As part of a series of articles celebrating 50 years of Hawkwind, Prog asked me to choose ten of their essential albums. Published November 2019 (reproduced courtesy of Prog).
Sideways Through Time
Ten essential Hawkwind albums
In Search Of Space (1971)
After the folk blues and barbarian psychedelia of their debut, this is where Hawkwind really achieve lift-off. Clad in an astonishing Barney Bubbles-designed sleeve, ISOS showcases their mantric, anti-authoritarian space rock sound on 'You Shouldn’t Do That', while 'Master Of The Universe' is their first sci-fi classic and one of Dave Brock’s greatest riffs. Elsewhere, 'We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago' is an eco anthem that sounds increasingly prescient.
Space Ritual (1973)
The greatest live album ever? Quite possibly – it’s certainly unlike anything else released then or now. Recorded on the tour of the same name, drawing heavily on the previous year’s Doremi Fasol Latido, and housed in another wonderful fold-out sleeve, it’s an intense 88 minutes of body-pummelling riffs, otherworldly electronics and sci-fi poetry, a headlong plunge into the pitch black void. Highlights include 'Born To Go'’s frantic statement of intent, the cosmic boogie of 'Orgone Accumulator' and the chilling fatalism of 'Sonic Attack'.
Warrior On The Edge Of Time (1975)
Recent recipient of Prog’s Classic Album Award, Warrior sees Hawkwind deploy the full armoury of progressive rock – Mellotron, synth, violin, flute etc – to produce a brain-frying sword and sorcery spectacular, loosely based on Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion novels. 'Assault And Battery', 'The Golden Void' and 'Magnu' are heavy duty classics and future staples of their live sets, while 'Opa-Loka' is a good illustration of why some critics considered Hawkwind a British equivalent to Krautrock.
Quark, Strangeness And Charm (1977)
With Robert Calvert firmly at the conceptual controls, this is Hawkwind’s smartest album, casting a satirical eye over everything from cloning and quantum physics to Middle Eastern terrorism and nuclear apocalypse. After the hazy stoner funk of 1976’s Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music, and a subsequent split in the ranks, Quark is bracingly up to date, tracks such as 'Spirit Of The Age' and 'Damnation Alley' sounding taut, polished and chromium-plated.
Hawklords / 25 Years On (1978)
Hawkwind split in March 1978, but Brock and Calvert were soon heading up a new band that built on the legacy of the last one. Hawklords (also referred to as 25 Years On) is the hidden gem in Hawkwind’s back catalogue, an album of starkly-arranged dystopian pop that exudes humanity, both angry and compassionate – in many ways, a classic new wave record. 'Psi Power' is arguably their finest piece of songwriting, with 'Free Fall' and '25 Years' not far behind.
Having reverted to being Hawkwind, the band that makes Levitation is almost unrecognisable from its late 70s incarnation – Calvert’s rock theatre is gone, and in its place is the instrumental firepower of Huw Lloyd-Langton, Tim Blake, and bizarrely enough, Ginger Baker. It’s a tougher, more guitar-oriented sound for a new decade, and one they’ll pursue throughout it. The title track is a crunching but catchy riff monster, while 'Who’s Gonna Win The War?' is a sobering evocation of nuclear devastation.
Choose Your Masques (1982)
The last Hawkwind album to be released on a major label, Masques captures a band still pushing the envelope in combining supercharged guitars with state of the art technology. While the early 80s saw them partially aligned with Britain’s NWOBHM, much of the music here – especially the pounding, hypnotic title track – anticipates the industrial and electronic rock sounds of the late 80s onwards. Other highlights include the unnerving 'Dream Worker' and the melancholic 'Solitary Mind Games'.
Electric Tepee (1992)
The entertaining fantasy metal of The Chronicle Of The Black Sword (1985) notwithstanding, the rest of the 1980s saw Hawkwind release a series of frustratingly patchy albums. But the early 90s techno/rave scene reinvigorated them, as did their consolidation to a power trio of just Brock, bassist Alan Davey and drummer Richard Chadwick. Electric Tepee reflects this new found energy, particularly the hard riffing and sequenced propulsion of tracks such as 'LSD' and 'The Secret Agent'.
Alien 4 (1995)
It Is The Business Of The Future To Be Dangerous (1993) pushed further into electronic trance territory, but there was a worry that the band was beginning to lack focus live. Enter new frontman Ron Tree, who brought an element of rock theatre to Hawkwind once again. This extra-terrestrial themed album, his first with the band, was also more song-focused, though the likes of 'Alien (I Am)' and 'Beam Me Up' remain strange and disorientating in the best possible way.
The Machine Stops (2016)
The late 90s and 00s saw a plethora of live albums and guest singers, but relatively few studio recordings. However, Hawkwind have gone through a major resurgence over the past ten years, with The Machine Stops – a concept album based on the E.M. Forster novella – being the pick of their recent releases. 'Synchronised Blue' and 'A Solitary Man' are great melodic rockers; 'Hexagone' is an odd but affecting ballad.