6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

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Rob
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6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby Rob » Sun Sep 03, 2017 10:01 pm

This topic is part of the weekly 6000 songs, 6000 opinions. In this, every week another song from the Acclaimed Music song top 6000 is selected for discussion. The song is chosen completely at random, through random.org, making the selections hopefully very varied. The only other rule in this is that after an artist has had a turn, he can’t appear for another ten weeks. The idea for this topic came to me because I wanted to think of a way to engage more actively with the very large top 6000 songs that Henrik has compiled for us, while still keeping it accessible and free of any game elements. Yes, that’s right, no game elements. You are free to rate the song each week, but I’ll do nothing with this rating. I want it to be about people’s personal reviews and hopefully discussions. So in reverse to other topics on this site I say: “Please comment on this song, rating is optional”.
Earlier entries of this series can be found here: http://www.acclaimedmusic.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=3065&p=45337&hilit=archive#p45337

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“You're an untamed youth that's the truth/ With your cloak full of eagles”

Image

89. T. Rex – Get It On

The facts:
Year: 1971.
Genre: Glam rock.
Country: United Kingdom.
Album: Electric Warrior.
Acclaimed Music ranking: #130.
Song ranking on Acclaimed Music in the artist’s discography: 1st.
Ranks higher than Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley, but lower than Mystery Train by Elvis Presley.
Place in the Acclaimed Music Song Poll 2015: #782.

The people:
Written by Marc Bolan.
Produced by Tony Visconti.
Lead vocals by Marc Bolan.
Backing vocals by Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan.
Guitar by Marc Bolan.
Bass by Steve Currie.
Drums by Bill Legend.
Piano by Rick Wakeman.
Saxophone by Ian McDonald

The opinion:
You probably remember this song because of its guitar riff. You might also have heard the back story on how this song got its piano glissando. You might also know that Ian McDonald of the band King Crimson makes a guest appearance on sax here. That’s all fine and nice and stuff, but what I care about is the gong. In the chorus Bolan ecstatically encourages people to bang a gong. He doesn’t need to say it twice (though he does, 13 times in fact), I’m all in for it!

Question: how many people know where the you can hear a gong in Get It On? You can easily miss it, because for unknown reasons the instrument is pushed far back in the sound mix, barely audible. For years I actually thought this song didn’t have a gong in it. It is there, though, softly being sounded right after some of the piano glissandos. It is skipped there several times too though.

Why?

When this song was originally released in the UK it was called Get It On. When it was subsequently brought to the US they had to change the name, because another song with the title Get It On was just released by funk band Chase. No, I never heard of that song either. It’s quite good though, but that’s not what matters here. What does matter is that T. Rex’ biggest hit was released as Bang a Gong in the US and is perhaps more famous under that name. Getting it on isn’t unusual in music, but banging a gong is.

So why is the gong hardly there in the actual song?

Wait, you say Bolan himself has said that banging a gong is actually having sex? And before that it was an expression for snorting cocaine? And preceding that it was used as a way of requesting more opium at a den? I didn’t know all this before and neither should you. There are more expressions for sex than we can count, you shouldn’t do cocaine and nobody still visits opium dens. On the other hand we only have two ways of expressing the process of making sound with a gong: sounding the gong or banging the gong. So please, let that be its main meaning.

This of course tells us a lot about the marginalized role the gong plays in music history. People like to make fun of the triangle as a silly, simple instrument, but at least it is known for something. The gong is hardly anywhere. I had a hard time coming up with songs that use the gong. There is the James Bond Theme, Big in Japan by Alphaville and Nights in White Satin by Moody Blues. The latter only uses it at the end, when the whole thing is over. In fact, I found out the gong is usually used at the beginning or the end. Or when the theme is oriental (or Egyptian as The Bangles’ Walk Like an Egyptian and Jonathan Richmond’s Egyptian Reggea attest; the link between Egypt and the gong is somewhat lost on me). The album Led Zeppelin II turned out to have several songs with a gong on them, so I hereby request that album being moved up by 50 places on the Acclaimed Music Album list, out of respect.

But seriously, online attempts at finding gong music are disappointing. Get It On is usually one of the first song people mention, but it is really pathetic as a gong song. So here is another question: who played the gong on Get It On? Hint: look above at the personnel list.

You couldn’t find it on there? Indeed, although Electric Warrior has extended credits, nobody bothered to actually credit the gong player. Rick Wakeman, on the other hand, gets a nod for his small piano part. Wakeman was out of money at the time and took every job he could. When he was asked by producer Tony Visconti to play on Get It On he himself was the first to remark that Get It On didn’t need a piano. Bolan and Visconti gave him the job anyway, more as a friendly gesture than anything else. They paid him 9 pounds for it. Now, that glissando is a fun addition to the song, but let’s face it: even Wakeman would probably admit that it was probably the easiest 9 bucks he ever earned.

