With the recent release of Pink Floyd’s new album The Endless River, fans around the globe were delighted to hear the progressive, analog sound of the 70s once again. As older people among us will undoubtedly recall, the 70s were deeply rooted in the psychedelic experience and were instrumental in refining rock music through electronic effects and highly conceptual lyrics. This article will focus on Hawkwind, a lesser-known band from this distinctive and sonically creative era.
Hawkwind is a UK « space rock » band born in the early 70s and whose contribution to psychedelic music in general is considerable. If you’re thinking Saucerful of Secrets-era Pink Floyd on steroids, then you’re not far from the Hawkwind sound. Generally harsher and more experimental than Pink Floyd in nature, Hawkwind has gained a cult following throughout the years and remains active to this day, even after countless lineup changes. It’s worth mentioning at this point that the band released a huge number of albums (not to mention bootlegs) and that this article spans mainly the 1970 to 1975 period where, in my opinion, Hawkwind had reached the pinnacle of its creativity.
It all starts with the elusive Hawkwind, their debut album which is sometimes considered alien and rather unfocused when compared to the rest of the group’s discography. One of the tracks on this album is actually a cover of a Pink Floyd song, highlighting Hawkwind’s early influences. The rest is a sparse patchwork of bizarre analog atmospheres, among which the Paranoia suite is the most memorable. Apparently people would either pass out or freak out completely when this track was played live back in 1969. Although Hawkwind is a rather mixed album, it already showcases a primitive expression of the patterns that would later establish the Hawkwind sound proper: crazy sax, sci-fi themes and long, atmospheric tracks. Their second album In Search of Space is where the spaceship Hawkwind obviously departs from the earth and the group defines itself as a space rock band. Space themes are all over the lyrics and the sound no longer has the folksiness of the previous album. The music also acquires a stronger character bordering on heavy metal sometimes (proto-metal actually, we’re in 1971). This is especially noticeable on the track Master of the Universe.
The next three albums, Doremi Fasol Latido, Space Ritual and Hall of the Mountain Grill all feature bassist and vocalist Lemmy Kilmister, who would later be kicked out of the group to eventually form Motörhead, which everyone knows about. Lemmy’s bass further developed Hawkwind’s raw edge, this kind of sound culminating in 1973 on the live, double-album Space Ritual which remains Hawkwind’s most widely known and arguably best performance to date.
Their last studio album in the “raw space rock” period is Warrior on the Edge of Time. This album is more progressive in nature as it incorporates majestic synth leads and adopts slower, more epic compositions. The cover imagery, a dreamy landscape featuring a knight on his horse standing on a mountain top, as well as the clean, chorus-like vocals are reminiscent of The Moody Blues albums from the late 60s (Days of the Future Passed, In Search of the Lost Chord…). This glorious prog-rock album was recently remastered in high definition by Atomhenge and was repackaged in a huge box-set featuring a DVD with high quality 5.1 surround sound, a poster, photos and even a replica from an original Warrior on the Edge of Time tour ticket.
The rest of Hawkwind’s discography encompasses multiple periods and musical styles too diverse to enumerate. But you should hopefully have an idea of what the original Hawkwind sound is about. If any of what I said in this article rang a bell, you should definitely check out this incredible and prolific band.