The Top 15 Hawkwind Tracks from the 1970s (Top 10, expanded!)

[Yes, yes, a little self indulgent, but I was musing on such a list recently and thought 'Why not do it properly and do it in a blog post?']

I was chatting to my daughter and talking about the 'old days' when we used to make 'mix tapes' on cassette, painstakingly copying on tracks from other tapes or LPs to create curated compilations. She paused for a brief moment and then said 'you mean like a playlist?'(!) Ah. So yes, turns out the mix tape is redundant in 2023, but the idea of picking 10 (or 15, as has ended up here!) favourite tracks from a band, an artist, an era, or a genre, and then theoretically putting them into a playlist is a good idea still.

Not least because it filters out a lot of the rubbish that every artist inserts. Because none are perfect and all are guilty of putting in 'filler' songs, let's face it. The better artists or bands have less filler, but it's still there, and therefore warrants a retrospective curation.

In this case I've been deep diving into Hawkwind, led by the excellent Joe Banks book. This covers the 1970s in meticulous detail, the group's formative years and career peak. Although I'd agree that there are plenty of things to like from 1980 onwards (mainly Huw Lloyd Langton), and although the band continue in 2023(!), I completely agree with Joe that the very best of the band, the idea, and indeed the very best of music generally (I'd argue), was in the 1970s. So much was created and innovated, by so many bands, in this decade. IMHO.

So, with all that in mind, and after featuring Damnation Alley on CGFTE podcast 29, and with much forethought, here are my top 15 tracks by Hawkwind (listed with YouTube direct play links, the album(s) that they appear on and Amazon links as appropriate, plus an overall YouTube playlist), for a reader to investigate.

Note that many albums/tracks are available in remastered form, so do watch for these (linked where possible below), it's great to get 1970s murky productions clarified for modern equipment and ears!

  1. Spirit of the Age^ (from 'Quark, Strangeness, and Charm', 1977)
    The start of a new late-70s era for Hawkwind, with stripped down feel and perfect blend of witty sci-fi lyrics, power guitar and drums, and Simon House adding keyboard magic.
    [Production note: the studio version was actually an edit/remix from a longer 12 minute version, available on several official album remasters. This has an extra, fledgling first verse and a repeat of the current first verse at the end - all padding, really, so I'm sticking to the official running time here.]
  2. Damnation Alley^ (from 'Quark, Strangeness, and Charm', 1977)
    Following on from the above, an apocalyptic vision set to rock music, listen for the breakdown and organ/drums rejoining...
  3. Fable of a Failed Race^ (from 'Quark, Strangeness, and Charm', 1977)
    Again following on, a gloriously dreamy future look back on civilisation, while giving relief from the driving forces of the previous two classics...
    [Production note: the studio version was actually an edit from a longer 7 minute version, available on several official album remasters. I've linked to this longer version here - the song itself is the same, but you get more intro and outro!]
  4. The Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke) (from 'Hall of the Mountain Grill', 1974)
    Cleaner and tighter than on previous albums, Hawkwind at their rhythm section (King/Lemmy) peak, perhaps.
  5. Lord of Light (live) (from 'Space Ritual', 1973)
    The mystical classic from 'Doremi' but reworked to be bassier and better sung, listen for King's rolls and Lemmy's bass runs...
  6. Robot (from 'PXR5', 1979)
    More sci-fi, chilling lyrics, biting keyboards, Hawkwind - and indeed a violin(!) - sounding like nothing else you've ever heard. Yet again.
    [Production note: this is actually a live recording from the Leicester show in 1977, but - as Hawkwind love to do - overdubbed and tidied in the studio]
  7. Space is Deep* (on 'Roadhawks' official compilation, 1976, originally on 'Doremi Faso Latido', 1972)
    Both acoustic balladry and full-on space rock, both in the one track - what more could one want?
  8. Wind of Change* (on 'Roadhawks' official compilation, 1976, originally on 'Hall of the Mountain Grill', 1974)
    Love the way this builds, with mellotron, violin, stereo drum fills, etc.
  9. The Golden Void* (on 'Roadhawks' official compilation, 1976, originally from 'Warrior on the edge of time', 1975)
    The higher quality half of the Warrior double-bill, this is still striking in its synth lines and key changes.
    [I've linked to the whole double-halved song here, opinions on the first half err... vary! But well worth hearing The Golden Void in context!]
  10. 25 Years (single version) (from '25 Years On', 1978)
    As punky as Hawkwind get, at least in my list here!
    [The linked single remix is the best of several alternatives, with crisper drums, less flab, and an added guitar solo.]
  11. Magnu (from 'Warrior on the edge of time', 1975)
    Possibly the archetypal Hawkwind riff, howling winds (again), spiralling violin, and two drummers propelling it along...
  12. Master of the Universe (live) (from 'Space Ritual', 1973)
    Arguably the best version of this early classic, the opening wind-propelled distorted riffery is spine chilling in its power...
  13. Psi Power (from '25 Years On', 1978)
    Clever lyrics tell a telepath's tale, with catchy (if not rocky) accompaniment.
  14. High Rise (from 'PXR5', 1979)
    Calvert again triumphs with lyrics, with appropriately moody backing...
    [Production note: this is also a live recording from the Leicester show in 1977, but, again, tidied in the studio]
  15. Silver Machine (on 'Roadhawks' official compilation, 1976)
    The single that started Hawkwind's (relative) success, of course, and the best version, with huge wind, huge drums, space-boogie bass and guitar, and Lemmy's towering vocals. Hit! (literally)
    [This version was remixed by Dave Brock, allegedly, and is slightly crisper and cleaner than the original single. Which in turn was a live recording from Greasy Truckers Party with Calvert on vocals, but massively tied up in the studio, including - infamously - overdubbing Lemmy on lead vocals!]
In fact, I've collated all the play links above (in order) into a YouTube playlist here, for your convenience.

Some notes:
  • Tracks marked ^ and * are semi-purposefully put by me in consecutive order in the list in the way that they follow each other on an actual album, segued together. Neat, eh?
  • No, there's nothing from the debut album (which is an experimental affair), and nothing from In Search of Space (which is proto-Hawkwind), and also nothing from Astounding Sounds (which has 'Steppenwolf' but little else and is a tough listen for Hawkwind aficionados). Sorry.
  • In addition to the studio albums and official compilation ('Roadhawks') and official live recording ('Space Ritual' and 'Live Seventy Nine'), there are many other retrospective compilations, plus semi-official bootlegs and live recordings containing many of the songs above in live settings.
  • One common factor to all tracks, other than the presence of Dave Brock, Hawkwind founder member, is that Simon King plays drums. His motorik 'King Beat', as Joe Banks put it, eight to the floor on the bass drum, eighth beats also on the hi-hat, and snare on all beats, together with round-the-kit rolls that end perfectly every time, lifted Hawkwind onto a whole other level while he was in the band. And I won't have a word said against him! (See also accolades for King from others.)
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