380. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie

Ground control to Major Tom… Ground control to Major Tom… Take your protein pills and put your helmet on…

Space Oddity, by David Bowie (his 1st of five #1s)

2 weeks, from 2nd – 16th November 1975

Have there been stranger opening lyrics to a #1 single…? A fade-in, which hasn’t featured very often either, then a very familiar voice. We countdown, to lift-off. Check ignition, And may God’s love be with you… Enter a legend.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned any artist in this blog, without actually featuring one of their songs, more often than David Bowie. He loomed over all the glam hits, the Lord above, while never deigning to do anything as vulgar as top the pop charts. And then, when he finally does, we’ve missed out on Ziggy and Aladdin Sane, and it’s a re-release of his breakthrough hit that does it.

This is an awesome song, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word: awesome. A sweeping epic about a man heading into space, alone, inspired by Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, with at least three very separate styles contained in its five minute runtime. One moment it sounds like late-sixties Beatles, the next it sounds like classic Burt Bacharach, while the Mellotron sounds like a visitation from the ghost of Joe Meek.

‘Space Oddity’ was originally released in 1969, to coincide with the moon landing. It made #5, and meant that for a few years David Bowie – David Bowie – was remembered as a one-hit wonder, a novelty… Until he released ‘Starman’, and heavy-petted Mick Ronson on Top of the Pops. Then the rest was history.

Bowie being Bowie, I’m tempted to wonder if this record is simply about a bloke in space. Is it a commentary on fame: And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear…? Or drugs: I’m floating in a most peculiar way…? (I love the way he pronounces a-pe-cu-li-ar, in his best Anthony Newley.) Or is it simply an epic tragedy: Ground control to Major Tom, Your circuit’s dead, There’s something wrong… as Tom orbits away to his doom?

It’s been great to really sit down and listen to this song. I knew it, of course, in that way everyone knows incredibly famous songs, but it’s not part of my regular rotation. In fact, I have to admit, not much Bowie is in my regular rotation. It is permanently item one on my musical to-do list: appreciate David Bowie more, you philistine! I like him, I love what he stood for and represented, but some of his music, like Major Tom himself, floats way above my head…

In the real world, while a re-release of his first hit made #1 – the second 1960s disc to hit the top in this weirdest of years – Bowie was leaving glam behind, and becoming a huge star in the US with soul numbers like ‘Fame’ and ‘Golden Years’. Then came the cocaine, before the mega-successful early ‘80s. We won’t meet him atop the charts again until then. Which means his only #1 from the entirety of the 1970s is this. David Bowie, along with Prince, is perhaps the biggest artist with the worst representation from his chart-topping hits. Anyway, all that is still to come. For now, let’s float off into the milky way, in our tin cans. Altogether now: Can you hear me Major Tom…? Can you hear me Major Tom…?

366. ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)’, by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

Cool intro alert! I do like to keep track of our intros, and the ascending bass riff on this one launches it straight into the… let’s see… the Top 5 of the ‘cool intros to chart-topping singles’ list.

Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me), by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 16th February – 2nd March 1975

I’ve known this song for years, and the one thing that stands out in my mind, even though I haven’t listened to it in a while, is Steve Harley’s voice. The sneer he puts into words like smiiiillle, and tryyyyyy, as well as his strong accent, seems very punk to my ears. It’s proto-Paul Weller, or Billy Bragg.

You’ve done it all, You’ve broken every code, Pulled the rebel to the floor… And well might he sneer. The lyrics at first sound cryptic, but when you learn that Harley wrote them as a sarcastic comeback to the band he had just split from they become crystal. You spoiled the game, No matter what you say, For only metal, What a bore… The delivery on the ‘metal’ line is genuinely one of the best vocal moments in any #1 single we’ve met, and I’ve always loved the cocky pauses between the chorus and the verses.

Come up and see me, Make me smile… Or do what you want, Running wild… As Harley tells it, the other members of Cockney Rebel left him in the lurch. So he reformed the band, with his name front and centre, and scored a huge chart-topping single. Not a bad bit of revenge. But, it doesn’t sound like a nasty song. On the whole, it’s breezy and uplifting, although apparently earlier demos were slower, and darker.

