Nov 06

T REX – “Hot Love”

FT + Popular172 comments • 23,247 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. 31
    Tom on 17 Nov 2006 #

    The clinching factor that bumped this from 9 to 10 was actually the incredibly un-macho “Ow! Ow! Ooooooooh!” before the (deliciously perfunctory) guitar solo.

  2. 32
    Lena on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Yeah whoo-yeah okay for the song’s lyrics, but I like his “Take me!…” at the end of “Get It On” even more…

  3. 33
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Yes, on reflection it has to be a 10 really (as does “Get It On”) since it’s the real beginning of my time; seven years old and already he was doing something to me – I couldn’t yet pinpoint it but I knew it was (a) pleasing, (b) new and (c) OURS (in the way that my generation was too young to claim the Beatles first hand).

    Think of how Grinderswitch’s “Jammin’ The Blues” a.k.a. Peel theme, from the same period and with an identical bass riff and rhythm, is many things but not especially sexy (but then TS McPhee’s closer-than-the-ear-can-hear picking on “Groundhog Blues” isn’t that far away from Bolan’s guitar style). Bolan made the blues pop in both senses transitive and non-transitive.

    And yes, at the time I think I loved him…

    (re. Nick Drake: there but for the grace of Elton/Cat Stevens/Chris De Burgh?)

  4. 34
    Tom on 17 Nov 2006 #

    (If “Get It On” doesn’t get a 10 then please address all complaints to Mr J.Taylor, The Power Station, Popland rather than me.)

  5. 35

    i am willing to bet i prefer warlock of love to anything by nick drake ever!

  6. 36
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Cue parallel universe where “Northern Sky” rather than “Your Song” gets to number one in America.

    Nick D goes glam – could it have happened?

  7. 37
    Erithian on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Re your intro, Tom, it occurs to me that Bolan was also a “failed” skiffle musician! – from his time in a band called Susie and the Hula Hoops when he was just a nipper (joined the band when he was 9 according to one website!); “Susie” reverted to her real name, Helen Shapiro, and became one of the biggest pre-Beat Boom UK stars. Disturbingly, when I googled their names together to research a quiz question a while back, one of the first hits (since removed) was a neo-Nazi site listing Jewish celebrities.

  8. 38
    Erithian on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Re Martin’s “There are several T. Rex singles that are even better, so you might have to give them 11 or 12 ” –

    now if only Spinal Tap had had a number one single…

  9. 39
    intothefireuk on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I would near enough regard this pretty much as ground zero for the 70s – the inspiration for many new bands/acts and just as many, if not more already on the circuit. Bolan was a breath of fresh air (and a gigantuan ego) for a depressed singles market in need of a bright shiny star. He almost single handedly resurrected singles sales and saved the world (well Britain at least) from an overdose of prog. Without Bolan there would be no glam and without glam – no punk etc etc. His success directly influenced Bowie – and for a couple of years they vied for who was top dog (similar to the 60s Beatles/Beach Boys trumping contest)* without Bowie achieving number one (unless you count the NME chart where Jean Genie made it) but triumphing eventually with album sales. There would be better singles (Telegram Sam, Metal Guru) and like others I’m intrigued to see what mark they achieve. For Iconic achievement it warrants a 10 – pure listening pleasure I’d have to go with one of the other singles with this as an 8 or 9.

    * How odd they are all B’s.

  10. 40
    jeff w on 17 Nov 2006 #

    To be fair, prog (save for Deep Purple and Argent) wanted no truck with the singles chart either.

  11. 41
    Chris Brown on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Sorry to spoil the party, but I always thought this was one of the weaker T.Rex chart-toppers; admittedly though, I didn’t hear them in order so I can appreciate that this must have made more sense when the formula was fresh.

