Nov 06

T REX – “Hot Love”

FT + Popular172 comments • 24,021 views

#298, 20th March 1971

I long ago read a piece by Jonathan King, an attack on 70s pop as opposed to the 60s version. King’s argument was that the big stars who emerged in the early seventies – Bolan, Bowie, Elton – were all failed sixties wannabes who had only managed to become famous because the real stars had cleared the pitch. (“JK” himself was exempt from this, naturally, because of “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon”).

Obviously this argument is bogglingly unfair (you might as well say that the Beatles were failed skiffle stars) but for Bolan and Bowie he is touching on something important. Both men had been around the scene since the mid-60s, trying on and shaking off styles, hunting for the look and sound that would give them their breakthrough. Bowie turned that restlessness into a schtick in itself; Bolan’s winning style was so monolithically perfect he stuck with it until he died. (There’s a lot more pleasure and depth in the Bowie catalogue, but none of his singles – and few of anybody’s – are as magnificently formed as “Hot Love”, “Metal Guru”, “Children Of The Revolution”, et al.)

These prehistories of relative failure make pop more interesting. They seem less common now than they did when I was a kid, though. Take the Stone Roses, a band who won’t be bothering Popular but who have muscled into the canon on the strength of their debut album. At the time the NME let us know soon enough that the Roses had spent half a decade clattering round the Manchester Goth scene, casting about for a style, thinking very hard about how to craft a sound and image. I didn’t love them any less for it. When the word “manufactured” has such common currency in pop, it’s worth being reminded that almost every great act involves at least a degree of self-manufacture.

Self-manufacture was the front-and-centre principle of glam rock. Though Marc Bolan looked terrific, I’ll save comments on the imagery of glam for later: in any case, “Hot Love” is all about a band excited by sonic possibilities, possibilities opened up by the simple addition of drums and bass to T Rex’s nursery-rhyme pop-folk. The name for the possibilities is “groove”, and “Hot Love”‘s is wickedly playful – those staccato drum flourishes are like chorus-line high kicks, and though the song starts as a blues pastiche a la “Baby Jump”, this is a teasing, confident re-imagining of the blues, not a cack-handed sardonic plod through them. (The “Hot Love” groove is also highly enduring – I first fell in love with the song in Justus Kohnke’s version, by which time the rhythm had been brushed up, digitised, and called schaffel)

The band in fact get so excited that they never want to stop. We’ve had massive codas in pop before, of course, in fact we’ve had a big “na-na-na” singalong finale feature on this blog quite recently. So why does “Hot Love” work and “Hey Jude” not? It’s faster, which never hurts. And partly it’s that sense of possibility – “Hey Jude” is the biggest band in the world throwing its weight around, whereas “Hot Love” is a new-ish kid on the block, giddy with the excitement of having found his very own philosophers stone. Also the build-up to the coda is different – with “Hey Jude” the song has been getting bigger and heavier for several minutes anyway, so the coda is like a cumbersome supertanker gradually braking. “Hot Love” doesn’t have much build-up, so the coda feels much cheekier. Every time Bolan starts another round of “la la la”s he sounds like he’s getting away with something, rewriting more of the world in his newborn glitter image, and then inviting us to join in for as long as we dare make it last.




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  1. 1

    huzza for hot goblinism!

    when commenters have finished agreeing unreservedly with the score, i have 1xquestion: what are the roots of t rex’s sound? i have never been able to come up with anyone – in folk, in r&r, in pop — who really makes me feel OH! this is where bolan came from (but i also assume i’m being DEAF WITH UNDIMMED DEMENTED TEENAGE ADORATION here and probably anyone less in love can hear more clearly)

    (also there might be the fact i don’t believe that the word “influence” has meaning hah!)

  2. 2
    Martin Skidmore on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I’m with Mark all the way there, including my undimmed teenage adoration – Marc was the first man I ever fancied, and I still love him totally. There are several T. Rex singles that are even better, so you might have to give them 11 or 12…

  3. 3
    Tom on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Luv the fact that the B side to this was called WOODLAND ROCK!

  4. 4

    (i must write up my “teach mark s a lesson” about UNICORN)

  5. 5
    Tom on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Perhaps oddly I DON’T love Marc Bolan unreservedly – in fact I never really got into him until I started doing Popular and heard his various No.1s in context. I own one T Rex album and have never managed to get the whole way through it, but he was obviously fantastic at making singles.