‘Make Me Smile’ is a hard record to place. It’s eclectic – aside from the acoustic chords and the bass, there’s also a gospel choir for the backing vocals, and a Spanish guitar for the solo. Wiki lists Cockney Rebel as ‘glam’ but, while they certainly looked glam – lots of flamboyant silk suits on display in promo pics – their sound is a little more experimental. They had hit the Top 10 twice in 1974, with ‘Judy Teen’ and ‘Mr Soft’, before the split, but it’s clear why this record went all the way to the top. It’s incredibly catchy and much more commercial. Simple!

It was also a ‘long car journeys as a child’ staple for me (I wonder how many songs that is now?) I can’t say it was always my favourite – I definitely would have skipped it for ABBA or Wizzard, had I been sitting in the front – but I can appreciate it now for what it is. It’s a grown up song, after all, and one that’s ingrained itself in British culture. Apparently there have been 120 cover versions, from acts including Duran Duran, Erasure and Suzi Quatro, which isn’t bad for a record born out of frustration and anger. The power, as one D. Vader might put it, of the dark side

344. ‘Devil Gate Drive’, by Suzi Quatro

Hey, Y’all wanna go down to Devil Gate Drive….!? Well come on!! Or not. I mean, it’s fine. Whatever…

Devil Gate Drive, by Suzi Quatro (her 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 17th February – 3rd March 1974

Suzi Q’s first #1, ‘Can the Can’, properly rocked, properly dripped with spiky attitude, and her second starts promisingly, with that yelled intro and the same glitter-glam drumbeat. A deep voice intones Welcome to the dive… and the anticipation peaks.

It’s a song about a dive bar, a dance hall, a brothel, a strip club… all of the above? There are chugging guitars, a barroom piano and some revving motorbikes for that peak ‘73/’74 sound. Well at the age of five they can do that jive, Down at devil gate drive… And at the age of six they can get their kicks, Down at devil gate drive… Someone call social services, this does not sound like a reputable establishment…

According to Suzie, and the song writing team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, ‘Devil Gate Drive’ doesn’t refer to an actual place. It’s any place you go to as a kid, to misbehave and piss off your parents… Well your momma don’t know where your sister done go, She goes down to the drive, She’s the star of the show… In which case, my ‘Devil Gate Drive’ was the woods behind my house where we shared cigarettes and bottles of Buckfast.

This is a fun record, a great rocker, extending the pretty long run of decent #1s that we’re on. But… It’s a bit gimmicky, a bit of a pantomime, compared to ‘Can the Can’. I feel that Quatro is camping it up a bit here, playing up her leather-clad image for the cameras. It’s another song in which glam-rock takes a tiny step towards self-parody.

Though, to be honest, glam rock will soon be a thing of the past, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone. What I won’t give for a glam-rock smash when I’m ploughing through the #1s from, say, 2016. Just because this isn’t T. Rex doesn’t mean it’s not still a solid seven out of ten chart-topper.

Similarities can be drawn between this and the previous #1, Mud’s ‘Tiger Feet’. There’s the songwriters for a start – the aforementioned ‘Chinnichap’ team. And then there’s the faux-live feel of the recording. It sounds as if Suzi and her band are performing this live, at the Dive, especially when she announces: Come on boys, Let’s do it one more time for Suzie! and her boys take it home.

Suzie Quatro won’t have any further UK #1s, but she’ll continue to record, perform and inspire pretty much every woman who has picked up a guitar since. She continued to get hits throughout the seventies, as well as scoring a recurring role in ‘Happy Days’ as the fabulously named Leather Tuscadero, which finally gave her some fame in her native US. I’ll leave you with a line from her follow-up to this disc, ‘The Wild One’ (a song that might just be better than either of her #1s): I’m a blue-eyed bitch, And I wanna get rich, Get outta my way, Cos I’m here to stay… And if that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, then I quit.

