Oh Hawkwind, how do I love you? Let me count the ways: In Search of Space; Space Ritual; Hall of the Mountain Grill; Warrior on the Edge of Time; Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music; Quark, Strangeness and Charm; Hawklords; PXR5; Hawkwind... that’s nine albums right there. It remains my greatest regret that I wasn’t born, say, five years earlier. I could have gone to see Hawkwind on the Space Ritual tour in 1973, instead of having to wait until 1977, when I saw them touring Quark, Strangeness and Charm at the Bristol Hippodrome. In many ways, life can be divided into BH and AH (Before Hawkwind and Anno Hawkwindi). It doesn’t get much better than turning off the lights, necking your preferred intoxicant and idiot dancing to all four sides of Space Ritual alone in the dark. It’s now even available on CD, although annoyingly the entire concert doesn’t fit on a single CD and, depending on your state of intoxication, swopping CDs mid-way can be – how shall we say? – challenging. Perhaps some helpful soul has cut and pasted the entire concert together and put it online for the Spotify generation?
But I‘ve never heard Hawkwind, you say. I’ve never even heard OF them. And I’m scared of the dark. Then this post is not for you. You will find the full-speed-ahead, amphetamine-crazed, rush-into-the-future space-rock sound of Hawkwind – like Status Quo with synthesizers, as some wag put it – not to your tastes. You may, in the words of Bob Calvert’s poetic interlude Sonic Attack “notice a distant hissing in your ears” and “feel the need to vomit”. You will not be able to cope with the spider’s webs that Lemmy weaves on his bass during the middle section of Orgone Accumulator. And you will probably choose the kindergarten-level high concept of David Bowie’s The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust (it’s about the rise and fall of a rock star!) over the existential bedevilment of Hawkwind’s journey into the cosmos, taking in as it does a whole plethora of tricky themes: space exploration, the existence of God, Reichian theories of sexual repression and liberation, environmental catastrophe, struggles with the super-ego and the inevitable nervous breakdown that follows, elephants (or “air and mass” – we’ve never been sure about that one)… it’s all here, although, as Jean-Luc Godard once said, not necessarily in that order.
Too scary? Perhaps you could start on the nursery slopes with the almost-pop of Hawklords/25 Years On, or Quark, which contains some of Bob Calvert’s most appealing wordsmithery, especially on the title track and on the ur-text of mid-period Hawkwind, Spirit of the Age.
You could then trace a line backwards – cautiously, now, for there be dragons – through the Lemmy era, taking in Warrior on the Edge (the one with Magnu) and Hall of the Mountain Grill (the one with Psychedelic Warlords) to the Space Ritual blueprints of Do Re Mi and In Search of Space, and the oddball genius of Urban Guerrilla, a way better single than Silver Machine, but a victim of unfortunate timing, coinciding with a spate of early 70s London bombings.
Whatever you do, check the year the album was recorded in. There is another band called Hawkwind who continued making records after 1980, up to and including 2017. Any resemblance to the band I am talking about is purely co-incidental, whatever Dave Brock may say.
H is also for Loleatta Holloway…. because I get a lot of stick from certain quarters (chiefly my lifelong family friend and unofficial muse/mentor Sue Brooks) about how all my heroes are men. So just for the record I’d like to make it clear that Loleatta Holloway is my main diva, and not only because she has lungs the size of a blue whale. You’ll have to forgive me here, because I am starting to lose my mind, but I think my first encounter with old Lol was on Black Box’s Italo-house hit Ride On Time. I read in The Face (I suspect I was the only person who actually READ The Face as opposed to looking at the pictures of boys in skirts) that the voice was one Loleatta Holloway and that it had been sampled from a song called Love Sensation. Those silly Italians called the song Ride On Time but it’s actually “right on time” Loleatta is singing, as in “you’re right on time”. It must be the poetic bent of the Italian mind, and not their dismal listening skills, that explains the error. Anyhow, it was a short musical bus ride from there to the Salsoul albums Loleatta and the slightly more informatively titled Loleatta Holloway, as well as the earlier sides on Aware records, now handily collected on a Kent CD, and including her glorious version of Sam Dees’ I Know Where You’re Coming From, which I have on a prized though essentially worthless seven-inch single.
