T. Rex Tribute, Featuring U2 and Elton John and Helmed by Hal Willner, Coming in September

By Jem Aswad

“AngelHeaded Hipster,” a long-percolating tribute album to Marc Bolan and T. Rex — featuring U2, Elton John, Nick Cave, Joan Jett, Lucinda Williams and Father John Misty, and which is a companion to a forthcoming documentary film on the legendary rocker — is due on Sept. 4. The first track from the album, Cave’s take on Bolan’s 1971 song “Cosmic Dancer,” can be heard here.

The 26-track album, helmed by veteran producer Hal Willner — who passed away April 7 due to complications from coronavirus — features a tag team between U2 and Elton John on T. Rex’s biggest hit, “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” as well as contributions from Cave, Jett, Williams, Misty, Todd Rundgen, Perry Farrell, Soft Cell singer Marc Almond, Kesha and many others. The full track list appears below.

Both the album and documentary are from BMG, in collaboration with Who/Robert Plant manager Bill Curbishley’s Trinifold company.

A trailer for the documentary, which is apparently named after Bolan’s hit “Children of the Revolution,” features Willner and many of the above-listed artists speaking about it, although details on the project have been scarce (watch the trailer here). The project was first announced to Variety in in 2017 by BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch, and Willner mentioned it in a New York Times profile that same year.

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While Bolan had just one major hit in the U.S. with “Bang a Gong,” he and the band he led, T. Rex (earlier called Tyrannosaurus Rex), were monumental superstars in the U.K. and Europe during the early 1970s. From his early days as a “mod” fashion plate to his first albums as a hippie folksinger to his 1970 transformation into a pioneering glam rock icon, Bolan’s star power and hits like “Ride a White Swan,” “Bang a Gong,” “Telegram Sam,” “Jeepster,” 20th Century Boy” and “Children of the Revolution” made him one of the biggest stars of the era.

As his hits cooled off, Bolan had his own variety show, “Marc,” on the BBC, which he used to spotlight rising punk bands of the era, passing the baton to a generation he had helped to spawn. David Bowie was a longtime friend and rival — during his 1999 VH1 “Storytellers” segment, Bowie recalled receiving a snide comment about his shoes from Bolan during their first meeting in 1964, when both were enlisted to paint their then-manager’s office — and the two of them performed together on “Marc” just days before Bolan’s death in a car accident in October of 1977.

Over the course of his long an uncommonly diverse career, Willner worked with artists ranging from Lou Reed and Lucinda Williams to Laurie Anderson and Marianne Faithfull, but is perhaps most renowned for innovative, multi-artist tribute compilations such as this, which include sets dedicated to Kurt Weill, Charles Mingus and the classic Disney film canon.

Williams, who contributed a cover of “Life’s a Gas” to the album, recently told Variety‘s Chris Willman, “The last project that I worked on with Hal is a T. Rex tribute album that hasn’t been released yet — which is classic Hal, it still hasn’t come out because he kept inviting more and more artists to come in and do tracks, which is what he would always do with projects.”

Says Rachel Fox, Supervising Producer of “AngelHeaded Hipster” and longtime Willner collaborator, “Hal had a unique vision of Marc Bolan’s music, and working on ‘AngelHeaded Hipster’ brought him great joy.  Speaking for those closest to him, we will forever be heartbroken at the untimely loss of our beloved friend and irreplaceable creative engine.  Hal, who referred to ‘AngelHeaded Hipster’ as his ‘White Album’, was eager for everyone to hear these beautiful songs and to start thinking about Bolan and T. Rex again.  This album is a testament to Hal’s spirit.”

Willner — who named the album after a line from Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” —  worked on the collection for several years, with sessions spanning continents, from New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans, to London, Paris and Berlin. The album features special guests Donald Fagen, Mike Garson, Bill Frisell, Wayne Kramer, Van Dyke Parks and Marc Ribot, with arrangements by Thomas Bartlett, Steven Bernstein, Eli Brueggemann, J.G. Thirlwell and Steve Weisberg. 

Disc 1

  1. Children Of The Revolution – Kesha
  2. Cosmic Dancer – Nick Cave
  3. Jeepster – Joan Jett
  4. Scenescof – Devendra Banhart
  5. Life’s A Gas – Lucinda Williams
  6. Solid Gold, Easy Action – Peaches
  7. Dawn Storm – BØRNS
  8. Hippy Gumbo – Beth Orton
  9. I Love To Boogie – King Khan
  10. Beltane Walk – Gaby Moreno
  11. Bang A Gong (Get It On) – U2 feat. Elton John
  12. Diamond Meadows – John Cameron Mitchell
  13. Ballrooms Of Mars – Emily Haines

Disc: 2
1. Main Man – By Father John Misty
2. Rock On – By Perry Farrell
3. The Street and Babe Shadow – By Elysian Fields
4. The Leopards – By Gavin Friday
5. Metal Guru – By Nena
6. Teenage Dream – By Marc Almond
7. Organ Blues – By Helga Davis
8. Planet Queen – By Todd Rundgren
9. Great Horse – By Jesse Harris
10. Mambo Sun – By Sean Lennon & Charlotte Kemp Muhl
11. Pilgrim’s Tale – By Victoria Williams & Julian Lennon
12. Bang a Gong (Get It On) [Reprise] – By David Johansen
13. She Was Born to Be My Unicorn / Ride a White Swan – By Maria McKee & Gavin Friday