333. ‘Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me’, by Slade

Slade are back, for their fifth number one single in a year and a half, with an intro that goes: Slade, slade, slade, slade, sladesladesladesladeslade…

Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me, by Slade (their 5th of six #1s)

3 weeks, from 24th June – 15th July 1973

If you were being kind you’d say it was Slade at their Sladest; if you weren’t you’d say it was Slade by numbers. The intro sounds like a blend of ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ and ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’’s, while the lyrics reference ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’. In fact, the girl in this one might just be the same as featured in that earlier hit…

You got rude talk, You got one walk, All your jokes are blue… She’s a wild one. And Noddy’s quite confident that he can show her the way: You know how to please me, Woah-oah, You’re learnin’ it easy, Woah-oah… If you tune in and listen to the lyrics,  they range from the raunchy – a lot of squeezing and pleasing – to the fairly dubious: When a girl’s meaning yes, She says no…

I mean, I like Slade and I like this. If you like Slade then it’s impossible to truly dislike ‘Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me’ because it is the band at the height of their chart-humping, biggest-in-the-land phase. This, like ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ entered the charts at #1, on name alone, really, in a manner not seen before and not seen again for a decade. And it is Slade treading water, but I have an image in my mind of Noddy Holder and Jim Lea bashing out the lyrics in five minutes, saying ‘Fuck it, that’ll do’, and ordering another pint. And I like it…

There is no way on earth that this single needs to be four and a half minutes long, though. Ten years ago, ‘House of the Rising Sun’ ran that long and it was revolutionary. Now it’s run of the mill. Maybe Slade were so popular that the record label were too scared to edit them down? They knew this would be a massive hit in any form. Maybe Slade themselves were so popular that they had become afraid to experiment…?

And maybe that’s true, because they were about to go slightly experimental, with ‘Slade in Flame’, and the music would be better, but the #1s would dry up. Suddenly glam rock as a whole would be up… But not yet. They have one final #1 single to come. Their best known one. Their retirement plan…

326. ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’, by Slade

Baby baby BABY! From one glam rock classic, to another. From the second Noddy Holder hollers that intro, we’re witnessing Slade at the peak of their powers, at the height of their popularity.

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Cum on Feel the Noize, by Slade (their 4th of six #1s)

4 weeks, from 25th February – 25th March 1973

With it, they’re bringing the same attitude as in their previous #1, ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’. Noddy lists all the things about which he simply does not give two hoots: So you think I’ve got an evil mind, Well I’ll tell you honey… So you think my singing’s out of time, Well it makes me money… He’s got a funny face, he’s got a dirty mind… Say I’m a scumbag but it’s no disgrace, I ain’t in no hurry…

The message is, in a nutshell, who cares what people think or say about you when you’ve got a chorus like this one coming up: So come on feel the noise, Girls grab the boys, We get wild, wild, wild… At your door! It’s another hit designed for the audience to scream back to them, for football crowds to chant, for kids up and down the land who just want to have a good time. Is it a bit simplistic, a bit repetitive? Maybe. Does it need to be a full four and a half minutes long? Maybe not. But to criticise ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ for these things is to miss the point, and then some.

If you insisted on analysing the lyrics, you might see this as a riposte, a middle finger in the air to the critics that dismiss Slade, or perhaps even as a celebration of their fame. The I just don’t know why…! refrain could be an answer to the question: ‘How are these four bruisers from Wolverhampton suddenly the biggest band in the land?’

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As with any Slade record, Noddy Holder’s vocals sell it. Nobody yells, grunts or hollers like him. Apparently the now famous ‘baby, baby, baby’ intro was stitched on from an earlier soundcheck. As with other Slade records, whip-cracking handclaps come in to take us home. And as with the previous #1, Sweet’s ‘Block Buster!’, I can’t help but feel that an even heavier production, more bass, more oomph, would improve it even further.

When I said that ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ announced Slade as the biggest band in the country, I meant it. The single entered the charts straight in at #1, something that had only happened four times previously: once each for The Beatles and Cliff/The Shadows, and twice for a certain Elvis Presley. That’s the company that Slade were now keeping, and they’ll enter at the top of the charts twice more before the year is out.