  12. 42
    blount on 17 Nov 2006 #

    i would’ve gone ‘8’ maaaybe ‘9’ but only cuz there’s other t. rex i love so so much more. commenting on something addis casino said above i’ll say that glam (from what i can tell) definitely had a impact stateside (not even including ye old ‘yay verily w/out it’s influence no motley crue, poison etc.’). it seems to have been the first ‘next big thing’ and specifically ‘next big brit thing’ that didn’t quite take – bowie and roxy music not scoring their big huge pop hits until they dropped rock and went more r&b/disco, t. rex being effectively a one-hit wonder over here (there’s a great lester bangs piece on dick clark where clark rants about how bolan ‘blew it’, a nice dark side to an american icon whose darkness elsewhere seems to be relegated to being barabbas to freed’s christ and unwittingly planting the seed for punk’d ergo unwittingly planting the seed for a number of ashton kutcher flix), even now w/ t. rex established as ‘yes, true rock legend’ in american rock canon w/ electric warrior regularly appearing in top whatever of all time lists his q factor is limited to ‘bang a gong’ and ’20th century boy’ (prefer both of those to ‘hot love’ btw, esp ’20th century boy’). at the same time glam had an impact at the time in america beyond relatively flopping on the charts – i remember in the navy hanging out w/ these old boomer squids and getting to see certain rock things in a context of its audience (beefheart described to me as a ‘freakier dr. hook’ for instance lol) and one of the wives, who was maybe five years younger than the rest of the pack telling me about how huge a thing glam was, that it seemed a total break from hendrix/cream/doors 60s hangover, that it was crucially something ‘new’ and ‘ours’. for the little sisters and bros coming into their own at this point there was obv a feeling that they’d ‘missed it’ or at least definitely a feeling of being told that they’d ‘missed it’ (cf jonathan king, phillip seymour hoffman as bangs, ‘all the young dudes’), post-hendrix/joplin/morrison deaths, post-beatles breakup, post-woodstock/altamont, post-‘the dream is over’. in america among the rock crowd there definitely seems to have been a drawing back, the wave having crested, a specific ratio of success and failure on the progressive front making many young people turn inward and take it easy (enter ‘mellow’ and the me decade), with the aesthetics already set in motion w/ john wesley harding/big pink/beggars banquet/the white album/ccr. in the uk (for reasons i’m hoping marcello or mark can elucidate if they don’t decide i’m completely full of shit here) the 68-69 back to basics approach got tossed aside as just another fashion and suddenly we’re back in 66 swinging london, only this time gayer, louder, more theatrical and more glamourous. i know which i prefer.

  13. 43
    Marcello Carlin on 18 Nov 2006 #

    To be fair, prog (save for Deep Purple and Argent) wanted no truck with the singles chart either.

    Not entirely the case; acts like the Moody Blues, Family, Atomic Rooster and Curved Air had hit singles throughout this period.

  14. 44
    intothefireuk on 18 Nov 2006 #

    What I was actually aiming at there was to emphasise that without Glam rekindling interest in singles, album artists such as Led Zep, Pink Floyd & Yes would have become the prevailing model for all upcoming bands.

  15. 45

    blount sez: “in the uk (for reasons i’m hoping marcello or mark can elucidate if they don’t decide i’m completely full of shit here) the 68-69 back to basics approach got tossed aside as just another fashion”

    there was a specific UK folk-rock movement* of some presence — carmody is (of course) an expert here — but (as we’ve talked a bit about before?) the key element missing from uk rock is that here you can’t relax back into COUNTRY as a BASIC (which in the UK is as exotic as, I dunno, reggae) (in fact probably MORE so, in terms of family ties)

    one underlying factor is the different media set-up of course: TV and radio were just SO DIFFERENTLY structured to US ditto that the post-67 energies flowed (and were thence amplified) very very differently — no real sustained equiv of album-centric FM-radio, and a tendency to prefer to continue to consider the single the primary unit of significance (counter the “BACK TO BASICS” movement?), a tendency which the leisure industry and the er “rock-critical avant-garde” actually unwittingly agreed about…

    (an awful lot more to dig up and mull over here, tho: what’s interesting abt glam for me is that it had almost NO constituency among the schoolkids exactly my age where i was — bcz there was a local younger-brother fogeyish micro-reaction against its utter dominion over the older-brother two-years-above set — this was an all boys school, and — to my “set” — prog was less “girly” than glam… the 60s seemed impossibly distant, dinosaurs in the sense of being fabulous dragons unreachably long ago, not in the present, lamer sense of lumberingly all around and hopefully soon-extinct)
    *Fairport Convention and offshoots; Steeleye Span, Incredible String Band, Pentangle

  16. 46

    “unreachably long ago” = i’m talking abt 74-75 now, when glam had already passed its peak

  17. 47

    a book i’d love to see written — maybe i should write it! :|:|:| — is essentially a map* of the various london club scenes (blues, R&B, jazz, soul, reggae, other) starting say 1958, and how these cooked along, battled one another, flourished, stagnated — and at various different times threw up their own contributions to the er “global conversation”; so that eg bolan and bowie had been around the block in the 60s, but their time only came in the 70s (it’s a non-pejorative reading of king’s snark i guess): this is true of the psych-prog wave of 66-68, in that all sorts of intense stuff was going on the performance and haha “arts-lab” level (soft machine at the ica; amm supporting floyd at the roundhouse and ufo)

    *you could almost do it geographically i think — how actual clubs in actual streets cooked along, and then such and such broke up out into the stratosphere, leaving its roots behind (which would then bubble down again and reactively change — good example is the relationship of The Who to the Mod scene, esp.given that the Who didn’t break as big as soon as their hit ratio implied they should)

  18. 48
    Erithian on 20 Nov 2006 #

    Lloyd Bradley’s “Bass Culture”, which Tom refers to in the “Double Barrel” thread, is very good on how Jamaican music moved uptown from the households of the first immigrant generation into central London clubs by the early 60s, and how those clubs began to attract white fans and musicians, thus contributing to the general cross-pollination of cultures.