The first Salsoul album is awesome, despite the fact that there was already an earlier album on Aware called Loleatta. Could no-one think of another title? Perhaps call it Disco Queen, or just name it after one of the many great songs on the album, such as Hit & Run or We’re Getting Stronger or Dreaming (although perhaps not Ripped Off – that could discourage buyers)? The follow-up Queen of the Night I once picked up for a pound on a street stall in Lymington Spa of all places but truth be told, it isn’t that great, despite the presence of Mama Don’t Papa Won’t. By saying “not that great” I mean of course that it’s worth about a thousand Rihanna or Beyonce songs, but is not quite in the timeless disco/soul crossover bracket of the Loleatta album. Meanwhile, third album Loleatta Holloway has a great version of All About The Papers (though not quite as good as the Dells’ version) AND The Greatest Performance of My Life, which has closed many an imaginary DJ set of mine.
Now I said it wasn’t only her pipes I loved, cuz Loleatta is in many ways the house diva of Salsoul records and as such a disco icon over and above her the sheer quality of her voice. She’s beautiful, and camp, and larger than life. Honourable mention here must also go (once again) to Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle, Millie Jackson and – it goes without saying, but I’ll say it – Little Gracie Jones, as well as Yoko Ono, who made much better music than the solo efforts of her husband. Props also to the non-singing sisters Angela Davis, Rigoberta Menchu, Boudicca, Julianne Moore, Sally Field, Gloria Rowlands (who will be getting her own post in the near future) Helen MacDonald, who wrote H is for Hawk(wind) novelist Siri Hustvedt and the film-makers Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, Salaam Bombay) Samira Makhmalbaf (The Apple) Haifaa al-Mansour (Wadjda) Elaine May (Mikey and Nicky) and Cynthia Scott (The Company of Strangers) to name but a few.
And the rest of the Hs in my collection….
Charlie Haden, Liberation Music Orchestra (it probably seemed like a good idea at the time to record free jazz versions of Spanish Civil War songs, but playing them is undoubtedly more fun than listening to them)
Daryl Hall, Sacred Songs (a bit of a curate’s egg, but the Robert Fripp guitar solos are good)
Hall & Oates, Whole Oats/Abandoned Luncheonette (this is more like it – not a duff song on either album; pure blue-eyed Atlantic soul magic)
Donny Hathaway, Everything is Everything/Live (by dint of which I can compare the live and studio versions of The Ghetto, as well as Little Ghetto Boy, which is both funky and achingly beautiful. Donny Hathaway threw himself out of a window because not enough people bought his records)
Richie Havens, Alarm Clock, Stonehenge, The Great Blind Degree, Richard P. Havens 1983 (too many Beatles songs, tbh, but otherwise impeccable folk-funk/folk-rock)
Eddie Hazel, Game Dames and Guitar Thangs (apparently this is quite a cool record to have, although I find his P-funk version of California Dreamin’ a bit slow myself)
Help Yourself, Help Yourself, Strange Affair, Beware The Shadow (one of those bands time unfairly forgot. UK Americana avant la lettre, although it’s a law of diminishing returns – the first album’s the best…)
Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis Bold As Love (leaving aside whether this should go under J, it is in my humble opinion the finest Hendrix album, containing as it does both Up From The Skies and If Six Was Nine).
Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland (a double album, so you get twice as much Jimi for your money as Axis Bold As Love, plus it has Voodoo Chile AND lots of naked women on the cover, some of whom are quite attractive: sexist, but true).
Judy Henske & Jerry Yester, Farewell Aldebaran (worth buying for the title track alone, which defies all rules of gravity)
Here & Now, Give & Take (I only have this because Here & Now used to give their albums away at their free gigs. A low-rent version of Gong, with added hippy-punk attichood, and almost zero musical quality).
Heron, Heron/Twice As Nice & Half The Price (the very definition of “getting it together in the country”. The second album’s a double, with more uptempo stuff, plus drums, and gets quite soulful in places, for a bunch of hippies.)
Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, Striking It Rich (a case of having your cake and eating it i.e. doing a really good tongue-in-cheek pastiche of country/bluegrass/swing which works in much the same way as Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band did. Plus it includes a version of I Scare Myself, which I think Thomas Dolby covered, but don’t let that put you off!)
Gary Higgins, Red Hash (private press, stoned folk, actually pretty good)
Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (when I was working in Mexico, this was the only CD in the house and I played it a lot. Now I don’t.)
Jake Holmes, The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes/A Letter to Katherine December (for years Jake let Led Zeppelin get away with having ripped off his song, Dazed and Confused. They didn’t even change the title. Then bitterness got the better of him and he took them to court)
DR Hooker, The Truth (another private press, and generally recognised as one of the best examples of privately-pressed Christian psychedelia, in a very crowded field)