You’d have to say that this Slade’s most famous (non-Christmas) hit. A chorus that most people could have a go at, even forty-seven years later. It was covered in the eighties, by Quiet Riot (and taken to the Billboard Top 5), and in the nineties as a ‘B’-side by Oasis, who often included it in their live shows. It lives on. It is a classic. Come on, press play below, and feel the noize…

325. ‘Block Buster!’, by The Sweet

Into 1973 with a hop, skip and a jump, and a question. Can a song that begins with an air-raid siren ever be anything less than brilliant?

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Block Buster!, by The Sweet (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 21st January – 25th February 1973

1973 is going to be the year in which glam rock peaks. Scanning down the list of #1s for the coming year, ten of the seventeen chart-toppers are glam. And we kick it all off with a classic of the genre. Air-raid siren, riff, drums, Ah-Aaaaaaah-Ah-Aaaaaaaaah!

You better beware, You better take care, You better watch out if you’ve got long black hair… Night falls, and Buster is about. Who, or what, Buster is is never established, but he’s dangerous. And he’s coming for you… Nobody knows, Where Buster goes, He’ll steal your woman out from under your nose…

The lyrics are dumb, but at the same time, were they delivered less theatrically, they’d be terrifying. There’s every chance that Buster is a serial killer. Does anyone know the way, Did we hear someone say…? And then the best bit of a great record – the squealed: We just haven’t got a clue what to do! Does anyone know the way to block Buster? Probably not. Even the police can’t do anything.

As a title, ‘Block Buster!’ is great. It grabs the attention as much as the air-raid siren. ‘Here’s the blockbuster new record from Sweet, called ‘Block Buster!’ That sounds fun. But then there’s the play on the term in ‘blocking’ the eponymous villain of the piece, the one with the disc-eyes and the taste in dark-haired women. It’s a clever record, underneath all the silliness.

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It’s also a great rocking record. The bluesy riff raised some eyebrows at the time as it sounded a lot like David Bowie’s very recent hit ‘The Jean Genie’. Sweet knew this, considered it, and put their record out anyway. ‘The Jean Genie’ had sat at #2, behind Little Jimmy Osmond of all people, meaning Bowie will have to wait a while longer for his first chart-topper. My only complaint about ‘Block Buster!’ is that the guitar, the drums, the whole production, could have a little more oomph to it. Imagine this tune, played on Marc Bolan’s crunchy Les Paul…

But I’m knit-picking. This is not a quiet record; it has everything thrown into the mix, including the kitchen sink. Screaming, reverbing chords, huge drums, and a frenzied, chanted finish: Buster, Buster, Block Buster! It’s dumb, it’s zany, it’s brilliant. It’s somehow the Sweet’s only #1 single. Their two other 1973 singles peaked at #2, and are even better than ‘Block Buster!’ – the near garage rock of ‘Hell Raiser’ and the brilliant glitter-stomp of ‘The Ballroom Blitz’.

Sweet, like most glam rock acts, saw their chart fortunes plummet around 1976. They reacted to this by going heavier and more experimental. In the eighties, different band members toured with their own versions of the band. Lead singer Brian Connolly struggled with alcohol addiction, and died in 1997. Drummer Mick Tucker died a few years later and bassist Steve Priest passed away just a few weeks ago. We’ll leave them here, on our journey through the years, but, if you’re only going to score one number one single, then you better make it a good one. Like this. 1973 is off to a cracking start!

319. ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’, by Slade

Slade’s third chart-topper in well under a year – a mean feat that not many other artists can boast of. And it enters with all the swagger you’d expect from a band well on their way to being the biggest in the land. As Noddy sums it up in the intro: Awooooooooo!

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Mama Weer All Crazee Now, by Slade (their 3rd of six #1s)

3 weeks, from 3rd – 24th September 1972

The riff could never be described as sophisticated, or revolutionary, but it’s perfect in its own way. A riff that does the DJ’s job for him, by announcing ‘Here’s the latest single from Slade…’ Meanwhile the drums are deep and beefy and the bass kicks. We’re all set up for a good time.