I’m far along on this review now and have spoken a lot about a barely audible gong and the simplest piano part in rock history. I barely mentioned the guitar riff, the vocals, Marc Bolan or the lyrics, all things that made the song famous. Priorities have to be made.

All joking and moping about gongs aside, this a wonderful rock song, deserving of its classic status. At the same time I noticed that there is precious little written about it, despite being a mayor hit that also announced the arrival of glam rock. People don’t seem to have a lot to say about Get It On and I think that is not due to any weakness it has, but because of its strength: this is really straight-forward rock. It’s success is in its ease. The seductive vocals by Bolan that turn into high-pitched wails are instant hit material. The guitar riff is as iconic as it gets. Bolan actually took it from Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie (which he acknowledges at the end through the line “But meanwhile, I’m still thinking”), but still made it his own.

There are also bizarre lyrics. Most famous is perhaps “You got the teeth of the hydra upon you”. You don’t say. “You got a cloak full of eagles”. Of course she does. “You got the blues in your shoes and your stockings”. Well, I admit that that one is really cool. This is all very silly, but also memorable, and Bolan doesn’t seem to take any of it seriously. He just has fun with the lyrics and channels it into pure energy. In the end it is all supposed to be about his “dirty, sweet” girlfriend, but let’s be real: this song is all about rock. It should have been about the gong, but you can’t have everything.
9/10

Other versions:
This one got plenty of covers. Interestingly, almost all of them are named Bang a Gong or at least Bang a Gong (Get It On). Frankie Goes to Hollywood is the only one I could find that used the original UK title. Good on them, even if their take isn’t particularly good on itself.

There was one band besides T. Rex that had a hit with it: The Power Station, back in 1985. Their version is one of the most idiosyncratic covers here. The whole sound is made to fit the dance trends of its day. I guess it worked from a commercial viewpoint, but there might be a reason why I, having being born after the fact, have never heard it: it is too much of its time. It is also awful.

Witch Queen had a hit on the dance charts with their track Bang a Gong, but it differs so much of the T. Rex song that it barely qualifies as a cover. I mean, even the lyrics are different. Another oddity is the hip-hop version by London Bus Stop, who turned it into a minor chart success in the UK. I actually like that one, it is quite infectious and they play around with the sounds of T. Rex’ instruments rather well.

Blondie used to play this song live a lot in the seventies. On a 2001-reissue of their classic Parallel Line one of the live recordings was officially released. It is another disappointment. In fact, I think it is pretty terrible. Other famous artists fare better. Santana just does his thing, but the song suits him. Ministry make it ferocious. Manfred Mann makes it wacky, as usual, but it works (even if Get It On is already a wacky song of itself). Duran Duran do it better than I expected.

What can I say about the rest of the many covers? Most of them recognize that it is an awesome guitar riff and that this is exactly what you should build your cover around. Mostly with just louder guitars. Attempts to turn this into a ballad, like the country-take by Earl Thomas, fail miserably. Few songs suffer more from being performed seriously or – perish the thought – sensitively. This is a party song through and through.

Precious few of the covers include a gong. Just saying.

The playlist:
This playlist has a lot of bonus songs including a gong. Somebody has to stick up for the little instrument.

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Henrik
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Re: 6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby Henrik » Mon Sep 04, 2017 3:24 pm

Ha ha, love this review! It's funny, but still informative. Thanks Rob!
Everyone you meet fights a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

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Re: 6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby Bruno » Mon Sep 04, 2017 3:26 pm

Nice, Rob!
Great song, btw.

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Re: 6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby Nassim » Mon Sep 04, 2017 4:56 pm

Henrik wrote:Ha ha, love this review! It's funny, but still informative. Thanks Rob!


Indeed, every week is a great read but you outdid yourself this time !

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Re: 6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby StevieFan13 » Mon Sep 04, 2017 5:04 pm

Don't forget Oasis' Cigarettes and Alcohol, which basically steals this song's riff wholesale.
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Re: 6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby Rob » Tue Sep 05, 2017 8:01 pm

Thanks for the compliments guys! I was actually afraid this would all be a little too jokey, but it's nice to see it works.

