Thursday, October 21, 2010

Robyn Hitchcock, As Selected By You

Monday's XTC post prompted two readers to say a few words about Robyn Hitchcock.

"A few years ago there was word that Andy was going to be collaborating with Robyn Hitchcock. This was absolutely thrilling news for me - two of my favorite geniuses, together at last!"


"...the thought of a Partridge - Hitchcock collaboration-- mouth watering."

I don't get it. Never have. And I've tried. "Queen Elvis," "Moss Elixir," and even the most recent, critically acclaimed "Propellor Time" have all left me cold. Though with "Propellor Time," I listened after seeing "Rachel Getting Married," the Jonathan Demme movie in which Hitchcock is hired to play a wedding. That will forever remain, the two worst hours of my life.

But unlike other artists I don't get, Robyn Hitchcock doesn't bother me. Graham Parker bothers me. But Robyn Hitchcock? No, not at all. I just want to know what I'm missing, because unlike Graham Parker, who so many, including Parker, consider a "genius," Robyn Hitchcock does not put me off with endless releases of the same, boring material. With Hitchcock, I go in wanting something. I try to muster up a little enthusiasm like so many of my friends, but always leave thinking, "Oh well, maybe next time."

So dear readers, tell me. I await your suggestions. Anyone want to compile a nice, 12 track sampler? I just need titles and I will track down the music. Or should I start with one record in particular, even if it is one of the three mentioned above? I'll go in again.

I don't find an Andy Partridge/Robyn Hitchcock collaboration "mouth-watering," and I sure would like to.

For your efforts, I will reward you with a very special "Weekend Mix" tomorrow.


Shriner said...

I'll take a shot at suggesting an album or two (Rhino's 20-track greatest hits collection is really a good start, IMO, but...)

1) "Propellor Time" -- is not the best "venus 3" album. My feeling is they cut enough tracks for 3 albums at one time and spread them over 3 albums. "Ole' Tarantula" is, IMO, a much better set of tracks.

2) I first *heard* of Hitchcock before ever hearing any albums. Somebody took me to a live show and that's what opened my eyes to him, so I'd recommend "Fegmania!"

3) The first album I heard fully I still consider the best introduction to RH: "Element of Light".

Beware the reissues bonus tracks, though. While some are better than others, they can end the whole album on a downer note.

Shriner said...

Oh, and "Underwater Moonlight" -- while a Soft Boys album -- is still a big favorite.

Anonymous said...

I'll suggest two songs anyway:

The Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You"
has got to be one of the catchiest, if not the catchiest, punk-era song. Not sure how much of that was Robyn's contribution, but it's so great--short, sweet, funny (I think) and a hook among hooks...

Also, from recent times, and very different,"New York Doll" a song about Arthur Kane--fairly straightforward subject matter for Robyn--I think it's pretty sweet song, especially after having seen the movie of the same name, which just thinking about, chokes me up.

Re Graham Parker: Do you include his pre-1980 music as what leaves you cold? I agree that after that it all becomes a bit superfluous, but in the beginning, he blazed...


Sal Nunziato said...


I do know and love "I Wanna Destroy You."

As for Graham...yeah, the early stuff is good. I really like "Stick To Me" and "Heat Treatment." Though, I am not gaga over "Squeezing Out Sparks" like so many are. Songs here and there, like stuff off of "The Real Macaw" and "Another Grey Area" are good, as well. But a 25 track GP anthology is about all I could stand.

Grey said...

Uh-oh. Pressure's on now.

I'll second Shriner that Propellor Time isn't the best Venus 3 album. I'm partial to Goodnight Oslo myself, especially "Intricate Thing." With the Venus 3, Robyn sounds like he's relaxed and happy and having a good time making music. Oh, and throw another vote on the pile for the album Element of Light.

What I initially found appealing about Robyn was the bizarre imagery in the songs. Songs like "Tropical Flesh Mandala," "Furry Green Atom Bowl" and "Bass" earned him a reputation as a kind of demented biologist who also dabbled in abnormal psychology ("Uncorrected Personality Traits") and would also toss out the occasional rocker ("Brenda's Iron Sledge," "The Shapes Between Us Turn Into Animals"). His abundant use of weirdness and humor - both classic distancing techniques - can pull you in and put you off your guard. Then he'll come at you with something melancholy and introspective like "No, I Don't Remember Guildford," and it hits that much harder. Yes, he's funny; yes, he's weird...but he's also adept at describing pain, loss, sadness, the complicated and delicate workings of relationships. It's clear that he's gone through these things, and he gives them their due with intelligence and poignancy.