Similarly, the lyrics aren’t going to change the world; but they are a statement of intent. Holder is at his sneery, husky best as he announces: I don’t want to, Drink my whisky like you do… The kids are going to do things their own way. I don’t need to, Spend my money but still do… Did someone say ‘teenage rebellion?’ Think ‘Son of My Father’, but in the simplest, Sladest terms.

I said mama, But we’re all crazy now… the band hollers as mum bangs on the bedroom door, wondering what this noise is. A year so ago, the top of the charts was full of easy-on-the-ears, grown-up pop – ‘I’m Still Waiting’ and ‘Woodstock’. But 1972 has seen the #1 spot reclaimed by the kids: teeny boppers and glam rockers. It’s like the fifties all over again, but with more make-up.

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Is ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ a little basic? Probably, but that’s the point. It’s a song about having nothing but a good time. Another drop now, come on… I want the lot now, come on… About being young and reckless and not giving two shits. Jim Lea, the bassist, was inspired to write it after looking out on Wembley Arena after the band had played a gig, and surveying a hall full of broken seats and empty bottles. Plus he wanted a chorus – a chant, even – that the audience could sing back to them at full volume.

The record ends with that line repeated over and over, until it’s reduced to a stutter: Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-woooooooo! Glorious nonsense. (Isn’t that the perfect description for glam rock?) Actually, I’ve just had an idea, a way of categorising the glam rock acts of the early seventies, using British supermarkets as gradients (Apologies to any non-British readers who will have no idea what I’m on about, please skip ahead if you like…) If Bowie was Harrod’s Glam, then T. Rex were Waitrose Glam. Slade? Slade were Tesco glam: no frills and popular across the land. And LIDL Glam? That was Mud.

Anyway, nothing wrong with being the Tesco of glam. Whenever I’m back in the UK, Tesco’s one of the first places I go. And it didn’t hold Slade back any. ‘Mama…’ was their 3rd of six #1s, and the last not to enter at the top of the charts. Very, very few records entered at #1 before the mid-nineties. Slade will go on to do it three times. Enjoy the video below, then, as the sound of a band just about to go stratospheric…

306. ‘Coz I Luv You’, by Slade

Without wanting to repeat myself… Having covered over three hundred #1s now, and I’ve come to realise the importance of a song’s intro. Sometimes, as a casual listener, they pass you by. But when you’re here to write about the song, when you’re poised to commit your first impressions to paper, the intro is everything.

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Coz I Luv You, by Slade (their 1st of six #1s)

4 weeks, from 7th November – 5th December 1971

All of which is me building up to the fact that ‘Coz I Luv You’ has a great intro. In stereo, it sounds like someone in chunky boots, stomping down a corridor. Then the music, which can only be described as ‘menacing’. It’s Slade, Britain’s most successful glam-rock act, but this isn’t a very ‘glam’ record. Noddy Holder’s vocals start off light, and sneering: I won’t laugh at you, When you boo-hoo-hoo, Cause I love you…

Then a big beefy bass comes in, as Holder’s voice grows fuller: I just like the things you do, Don’t you change the things you do… You can draw a couple of similarities between this and the previous number one, Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’ / ‘Reason to Believe’. Both songs are concerned with the singer being in love with a pretty terrible sounding woman. In ‘Coz I Luv You’: You make me out a clown, And you put me down… I still love you…

The other is the violin – though the country version from ‘Reason…’ has been distorted into an electric monster here, making the solo sound like an Irish jig from the bowels of hell. Apparently, Jim Lea – who played the violin on it – thinks the song sounds ‘soft’ and ‘namby-pamby’… Which begs the question: what the hell would he classify as ‘hard’? As the song fades out with the stomping and the violin, and some added shouting for good measure, it sounds like a gang of hooligans striding home from the pub, ready for their next punch-up.

