Spock it to Me!

Let It Rock – December 1974

Dave Downing traces the weird outlines of S.F. rock…

Back in the dim past, before gimmickry became too obvious to see, one of rock’n’roll’s recurrent gimmicks was to set its dance-hall adventures in outer space. After all, why not? Buicks could be starships, space was as real as the wild west, and just as convenient a place to make stories without
any new ideas. The environment was enough.

Most of the people encountered out there, like the Martians of ‘Martian Hop’, were extremely amiable, allies in the anti-parental war, as willing to boogie as the next kid. Billy Lee Riley did the ‘Flying Saucer Rock’n’Roll’, so did Buchanan and Goldman, knocking on the door of a rocket ship to hear snatches of our music from the aliens inside. “Keep a knockin’ but you can’t come in”.

Eventually space got closer to home. The Russians got there first, as Dylan observed in another context, and Sputnik was followed into the heavens by numerous other pieces of metal. Telstar was one of them, and the song of that name was something of a breakthrough. It didn’t use space as an added effect, space was the effect. No words, just a musical tribute to technology…

…”I find your questions all but meaningless. I say that without wishing to insult…” Hawkmoon rubbed his chin. “I find them meaningless, you see”.  Michael Moorcock, The Jewel in the SkullBowie has been mistakenly seen as a reversion to the past by those who confuse his image with his
manipulation of it. But with Hawkwind, SF Rock has truly completed another circle with all the power of a 159 bus hitting Streatham Garage.

I say that without wishing to insult, because, despite numerous references to a ‘terminal case of Hawkwind’, I have grown rather fond of them. But what ‘Telstar’ was to the early sixties, ‘Psychedelic Warlords’ is to the seventies. They both sound great without containing any real musicianship. ‘Telstar’ has no words, ‘Warlords’ has the 1974 equivalent:-

Sick of politicians, harassment and laws; All we do is get screwed up by other people’s flawsThat the two records have the same relation to their time makes them a good measure of the decade’s changes. ‘Telstar’ is a packaged three-minute non-ideological single. ‘Warlords’ is a seven-minute anti-authoritarian diatribe album track. With improvisation. All they musically share is the creation of excitement through an evocation of space set to rhythm. And here Hawkwind win hands down. Sounding, as ever, like early Floyd on less mellow drugs, they pound away with a disregard for melody that is absolutely addictive. The bass and drums reduce your brain to jelly, the guitar-drill breaks it up for the synthesised wind to scatter the pieces all the way from here to Andromeda. You never need a second copy ‘cos you wear out before the first one.

The Pink Floyd have always been synonymous with space rock in the public’s imagination – at least until the onslaught of Hawkwind. But Hawkwind, like early Floyd, have a solid popular constituency. They neatly slot the ideas of the last decade into the older SF context. Timothy Leary writes Flash Gordon. As Greg Shaw wrote, Hawkwind have created a “strong, imagination-sparking image; a return to the level of teenage appeal space-rock had in the 50s”. Space Ritual is a story full of ideas and it’s fun and the lights flash and everyone’s zonked and Stacia looks great. The revolutionary ideas of early musicnauts may sound corny five years on, but you’ve still got to hold on to them. That’s progress

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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