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. 61
    DR.C on 24 Nov 2006 #

    Hello. I’ve been meaning to join in the fun here for a while. I’ve been reading but not commenting so far. Anyway, Hot Love is the beginning of everything for me – it was number one on the first TOTP that I remember sitting down to watch from beginning to end. It’s T-Rex’s greatest hit because it genuinely swings and has a lightness of touch that they lost almost immediately afterwards. Maybe Get It On has a little of the funkiness, possibly Jeepster too, but the real swing, the feline swagger of Hot Love is what marks it out as their best.

  2. 62
    Diego on 24 Nov 2006 #

    I half-remember that he once said that he sounded like a speed-up Bessie Smith… that he indeed put her records at a higher speed than intended and learned that style. But Bolan being Bolan, he could be lying.

  3. 63

    diego that is an AWESOME SPOT — from now on i shall claim just that, and SO WHAT if mb was lying

  4. 64
    Wrestling_Nun on 3 Jan 2007 #

    What to say, the song is a 10 as are the next 7 T.Rex singles, until slipping badly to 5 with Truck On (Tyke) in late 74. The pic is wrong it’s from summer 75 when MB was fat and tired, this song needs a glitter punk shot. As for lyrics Marc thought of them (mostly) as instrumentation. But as for “I drive a rolls Royce cos it’s good for my voice”, it’s a brilliant incisive peace of poetry. Think about, why else drive Rolls. Marc was a genius. His influences are clearly, Dylan, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Hendrix, Tolkien, C S Lewis, moody US b&w films and most of all Rock and Roll.

  5. 65
    Gavin on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Truck On was late 73. Late 74 was Zip Gun Boogie, Marc’s weakest single that shouldn;t have been released when tracks like Think Zinc and Solid Baby were in the can and ready but held over for the 75 album Bolan’s Zip Gun. Hot Love was the single that started Glam Rock with Marc gilttering up his face on TOTP’s as a joke. He never expected everyone to copy him.

  6. 66
    swanstep on 23 Feb 2010 #

    I’d give this a highish 6 or a 7. It’s good, but not in the same pop league, in my view, as singles by the Carpenters, Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye etc. that were in the upper eschelons of the singles charts most places in 1971. Hot Love wouldn’t be in my top 10 singles of that year (‘Get it on’ *might* make it). And in terms of rocking out, of course, it can’t touch Who, Led Zep, Floyd, Sabbath stuff from this period (all of which are still absolutely crucial ‘in the air’ today).

    More generally, apart from the dude’s phenomenal looks (Hunky Dory was late in 1971 so I guess this probably is some sort of peak year for male beauty in the charts!), I guess I’ve never quite understood what great unmet demand Bolan supplied. Nolan and T.Rex never ‘travelled’ that well (not just not-to-America, they didn’t do that much down under either), and everyone else survived just fine. So no ‘new direction’ that Bolan and T.Rex especially represented was needed most places. Specific features of the the UK pop psyche and its frenzied media culture presumably explain the difference.

  7. 67
    swanstep on 23 Feb 2010 #

    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.
    Can’t agree with that. Maybe they’re a little played out for most of us by now, but Bowie’s best singles are just monumental. Even sticking with 1971, both singles from Hunky Dory (Changes, Life on Mars) are so very accomplished and exciting, I can’t see Bolan besting them really. *Maybe* equaling them… Deep down, perhaps the problem for me is that (like a lot of people) I really love the 1971-1973 period of music, and Bolan and T. Rex seems relatively minor, and sort of understandably regional or parochial to the UK in that context (in something like the way Journey and so on were understandably, relatively parochial to the US in the ’80s). Yes, the big singles are fine, but they’re not a patch on, say, what Stevie Wonder was filling the charts with at the time (tho’ not so much in the UK): Superstition, Sunshine, Higher ground, Living for the City. Now *that’s* a world-beating run of great singles.

  8. 68
    Tom on 23 Feb 2010 #

    Something I absolutely love in pop is where a band perfectly develops a single idea, and I think that’s what T Rex hits on – in many ways I prefer that to songs (and careers) with lots of different ideas. There’s a simplicity to the great T Rex singles which feels like a future echo of dance music as well as a conscious throwback to rock’n’roll, and it’s definitely something I look for in music.

  9. 69
    thefatgit on 23 Feb 2010 #

    Tom, I’m trying to think of a band that fits that brief today and it’s hard to pin down anyone that signifies the future and the past at the same time. The ’70s seemed to be chock-full of candidates (Blondie, Kraftwerk, New York Dolls) which kind of suggests that decade was almost unique.

  10. 70
    lonepilgrim on 23 Feb 2010 #

    re 69 ‘I’m trying to think of a band that fits that brief today’
    Bands like Fleet Foxes, Animal Collective and Yeasayer seem to be selfconsciously trying to achieve such a feat but with one major problem being that they/we don’t know what the future holds.

    Jon Savage makes a case for 1974 as ‘the year the 60’s ended and the 80’s began’ at his blog: http://tinyurl.com/ycr62kh

  11. 71
    swanstep on 23 Feb 2010 #

    @Tom,68. Would you agree that the Ramones and Ac/dc and Oasis are other examples of this ‘one idea’ idea? (Such outfits never end up meaning that much to me, now I think about it.)