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I like this song, and I love Slade, but it stands out because it doesn’t really sound like the ‘Slade’ everyone knows. By their next number one they will, though. Like T. Rex, Slade had been around long before glam. Unlike T. Rex, they’d spent the final years of the sixties playing soul and Motown covers and sporting skinheads. Maybe ‘Coz I Luv You’ represents the last gasp of the ‘old’ Slade (Ambrose Slade, as they were called), before they sold their souls to glam. Though even at their peak, when they were wearing sparkly hats, platform shoes and cravats, I think don’t think they could ever quite mascara-out being four bruisers from Wolverhampton.

By the end, Holder’s voice has transformed completely, as he bellows out the closing lines. There’s another similarity to Rod Stewart – two of rock’s throatiest voices topping the charts in a row. One thing that is very Slade, and that’s already here in all its glory, is their shortened song titles. I used to think they looked crazily modern, using text-speak in the early seventies, when mobile phones were the stuff of science-fiction, but apparently it was an attempt to mimic the Birmingham/Black County dialect.

So, there we have it. This is already the second-last #1 of 1971 – it feels like we’ve raced through the year – welcoming some huge names: T. Rex, Rod, Slade… Middle of the Road… Like I said, and as I’m not sure came through from the write-up, I really like this song. It just sounds so belligerent, so menacing, so not #1-on-the-pop-charts material at all…

302. ‘Get It On’, by T. Rex

Aw yeah! T. Rex score their second number in less than three months. There are riffs, and there are riffs. This, baby, is a riff.

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Get It On, by T. Rex (their 2nd of four #1s)

4 weeks, from 18th July – 15th August 1971

It’s a riff that growls and purrs, like a cat ready to pounce on its prey. Like a sports car purring at the start line, fuzzy and scuzzy. Then someone’s fingers slide down a set of piano keys – a glissando, if you want to be technical about it – and we’re off. Head first into the glam rock era.

Well you’re dirty sweet, Clad in black, Don’t look back, And I love you… Bolan’s in love with a vamp. You’re slim and you’re weak, With the teeth of a hydra upon you… She sounds like quite the woman. Get it on, Bang a gong, Get it on! Just what might he be singing about?

Sex. The answer is sex. Very few chart-toppers so far have been quite so up-front about the that fact they’re concerned with shagging, and nothing else. The only one that springs to mind, from a couple of years earlier, was ‘Je T’Aime’, and that was more funny than sexy. ‘Get It On’, though… Well, it’s all in the title. They might as well have called it ‘Let’s Fuck.’

Most of the time you’re not quite sure what Marc Bolan’s singing, and most of the time it simply does not matter. This is a record that sounds brilliant, that sounds like an idea come to life, and the lyrics are merely there to make up the runtime. And having looked them up, I’m not sure Bolan put more than two seconds thought into them: Well you’re an untamed youth, That’s the truth with your cloak full of eagles… and You’ve got the blues in your shoes and your stockings…. Dumb, and yet perfect. You just know that a girl with the blues in her shoes and stocking is going to be a handful.

There’s one line that’s always stood out to me – and I’ve loved this song a long time – and that’s: You’re built like a car, You got a hubcap diamond star halo… I have never met a woman who would take ‘You’re built like a car’ as a compliment. But, to be fair, if that line was going to work for anyone, it would be Marc Bolan.

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Even when he’s not singing, the brazen, filthy horns keep up the raunchy atmosphere. Then towards the end he simply starts breathing, and hiccupping, and it still sounds X-rated. The moment, before the final chorus, when he breathes in then out, with a little tremor, is the probably the sexiest moment in a #1 single so far, bar none. Bear in mind, T. Rex’s audience were teenagers. T. Rexstasy was here and, for the briefest of moments, they were the biggest band since The Beatles.

Then he shouts Take me! as he gives himself over completely to this woman, and we slide to a finish that includes a snippet of Chuck Berry: Meanwhile, I’m still thinking… A line from ‘Little Queenie’, the song that inspired ‘Get It On’. And while the similarity is not immediate, if you listen to it, buried beneath the vocals and the trademark Berry licks, the riff is there. Bolan brought it out and set it centre stage.