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Re: 6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby Honorio » Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:16 am

Hi Rob, just read (and enjoyed a lot) your funny review about "Bang a Gong" just to remember that I recorded a song long ago that features a gong. More exactly it was a fake gong, actually a cymbal played by our drummer but reproduced slowing the tape (who knows, maybe some of the gongs on the playlist are slowed cymbals too) . And, following the usual trend that you described, it's played both at the beginning and the end of the song. My band during the early 80s was called Sade (that was before Sade Adu) and we used to play a humorous brand of punk-funk. On the early 80s there were a lot of songs and video-clips set in exotic environments (the new romantics, you know) so we did a mocking song with the band going to different parts of world where we inevitably ended being eaten by cannibals. The song is called "…Y nos comerán" ("…We Shall Be Eaten"). I know, it's impossible to get sillier. To give a faux-Chinese sound we used at the beginning this fake gong and a xylophone (played by myself) with the simplest pentatonic melody we could think of. Nothing to be proud, of course, but the song was a moderate underground hit in Spain in 1983, almost 35 years ago (oh my…). But, wtf, I can say that I played with band that once banged a (fake) gong!

I endorse a link with song (I insist, nothing to be proud of) and a picture of my band then (I'm the first on the left).


Image

And, following the humorous tone of the thread, I think I found a reason why the gong is not that popular. It' because it's dangerous. King Crimson played during a brief period of time with Jamie Muir, a peculiar percussionist that used "a drum kit, bicycle parts, toys, a bullroarer, hitting a gong with chains, and a joke laughing bag" (Wikipedia). Muir left the group after only one record (the magnificent "Larks Tongues in Aspic") "quitting the music industry altogether. Though this was initially thought to have been motivated by an onstage injury caused by a gong landing on his foot, it was later revealed that Muir had gone through a personal spiritual crisis, and had withdrawn to become a monk." (Wikipedia). So be careful next time you bang a gong, you may end in reclusion for the rest of your life…

:mrgreen:

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Re: 6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby jamieW » Mon Sep 18, 2017 11:52 pm

Honorio wrote:Hi Rob, just read (and enjoyed a lot) your funny review about "Bang a Gong" just to remember that I recorded a song long ago that features a gong. More exactly it was a fake gong, actually a cymbal played by our drummer but reproduced slowing the tape (who knows, maybe some of the gongs on the playlist are slowed cymbals too) . And, following the usual trend that you described, it's played both at the beginning and the end of the song. My band during the early 80s was called Sade (that was before Sade Adu) and we used to play a humorous brand of punk-funk. On the early 80s there were a lot of songs and video-clips set in exotic environments (the new romantics, you know) so we did a mocking song with the band going to different parts of world where we inevitably ended being eaten by cannibals. The song is called "…Y nos comerán" ("…We Shall Be Eaten"). I know, it's impossible to get sillier. To give a faux-Chinese sound we used at the beginning this fake gong and a xylophone (played by myself) with the simplest pentatonic melody we could think of. Nothing to be proud, of course, but the song was a moderate underground hit in Spain in 1983, almost 35 years ago (oh my…). But, wtf, I can say that I played with band that once banged a (fake) gong!

I endorse a link with song (I insist, nothing to be proud of) and a picture of my band then (I'm the first on the left).


Image

And, following the humorous tone of the thread, I think I found a reason why the gong is not that popular. It' because it's dangerous. King Crimson played during a brief period of time with Jamie Muir, a peculiar percussionist that used "a drum kit, bicycle parts, toys, a bullroarer, hitting a gong with chains, and a joke laughing bag" (Wikipedia). Muir left the group after only one record (the magnificent "Larks Tongues in Aspic") "quitting the music industry altogether. Though this was initially thought to have been motivated by an onstage injury caused by a gong landing on his foot, it was later revealed that Muir had gone through a personal spiritual crisis, and had withdrawn to become a monk." (Wikipedia). So be careful next time you bang a gong, you may end in reclusion for the rest of your life…

:mrgreen:


I quite liked this song, Honorio! I knew you were a musician, but I didn't know you ever played this type of '80's music that I've always enjoyed. (The new wave guitar riff is particularly fun.) I'll have to listen to more from Sade.

I'd also like to echo what others have said, Rob. I look forward to your reviews each week and appreciate the time you put into them. Keep up the great work!

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Re: 6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby Rob » Tue Sep 19, 2017 8:45 pm

Honorio wrote:I endorse a link with song (I insist, nothing to be proud of) and a picture of my band then (I'm the first on the left).


Image


Thanks for your comment and for this song, Honorio. I did in fact enjoy the song and added it to the playlist :music-guitarred:

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Re: 6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby Honorio » Wed Sep 20, 2017 6:25 pm

Thank you, jamieW! Thank you, Rob!

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Re: 6000 Songs: T. Rex - Get It On

Postby veganvalentine » Wed Sep 27, 2017 7:54 am

Hilarious and informative write-up, Rob! Bang a Gong is a great song and the album it's from, Electric Warrior, is absolutely incredible and sounds amazingly fresh today.

As for bands that like gongs, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd used to bash one during performances in the early 70s, as see in the film Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii.


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