Friday, February 12, 2010

10 Greatest Songs - #10

Hawkwind - Uncle Sam's on Mars

OK. This one will probably have 99% of people thinking "WTF" but bear with me. Hawkwind are a very long standing band starting in 1969 and still playing. Known as the band that started a genre of their own, called Space Rock, Hawkwind have never been a chart topping band (well apart from the single Silver Machine in 1972) but are often cited as an influence on other bands. Some small notoriety came when the follow-up single to their #2 single (Silver Machine) was banned by the BBC. The record, Urban Guerilla, was accused of romanticising terrorism, many years before terrorism became the problem it is today.

So, why Uncle Sam's on Mars? Well, while I could say there are many good Hawkwind tracks this has a number of ingredients that make it a worthy entry into my chart.

Firstly, Bob Calvert. Bob Calvert was a poet, singer and visionary. He is creditted with masterminding the Space Ritual experience that Hawkwind brought to stage in 1972. Calvert was a little left field in his views and struggled with mental problems all his adult life. He left Hawkwind and rejoined and eventually was kicked out when the other members found they could no longer cope with his mental aberrations. That's not to say he was bonkers but he is reported to have tried to kill bandmates. But Calvert was a real talent, a wordsmith and a performer. His solo album Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters was themed about the failings of the infamous Widowmaker plane, the Lockheed Starfighter and was very different from the mundane offerings around the time of its release. For me, the Calvert years of Hawkwind, and the partnership with Dave Brock, made of the best albums, like PXR5 and Quark Strangeness and Charm.

Secondly, the vision. This record is a biting criticism of the US spend on the space program but at the same time talks of optimism for the future ("America has left the Moon"). Look at the lyrics where they talk of pollution, global warming, consumerism gone rampant and about US expansionism ("looking for life to stamp out"). This was all ahead of it's time. How many people talked of global warming 30 years ago?

Oh and here's a YouTube video some Hawkfan has put together

Lyrics here

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