Such is the power of this riff that in the 1990s, Prince and Oasis took it in completely different directions and still made two superb singles. Prince dialled the smut up even further for ‘Cream’, changing ‘dirty sweet’ to ‘filthy cute’, while Noel Gallagher did what he does best on ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’: shamelessly plundering, turning the guitars up to five-hundred, and making his band the biggest in the land. Shove those two song into a playlist, alongside ‘Little Queenie’ and ‘Get It On’, and you’re got yourself a brilliant fifteen minutes.

As for T. Rex, if ‘Hot Love’ was the start, then this was the push that sent them flying. They would dominate the British charts for the next two years, and we’ll be meeting them twice yet. ‘Get It On’ was also the band’s only US hit, reaching the giddy heights of #12. Like, seriously, America…?

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298. ‘Hot Love’, by T. Rex

T-Rextasy has arrived at the top of the charts. Over the next year and a bit one band, led by one tiny little sparkling pixie, will dominate the top of the UK singles charts, and bring with it the defining sound of the early seventies. Wham bam, yes it’s glam!

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Hot Love, by T. Rex (their 1st of four #1s)

6 weeks, from 14th March – 25th April 1971

But the intro to ‘Hot Love’ is actually quite gentle, quite lilting. A boogie-woogie bassline and some light strings. It’s still an intro that makes you sit up, that sounds unlike anything that’s topped the charts before – one of those leaps forward that come along every so often – it’s just not instantly ‘T. Rex’. Well she’s my woman of gold, And she’s not very old, Uh-huh-huh…

Tyrannosaurus Rex had spent the tail end of the sixties recording psychedelic folk-rock with mystical themes (sample title: ‘By the Light of a Magical Moon’). As the seventies came around they dropped the ‘yrannosaurus’ and plugged their guitars in. But here, Marc Bolan is still singing like a hippy: Well she’s faster than most, And she lives on the coast, Uh-huh-huh… Note the Elvis stutter, though. You can be sure it’s deliberate. Bolan wasn’t afraid of comparing himself to the greats.

One of the complaints most often directed at Marc Bolan is that his lyrics are nonsense. But to say that is to miss the point completely. Firstly, any man who can produce lyrics like ‘I drive a Rolls-Royce, Cos it’s good for my voice’ is a stone-cold genius. But secondly, glam rock, essentially, isn’t about the lyrics. The lyrics are just something to hang all the sequins and hair-sprayed wigs on. At the same time, if you listen again, and squint a little, you can squeeze meaning out of them: Well she ain’t no witch, And I love the ways she twitches, Uh-huh… I’m a labourer of love, In my Persian gloves, Uh-huh-huh…

These lines paint him as a gigolo, a dandy, a Byronic figure marauding the countryside giving the ladies hot love all night long. And then, 1:15 in, glam rock truly arrives. The lead guitar kicks, Bolan screeches, twice, like a vampire going straight for a virgin’s neck, before letting out a lascivious, drawn-out moan…. Uuuuuuh…

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The last three minutes of this five-minute long record is a coda, a prolonged fade-out. La-la-la-lalalala… La-la-la-lalalala… Bored with aping Elvis, Bolan now thinks he’s The Beatles. The man was never short on confidence… The band as a whole were a force of nature – their drummer (this was the first T. Rex song to feature a drum-kit) had the stage name ‘Legend’, given to him by Marc, of course.

La-la-la-lalalala… it goes, on and on, with big drums, stomping and clapping, growing progressively more raucous, until a huge wig-out right at the end. Bolan mutters, then grunts, then moans. If this was it, then it would still be quite the legacy at the top of the charts. But there’s more to come. Much more. They had hit #2 a few months before with ‘Ride a White Swan’, and were embarking on a run of ten singles, none of which would chart lower than #4.

After this glowing write-up, though, I do have to admit that ‘Hot Love’ isn’t my favourite T. Rex song. (It isn’t even my favourite T. Rex number one.) But it is the perfect introduction to the band: catchy, silly, fun, and sexy.

Find my Spotify playlist here.