The undisputed masters of space rock would have to be Hawkwind. They have a strange sci-fi presence coupled with good old fashioned fun rock that is primarily "three-chord" driven masterpieces that run like time clocks. I've heard no dynamic musicianship in this band, though drummer Simon King was pretty good. Still, Hawkwind proves that not all prog bands were fantastic musicians.
Hawkwind was like The Grateful Dead in the sense that they have a tremendous, die-hard following. To be a Hawk is to be a disciple, a follower, a trekker of space and time. I like to think of them as "space bikers".
My first experience with Hawkwind was a live radio broadcast called "The King Biscuit Flour Hour". This was an hour-long live event every Saturday night. I want to say that it started at 10 pm, but I'm not sure. Each week, a band was featured live in concert. This was a program that we all looked forward to eagerly. One evening in particular, they announced that the concert of the week was going to from "Hawkwind." Hawkwind? Who's that? Never heard of 'em, but once I did, I never forgot them.
I believe that the station that broadcasted these concerts was KQIV, and Saturday nights were something to look forward to. Also, as a sort of stoner notoriety, they also featured every Saturday evening, "The National Lampoon Radio Hour". For a young head like myself, Hawkwind was the ultimate in mental space travel. The live radio Hawkwind concert was truly exceptional, and I'd never heard anything like it ever in my life. Not even Pink Floyd came close to the same galaxy as these guys. The music was powerful and driven, motored on acid and speed, networked with synthesizers, wah-wah pedals, and one powerful drummer that kept the Hawkship cruising at light speed. Hawkwind immediately became a strong part of my Prog library.
My first album by them was "Doremi Fasol Latido". I think that this is probably one of the best albums they ever produced. (Embarrassingly, it took me about a year before I figured out the title!) It certainly contains some of their finest works such as "Brainstorm", "Space is Deep", "Lord of Light", and "Down Thru the Night". All of these songs became concert standards.
What really appealed to me most about Hawkwind was their jamming style. They could take a song and grind for 10 minutes on just one chord, or a couple of chords, and you never really noticed anything but the hypnosis of their technique. Sadly, I never saw hawkwind play live, in fact, I've never even seen a video of them with the exception of "Silver Machine." The first time I ever heard "Silver Machine", I couldn't believe what a great, powerful, and kick-ass song this really was. I wanted it to go on forever. It was on a compilation album called "Roadhawks" that I hadn't even acquired until 1976.
Now, was there ever a hotter song than "Hurry on Sundown"? It still revs me up whenever I hear it. Prior to the "Roadhawks" album, I purchased "Hall of the Mountain Grill" in 1974. My three favorites were: "Psychedelic Warlords (That Disappear in Smoke)," "Wind of Change", and "D-Rider".
By this time, I was really getting a taste for the marvelous drumming of Simon King. He was a power hitter, much like Cozy Powell. Simon was a true driving force behind Hawkwind just as much as the rest of the band. This is the one aspect that I truly admire about Hawkwind, was the fact that everyone was a strong part of an engine that created an overall sound. This is something that I can't say about all Prog bands. This is not to take anything away from the others, it's just a matter of style. For example, many Prog bands revolved around solos, whereas Hawkwind was like a solo act with each member simultaneously. Similar to Tangerine Dream, they created one unique overall sound. Del Dettmar who provided a blanket of synthesizers that painted the galaxy, was a strong contributor to the Hawk sound in the early 70's.
"Space Ritual" the live 2-record set was in my opinion, the greatest Hawkwind album of all time (next to Doremi of course). This record proved that they could bring their studio sound to the stage to a point where the listener would never be able to tell the difference. Hawkwind was unique. They employed a female dancer-the generously endowed Stacia, who would shed every stitch of clothing to dance nude on stage. As stated on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stacia): "Stacia was six feet tall, "happily bisexual", an attractive and imposing figure of a woman by any standard, and often augmented her visual impact by performing clad only in iridescent or luminescent paint."
Friends of the Devil?
From Germany, Lucifer's Friend is one powerhouse of a band. Interestingly, not once in their music or lyrics that I've ever heard do they ever make mention of any satanic acquaintance, loyalty, devotion, or otherwise connection with Lucifer. I think they were just reaching for a name that would grab hold of people. They did offer interesting cover icons in a short evil looking dwarfish man with a hook for a hand, and a taller mysterious guy. The two appeared to be a fiendish team that graced every album (I think) in either photo, or art form. From their first album titled "Lucifer's Friend", they offer up a very tumultuous Deep Purple type of rock sound with interesting song composition and a tendency to want to go further than they should. It wasn't that the songs were outlandish, it's just that you could feel the strain of wanting to do more in their work. It's almost like they were trying to stay within the boundaries of successful rock. The song "Ride the Sky" was incredible and got played so many times I found myself nearly dreaming the song. Front man and vocalist John Lawton has the most powerful set of pipes I've ever heard, and his vocals are a signature of this band. "Toxic Shadows" is another nice piece on this record.