Robyn's live shows are always a good time. Stream-of-consciousness storytelling, audience-generated playlists, weird songs, funny songs, delicately pretty songs like "Glass Hotel," the occasional Dylan or Syd Barrett cover (he sang a version of Barrett's "Dominoes," accompanied by piano, that had everyone kinda spellbound last show I went to)...I've never come away disappointed. But then, I love the guy. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. But that's cool, too.

I'm sorry if isn't making much sense or isn't at all helpful, Sal. Sometimes, the closer something is to your heart, the harder it is to explain to someone, and Robyn's in my top 3, right after Laura Nyro and Todd.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Shriner, get Element of Light. I don't know the bonus material but the first 10 songs as originally released are strong. If you don't like it you should probably just give up on him.

As for Graham Parker, I think his early work is as essential as Elvis Costello's or Joe Jackson's.


Anonymous said...

1. Mexican God - Jewels For Sophia
2. Queen Elvis - Eye
3. Underground Sun - Ole! Tarantula
4. Knife - Queen Elvis
5. Glass Hotel - Eye
6. Airscape - Element Of Light
7. Creeped Out - Spooked
8. My Wife & My Dead Wife-Fegmania
9. I Saw Nick Drake - Star For Bram
10. Ultra Unbelievable Love -
Perspex Island
11. She Doesn't Exist Anymore -
Perspex Island
12. You & Oblivion - Moss Elixir

Good Stuff - have fun.

Anonymous said...

I like Robyn's voice ( and name )but I've never heard a single great song from him, let alone one that didn't just sound like a Syd Barrett cover band trying to sneak in an original. I agree with Sal, though. He's better than Graham Parker.

Sal Nunziato said...

Thank you for all the suggestions. I wll get to work this weekend.

As for GP's early work as essential as EC's, I don't see or hear that at all.

steves said...

Parker's not one of my favorites, but he doesn't bother me at all (and I'm glad you cited "The Real Macaw" in your exceptions list, as I've always had a soft spot for that album). Now, Axl Rose...he really bothers me.

Anonymous said...

Sal, I'd give Moss Elixir another shot. To me, with an exception or two, it's an oddly beautiful album, gently psychedelic, slightly melancholic, perfect for a late afternoon listen on a lazy weekend. It's like a slightly twee British version of "Quah," if that makes sense, or is even appealing. Or how about "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme" made by a solo act with a weird sense of humor instead of a duo with a self-consciously literary sense of humor.

Graham Parker never really worked for me, either. Plus there's something irritating about him as a public persona--sort of like the male Aimee Mann, except I like Aimee Mann's music.

Bruce Handy

Anonymous said...

It is strange to me that no one has mentioned "i often dreams of train" which is one of the most beautiful acoustic album ever recorded , a masterpiece from start to finish.
You can be sure it will be in my top ten desert island records.

Shriner said...

I love RH -- I believe I have just about everything he's released (including his 45's he releases on his web site.

But I never have gotten the appeal of "I Often Dream Of Trains" apart from the songs that are on Fegmania!. To me, "Eye" is the better acoustic album.

Oh, and stay away from the "Queen Elvis" album. Probably my *least* favorite Hitchcock album (even including the odds-n-sodds collection albums...)

And, I think "Respect" is *vastly* underrated.

jc said...

Fegmania! All of Side One, but also Heaven. If I had to pick one song off Side One, I'd go with I'm Only You just because of the way the guitar line snakes around and into the bass. I remember it being hard to play and sing at the same time.

ChuckT said...

Listen to the song "Winchester" from "Element Of Light." An outstanding track from an outstanding album. Well-produced, beautiful pop rock album with the full band.

The follow-up album, "Globe Of Frogs"is more commercial, but very pop at times. Notable tracks: "Tropical Flesh Mandala," "Vibrating" and "Flesh Number One (Beatle Dennis)"

The sparse, mostly-acoustic "I Often Dream Of Trains" album is just great. Key tracks: "Autumn Is Your Last Chance," "I Used To Say I Love You", "My Favorite Buildings" and the title track.