  6. 6

    yes on the whole i think the tyrannosaurus rex duo worked better at LP length: w.t.rex the sdound and structure of songs became a bit more samey, so an LP is more like eating a entire box of quality street in one go

  7. 7
    Lex on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I love love love the J Kohncke version so much, it is one of the most glorious pop moments of this decade. I have not heard the original though.

  8. 8
    Doctor Casino on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I’ve been looking forward to this entry. We’ve had more than a few prophetic comments sprinkled throughout the past few years of this blog, to the effect that we were in the midst of a sort of void and that glam was on its way to bring in a fresh new current. I was interested not only for Tom’s take on this, but really for any take on this, because at least as far as my classic rock radio upbringing goes, glam had ZERO impact on my musical landscape. None of these singles are household names over here – although “Bang a Gong” shows up from time to time, and certainly we all know what became of “Rock n Roll Part Two.” So my glam information is largely self-taught, gappy, and weirdly skewed: I discovered Suzi Quatro from being curious about all her castoff records in the cheapy bin (and her fetching silver jumpsuits!) and ended up loving her, and I have a Glitter greatest hits now that I rather like.

    But as for the seminal, crucial, so-iconic-he’s-actually-an-icon-at-the-top-of-the-screen Mr. Bolan [but isn’t that the guy from the Strokes in the inset photo?], I know next to nothing about him, and little that I hear does much to convince me I should. “Hot Love” is fey and muffled – and not the charming muffled of that Troggs hit from a few years back. I was expecting something with some bite, something a little searing around the edges maybe, or at least something with a nice loud drum track. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Glitter and Quatro, but this strings-sweetened, gently intoned 50’s homage doesn’t strike my ears as a bold new direction for pop – if you’d told me it was just another one of the countless one-hit amalgamations we’ve been seeing for a few years, I would have bought it completely.

    It’s not that it’s godawful, and I don’t mean to just go around kicking at idols, but, with these virgin American ears I have a hard time hearing it as the harbinger of any particularly exciting movement. It’s not without hooks or charm, but I’ll take “48 Crash” or “Suffragette City” any day.

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    Erithian on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Great review Tom! I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since your comment on my comment on “Hey Jude”, and it was worth the wait. Not as good as “Ride a White Swan” IMHO but still a landmark.

    If you’re the kind of person who’d like to pinpoint a date as “when the 70s really started”, this is as good as any. Significantly perhaps, the record kept off number 1 by “Hot Love” was Macca’s “Another Day”. (Less significantly, Marc also spared us “Bridget the Midget” reaching the top.) In fact if I’m not mistaken April ’71 was the only instance of all four ex-Beatles having solo Top 20 singles in the same month (“Another Day”, “Power to the People”, the fading “My Sweet Lord” and the rising ”It Don’t Come Easy”).

    And all hail the fourth 10 out of 10! Would you still give full marks to Nancy Sinatra, Tom, or did she just catch you in a receptive mood?

  10. 10
    Rosie on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I think we’re now reaching the point at which I start to diverge from the consensus. It’s been hard for me to dispute the previous 10s – I raised an eyebrow at Boots but on reflection I could go along with the idea that it was something different.

    One problem for me was that the rise of T Rex the pop band (as opposed to Tyrannosauraus Rex the psychedelic album band) was the confirmation that chart music now belonged to another generation – I know Tom has said he doesn’t like the Doors and I adored the Doors then and I adore their back catalogue now.

    Hot Love is a good song, but for me not that good – a 7 from me I think. It’s better than what T Rex came out with afterwards, mind. Metal Guru makes my teeth ache just thinking about it!

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    Tom on 17 Nov 2006 #

    “Fey” was an adjective I struck out from my list of meant-to-be-complimentary ones in the review! (And if you think this is fey you should hear the Kohnke version). Yes, this isn’t the tuff end of glam – it points much more towards Morrissey, Adam Ant, Kate Bush, and other self-made British popsters. (It also reminds me of Kraftwerk’s wimpier moments)

    I dunno if I think of glam as an amazing new dawn, more as a coherent direction that the singles market seized on after a few rudderless years.

  12. 12
    Tom on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Erithian: Nancy is a 10 yes.

    The only 10 I think I was wrong about was “Jumping Jack Flash”, which should have been one. But I like all four of the records which did get 10s more than it, even so.