Lucifer's Friend's style was that of a changeling, and offered unique variations with every album. Personally, I never felt that that was a good thing, but rather dangerous in the world of rock and roll. I'm not sure how well they did as a band, but they did produce quite a number of albums that are very hot. The most interesting of all of them for me was "Banquet". It was also my first introduction to LF. I picked it up on the cut-out rack for a dollar. When I first listened to it I was very disappointed. The cover was so awesome, but the music inside did not reflect any of it. Then, when I played it a second time, it hit me how fantastic it really was, and it remains today as one of my most favorite LF albums. "Banquet". was an unusual experimentation with a full orchestra, and the fast-paced style of Lucifer's Friend resulted in a jazzy high-brow set of tunes. Two of my favorites are "Spanish Galleon". and "Sorrow". If you're not familiar with this LP, check out John Lawton's vocals on "Sorrow".
From there, I picked up "Mind Exploding" a very ambitious and energetic album with a great song "Moonshine Rider" that showcased Lawton's most excellent vocal talents. After this album, I lost touch with my German friends as their albums tended to disappear from the stores. I was later reunited with them when the advent of "used" record stores began to flourish in numbers. These were the places where buried treasures were unearthed.
In 1978 I came upon "Good Time Warrior", a Lucifer's Friend LP that suffered the loss of singer John Lawton who'd been replaced by vocalist Mike Starrs. Starrs actually did okay considering there really was no substitute for John Lawton. Then, Lawton is back for "Mean Machine", a return to their old days of serious, grinding rock only with a dab of maturity and songwriting finesse. Still, it wasn't as sharp as some of their earlier works. In conclusion, Lucifer's Friend seemed to be a band that you either loved, or hated, but I loved them.
Fragile: Handled with Care
In 1972, in my quest for purchasing albums strictly for their covers, I came upon this little gem. The cover art was so magnificent that there would be no question about paying the bucks. I was not disappointed once it hit the turntable, but in fact found this new band to be very much like King Crimson!
They didn't sound like Crimson in any way, but they had that experimental-high-tech-master-musician-complex-composition quality that KC possessed. This was by far one of the most unique and interesting bands I'd ever come across. Problem number one: what were they called? Were they called "Fragile" or "Yes"? I combed the cover inside and out and could not find a definitive answer. So, for the time being, I just called them "Fragile Yes". My favorites on the album were "Roundabout" (of course), "South Side of the Sky" and "Heart of the Sunrise". Keyboardist Rick Wakeman had a certain flair for dramatic composition, and use of the Mellotron.
Though I loved Yes, I was never a fan of guitarist Steve Howe. There was something about his style that didn't sit well with me. I didn't hate his style, I just had trouble getting into it. However, once "Yessongs" was released, I was a full-fledged fan of Steve Howe. There was just something about his live power-thrusts with "Perpetual Change" that seemed to fill the void. Chris Squire on the other hand, I found to be a very interesting player. His bass lines, in my opinion, are what define Yes as a stand-out presence. For the first time in-any prog band that I'd ever heard-a bassist was laying the foundation not only for sound, but style as well.
"Tales from Topographic Oceans" can be one of the LP's in this world that define the term "Prog Rock". This was a wonderful 2-record set that took the word "rock" and elevated it to new heights. This album was art, end of story. The cover art dazzling, done by Roger Dean who, by the way, was almost considered a "sixth" member of the band. The sound was hypnotizing and powerful, and such a giant step for this absolutely awesome "orchestra". I always felt that this was their signature album, though many Yes fans will argue. Rumors fly about the in-house arguments and tensions in the band, which led to drummer Bill Bruford's decision to quit and join King Crimson. There are also tales about the Anderson/Howe domination of much of the production of the album.
Rumors aside, another marvelous aspect to Yes, is the fact that they could sound so good live. I saw them in concert shortly after the "Fragile" release, and was amazed at how well they delivered on stage. 1972 was a time when re-creating walls of studio sound was not a technological option by using mixers or machines; bands had to do it live on stage, or not at all.
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