And the 1993 album "Respect" has some great moments on it. "The Wreck Of The Arthur Lee," "Driving Aloud," "Serpent At the Gates Of Wisdom" and "The Moon Inside." The production is pretty glossy, though.

Sample tracks from both "Queen Elvis" and "Perspex Island" for more great pop. From the former, I like "One Long Pair Of Eyes" and from the latter I like "She Doesn't Exist" (feat Michael Stipe on backing vocals)

steve simels said...

My two cents:

Hitchcock's solo acoustic cover of Skip Spence's Broken Heart on the OAR tribute album is simply gorgeous.

And no love for "So You Think You're in Love" -- one of the catchiest power pop singles of the 80s (or was it early 90s)?

Sal Nunziato said...

This is all very overwhelming. It seems I have a lot of work to do. I thank you all.

I love this, Bruce:
"Graham Parker never really worked for me, either. Plus there's something irritating about him as a public persona--sort of like the male Aimee Mann, except I like Aimee Mann's music."

Here's something I've been thinking:

Graham Parker is to Elvis Costello what Southside Johnny is to Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band, or Badfinger is to The Beatles.

At least, that's how I feel.


Hey Sal,

I recall reading one time "its not the pear's fault that it isn't an apple"

Elvis, Bruce, The Beatles ... stand in a very special place in my life. I have a lot more time for Southside than I do for Badfinger or Graham Parker but that doesn't mean I dismiss them. I listen to them and I know for sure they ain't as important as the big three you mention.

Sal Nunziato said...


I'm not blaming the pears. Some people like Roger Moore better than Sean Connery. To me, Graham Parker is George Lazenby.



Speaking of which ...

Do you know the Sondre Lerche song "Like Lazenby"?


Anonymous said...

Agreed. "So You Think You're In Love" is a great song. And so is "Ultra Unbelieveable Love." This is going to send me back to my old records now, and I have a craving to hear "Let Me Put It Next To You" by The Soft Boys.

john said...

No collection of hitchcock is complete w/o (I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp - The Soft Boys................I have it if u need it!!

Jeff in Denton TX said...

I'm actually a fan of much of Graham Parker's stuff up until the early 90's. I really liked "Struck By Lightning" and "Burning Questions" had some fine moments. I bought the next couple of albums after that ("12 Haunted Episodes"; "Acid Bubblegum"), but have since traded them in due to their blandness. I haven't bought another of his studio releases since.
I see GP's early albums as sort of the missing link between Van Morrison and Elvis C. He's probably bitter because EC had more success and acclaim without the record label troubles. Ultimately, GP is another aging rocker who's been unable to recapture the quality of his early work.
I'm also interested in the RH suggestions, since my knowledge of his material is limited (though I did see him open for R.E.M. in '89).

Neil S said...

What's your beef with Graham Parker? "Howlin' Wind" and "Heat Treatment" were one of the finest first two, entirely written by the artist, releases ever.

And why does it "bother you?"

Sal Nunziato said...

Well, I've no real "beef" with the man. I absolutely don't agree with you about his first two releases, though I do prefer those records over anything he's done since.

I guess what "bothers" me is something along the lines of what Bruce Handy mentioned in his comments.

"Graham Parker never really worked for me, either. Plus there's something irritating about him as a public persona"

I think the majority of GP's work is mediocre and just don't see him as this songwriter's songwriter like so many do.

Just an opinion.

Anonymous said...

Don't listen to anything past 1986, it just isn't as interesting as the earlier stuff
"I often Dream of Trains " is the most essential of his solo albums with his 1st " BlACK SNKE DIAMOND ROLE" coming in second.
The Soft Boys "Wading thru a ventilator" and "Underwater Moonlight" are both heavy-duty masterpieces. all of the above sound good on headphones high on drugs , drunk on ale , or stone cold sober with a little crab dip. I think if you will listen to those you will "get it". cheers!

Unknown said...

Yes, I agree with starting with Element of Light then Queen Elvis and then Globe of Frogs. I remember the New Afternoon Show playing "Ted, Woody and Junior" to death in the mid 80s.