  13. 13
    jeff w on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Last sentence of comment 2 and all of comment 4 = OTM

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    Kat on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I had never heard ‘Hot Love’ until I purchased the Best Of T-Rex about five years ago. It was my favourite track that I hadn’t heard already, if you get what I mean. More understated than the later hits but still full of JOY. A very good review this, on basis of which I think I would give this an 8 (as opposed to my earlier hazarding of a 7).

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    Lena on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I would give this a 10 except I like “Get It On” (as it was called in the US) more…

    …and as for all the 70s people coming from the 60s, maybe it’s safe to say that this was the 60s (a particular strand of it, of course) continuing on into the 70s by another means? How far away is Nick Drake from Marc Bolan, essentially?

  16. 16
    Steve Mannion on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I didn’t expect a ’10′ but mainly cos I have no idea what makes this better than other T Rex #1s…and for them all to receive a 10 seems [CONTROVERSIAL MARK S EDIT] but no great shakes.

  17. 17

    mannion you big [UNCONTROVERSIAL MARK S EDIT]

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    Tom on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Maybe they will all get a 10!

    I think there’s a sense of “enjoying new ground” on this one which hardens into (hugely entertaining) formula quite quickly – but yeah each of them could credibly be someone’s absolute favourite. Funny Rosie should mention hating “Metal Guru” above – that was my fave for a long time, dunno how I’ll perceive it when the time comes tho.

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    Steve Mannion on 17 Nov 2006 #

    also the Marc Bolan in the picture for this entry and the one for the Popular graphic up top are so different i am starting to think that perhaps i mistakenly culled the above image from an edition of Stars In Their Eyes.

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    Doctor Casino on 17 Nov 2006 #

    “Another Day” was robbed!

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    Steve Mannion on 17 Nov 2006 #

    ‘Metal Guru’ is prob. my favourite but I would not be offended if it ended up with a 7…

    I think of T Rex lyrics as simplistic and repetetive but with perhaps the right does of playfulness (backed up with Bolan charisma) to make this work. I do really like the ‘I don’t mean to be bold but may I hold your hand’ line a LOT. So sweet! But ‘Well she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch’ and ‘Well she’s faster than most and she lives on the coast’ did have me thinking he wasn’t really putting much effort in! I’m sure there’s a good enough reason for this (e.g. ‘it is fun’)…

    But what’s the deal with the German bit (‘jetzt kommt sie doch’?) at the end?

  22. 22
    Tom on 17 Nov 2006 #

    These kind of OMG WHERE IS TEH RHYME lyrics are a great thing about T Rex – “I drive a Rolls Royce cos it’s good for my voice” being surely the pinnacle. It’s part of the cheekiness I think – how far can he strip things down, how much can he get away with and just coast on his obvious huge charisma?

    Also maybe if you’d spent 5 years writing hippy psych material that gets nowhere (and publishing a poetry book called THE WARLOCK OF LOVE!!) you’d fancy a change too! A lot of the big singles hit lyrics around this time are really blatantly basic – some of this is no doubt commercial but might there not be a ‘poetry of rock’ backlash going on too?

  23. 23

    i don’t think there IS a change! his “hippy poetry” is just as er gnomic!

    eg: Romany soup
    I gotta get some ooo
    Romany Soup

    = entire song!

  24. 24
    Tom on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I thought you had written “ergonomic” – WHAT A GREBT ADJECTIVE i thought.

    Have you read the Warlock Of Love? I have not, I have however seen an excerpt in a Q feature on rock star poetry (Q was resolutely disapproving as you would xpect.)

  25. 25
    Rosie on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I seem to remember being very scathing at the time of ‘She’s faster than most and she lives by the coast’ – I suppose that deserves a 10 for chutpah!

  26. 26

    radiergonomic (that’s a GONG JOKE PPL)

    no sadly, but i have a peculiar fan-biography-by-probable-stalker (not me) which quotes it

    my sister owns TWO slim vols of poitry by thin lizzy’s phil lynott

  27. 27
    Rosie on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Oh, and I think the one that really made me wince, more so than Metal Guru, was Telegram Sam!

  28. 28
    Tom on 17 Nov 2006 #

    ISTR The Rolls-Royce one – apols to T Rex fans for whom this is new info – was much cited by the Gallagher brothers as the kind of lyric they were after.

  29. 29

    *postpones attempt to encourage the lex/t rex encounter*

  30. 30
    Steve Mannion on 17 Nov 2006 #

    “I’m a labourer of love with my Persian gloves” = Beginning to understand the ’10′ evermore…

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