    @69,70. Gaga might be a good candidate for being simultaneously backward- and forward-looking. She absolutely feels like the culmination of, say, bowie/glam + madonna studies, but it’s also obvious she hasn’t got close to fulfilling her potential yet. She’s become huge though sheer will/drive and personality, i.e., without doing anything that musically imaginative yet. What in god’s name will she be throwing at us in 5 years time?

  12. 72
    thefatgit on 23 Feb 2010 #

    Yeah, we know not what the future holds, but conversely it was easy to recognise the futuristic in the ’70s. Funnily enough, what had been tagged futuristic back then, turned out to be massively influential* later on. The bands mentioned in your post, lonepilgrim, are candidates for sure, depending on which direction we/they choose to take (us).

    That Jon Savage piece was fascinating, btw. Will I be tempted to visit some of his music choices for that year? I think so!

    *Oh shit! The “I” word! Sorry!

  13. 73
    Tom on 23 Feb 2010 #

    #71 Ramones and AC/DC sure, though small doses of each are enough for me. Oasis, well, we’ll get to them in due course :)

  14. 74
    lonepilgrim on 23 Feb 2010 #

    re 69-72 thinking some more about it – perhaps the past/future hybrid isn’t going to be an individual star/act but a format like Glee where songs are re-presented in new narratives

  15. 75
    punctum on 24 Feb 2010 #

    I’ve a lot of time for artists who find their sound and stick with it, which doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t evolve but at the same time if I get a new record by them I’m happy that it sounds exactly the same as all the previous ones. The Ramones, AC/DC and Quo for sure, and then less obviously Boards of Canada and Sade: you know what you’re getting and you’re comforted by it but at the same time “comforted” doesn’t equate with “nullified.”

  16. 76
    lord darlington on 24 Feb 2010 #

    Most of these ‘one sound’ acts run their course fairly quickly, though: Oasis begin to smell bad after two albums, the Ramones after three. I’m intrigued to know what people make of T Rex after The Slider as the 73-77 period is panned by everyone, even Bolan’s biographer Mark Paytress – are they an exception? (clue – the answer is yes).

    69 – Blondie don’t fit this bill, surely? More’s the pity.

  17. 77
    thefatgit on 24 Feb 2010 #

    @76 In terms of a trademark sound, you’re right, Blondie were an evolving band. In terms of past/future juxtaposition, undoubtedly so.

  18. 79
    punctum on 12 Jun 2012 #

    Lena asked me to write this entry, and you can see why: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/i-spit-on-your-grave-and-stick-out-my.html

  19. 80
    Jimmy the Swede on 12 Jun 2012 #

    # 79 – I found BTM really worrying even back in the day as a ten year-old and recall clearly being delighted that it got stuck at number two. I had no idea at all what Stevens was doing and still don’t. By far the worst aspect of it is when the fan (clearly a simpleton) twice tries to storm the stage only to be thwarted by the MC. The whole concept of this record is more than a little odd. But apart from this rubbish, I have nothing against Stevens at all. His take on “Misty” was a great effort, that also being stuck at number two, IIRC.

  20. 81
    wichita lineman on 13 Jun 2012 #

    “I dig it. I really dig it” – sounds more like one of the Hair Bear Bunch than a lech. But Bridget’s cackle is REALLY annoying.

  21. 82
    Mark G on 13 Jun 2012 #

    As a kid, I thought he said “I did it! I really did it.” which is, um, worse, obv.

  22. 83
    thefatgit on 13 Jun 2012 #

    He’s sulphur hexafluoride to Bridget’s helium. Still piss-poor though.

  23. 84
    wichita lineman on 13 Jun 2012 #

    In The Mood, sung by chickens. That was Ray Stevens’ low point. I was 11 when it came out and thought it was embarrassing.

    But unlike Marcello I really like Mr Businessman: straight Americana taking a cold look at itself and finding doubt, if only for a little while, in the upheaval of1968. See also: Frank Sinatra’s Watertown, Roy Orbison’s Southbound Jericho Parkway, Bing Crosby’s What Do We Do With The World. If anyone knows any others in this vein please let on!

  24. 85
    thefatgit on 13 Jun 2012 #

    All this time, I thought it was The Muppets who did “In The Mood”! That kinda sours it for me. Oh well…

  25. 86
    punctum on 14 Jun 2012 #

    They did do it, but Mr Stevens did it first. The record was credited to “Henhouse Five Plus Two” or something not dissimilar.

    #84 – totally do not agree, but “Billy, You’re My Friend” by Gene Pitney is one such, as indeed is the entirety of Genuine Imitation Life Gazette but you don’t need me to tell you that.

  26. 87
    Mark G on 14 Jun 2012 #

    The thing is with Ray Stevens is that he wanted to be both Don McLean and Don McLean.

    (i.e. the US guy and the UK comedian)

  27. 88
    punctum on 14 Jun 2012 #

    The latter is Don Maclean, pronounced as in “yes, I had a bath this morning.” It is probably relevant that at one time he was resident comic on the Black And White Minstrel Show.

  28. 89
    Mark G on 14 Jun 2012 #

    Ah, i did imagesearch “Don McLean Crackerjack” and got enough correct pix.

    Also, I forgot that Ray Stevens *and* Don Maclean both did “gitarzan”

    anyways, moving on..

  29. 90
    Mutley on 14 Jun 2012 #

    #84 and #86 I’m not sure why Roy Orbison, Gene Pitney and Frankie Valli should fall into the category of “Mr Businessman straight Americana” (other than having hits before 1963) but if they do, Dion should also be there with Abraham, Martin and John (US #4 in 1968).

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