8. Bolan (...) started writing manic chant-along glam-rock hits such as "Metal Guru," "20th Century Boy," "Solid Gold Easy Action," and "Children of the Revolution."
  3. ^ Paytress, Mark (2009). Bolan: The Rise And Fall Of A 20th Century Superstar. Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-1-8460-9147-6.
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  5. ^ a b "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
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  9. ^ "Def Leppard – 20th Century Boy". Defleppardworld.com. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  10. ^ Def Leppard 20th Century Boy 2006 on YouTube
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  20. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (in Spanish) (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
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