  19. 49
    Marcello Carlin on 20 Nov 2006 #

    er, mark, i’ve been writing that book for the last three years…

  20. 50
    Marcello Carlin on 20 Nov 2006 #

    (not the CoM book but the Song From Somewhere thing to which I refer occasionally in the blog)

  21. 51


    DUBDOBDEE: apologies for not processing that project thru to the MEMORY bit of my head, marcello!
    the MEMORY bit of DUBDOBDEE’S head: DISK FULL d00d!

  22. 52
    Ward Fowler on 20 Nov 2006 #

    the singer that Bolan sounds closest to is Karen Dalton – I’ve no idea if Bolan ever heard her, but his folkie past makes me think he might well have done

  23. 53
    wwolfe on 20 Nov 2006 #

    I’ve only heard “Bang a Gong” and short excerpts from “20th Century Boy.” I like the band’s sound, even though it doesn’t knock my socks off. As far as influences, it seems mostly Chuck Berry minus Berry’s cold, sub-surface rage at being black in a very white America.

    If glam had hit big in America at the time, I might regard it with much more fondness. Since it didn’t, I like a handful of songs without being swept up emotionally in any of the ones I know. And maybe that’s because, compared to a musical movement that was huge in America at exactly the same time, but doesn’t seem to have been as big in England – that being the remarkable wave of socially conscious black music from Motown and Philly International, among others – glam just doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me. That’s somewhat puzzling to me, since I tend to love short, catchy songs with humor and a sense of style. Perhaps glam was the first pop moment when ironic distance outweighed emotional connection. Of course, if that’s not the way the music hit you, that response will seem like total bunk. I’m just trying to figure out why a genre of music that checks all the right bozes never made my personal list of “10s”.

  24. 54
    wwolfe on 20 Nov 2006 #

    Typo alert: “all the right bozes” s/b “all the right boxes.”

  25. 55
    major clout on 21 Nov 2006 #

    i would’ve eaten ‘8′ maaaybe ‘9′ tacos but only cuz there’s other taco stands i love so so much more.

  26. 56
    Dadaismus on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Bolan sang like Bolan in 1965, so how could he have been influenced by Karen Dalton? Had anyone in the UK ever heard of Karen Dalton until, ummmmmmmmm, last week or sumthin’? Donovan seems like a possible “influence” and, later, the Incredible String Band and, of course(!), Syd Barrett … but I think Marc made most of it up himself, to be honest.

  27. 57

    i agree with dada (!blimey!)

    even the “sounds like chuck berry” argument — which at least makes some of grand historical sense — makes me think “er ok if you say so (*whispers to self*: no it doesn’t really)”

  28. 58
    Tom on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Does it sound like Donald Swann?

  29. 59
    Doctor Mod on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Although I said on the TO and Dawn discussion that I began to lose interest in pop music around this time, I actually quite like TRex–just to confirm that for anyone who thought my lack of comment here suggested otherwise. But my appreciation of Bolan is something that has taken time to grow–while “Bang a Gong” was a substantial hit in the US, his other recordings weren’t necessarily heard all that often and thus, while I did hear them, sporadically, it’s only in retrospect that I’ve seen the bigger picture of his career.

    The glam aesthetics notwithstanding, what Bolan injected into pop was a much needed dose of whimsy–and what’s wrong with whimsy, I say. I think many underestimate the degree to which whimsy added to the appeal of the early Beatles, even though it had either disappeared or become cloying before the Fab Four called it a day. I think it hardly surprising then that Bolan, who was a sort of funked-up Donovan–I mean, listen to the lyrics–came to the fore at the particular moment he did. Some worthy party had to fill the gap the Beatles left behind–surely the four of them working separately didn’t accomplish the task.

    I, for one, wouldn’t be offended by the “fey” tag–I think Bolan played with it as much as Bowie, at least performativity, but so had the Beatles in the mid-60s. And, yes, as much of a stretch as it might seem, Bolan also exists in a continuum with Kate Bush, Adam Ant, and Morrissey. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.

    (And I confess my TRex fave is “Ride a White Swan”–how whimsical can you get?)

  30. 60

    tom i OWN THAT SONGBOOK ph34r me and my grebt yule pi4no-p4rty

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