Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mix CD, "An Introduction to Robyn Hitchcock"

Robyn Hitchcock, 1985.

Robyn Hitchcock on stage.
Robyn Hitchcock’s oeuvre as a musician might seem a bit inaccessible to some people. Hitchcock has been very prolific over his career, releasing 19 albums as a solo artist since 1981. So where would one begin if you were looking for an introduction to his music? Fear not, dear reader, for I made a Robyn Hitchcock mix CD that’s meant to be an introduction for newcomers to his songs and music. This CD is meant to highlight Hitchcock’s more accessible songs, as it was created with the express purpose of persuading my Mom and my wife that Robyn Hitchcock is a genius. But if you’re a hardcore Hitchcock fan, don’t worry; there are still songs about tomatoes and tarantulas. There are many great Hitchcock songs that aren’t included on this CD, as this CD isn’t meant to be a definitive overview of his career. 

Here are the songs I put on the CD:

1. The Man Who Invented Himself
2.  I Often Dream of Trains
3. My Wife and My Dead Wife
4. I'm Only You
5. Heaven
6. Airscape
7. Balloon Man
8. Madonna of the Wasps
9. So You Think You're in Love
10. Alright, Yeah
11. Beautiful Queen
12. Viva! Sea-Tac
13. Everybody Needs You
14. Underground Sun
15. Ole! Tarantula
16. Saturday Groovers
17. Up to Our Nex
18. Intricate Thing
19. I Just Wanna Be Loved
20. Strawberries Dress

And here are my thought about those songs:

The Man Who Invented Himself-1981-from “Black Snake Diamond Role”: I know, I’m skipping over Hitchcock’s two albums as part of The Soft Boys, but I thought it made sense to start the collection with his solo songs. Indeed, this is the very first song on Hitchcock’s first solo album. And it’s quite a catchy one too, as a pounding piano begins the song. Just who is the mysterious man who invented himself? Typically, Robyn doesn’t tell us in so many words.

I Often Dream of Trains-1984-from “I Often Dream of Trains”: This is one of Robyn’s loveliest songs, with a hypnotic guitar pattern. Of course, there are lots of other great songs from this album, which is one of Robyn’s best.

My Wife & My Dead Wife-1985-from “Fegmania!”: Robyn’s own version of Noel Coward’s play “Blythe Spirit,” as Robyn is confused by his visions of his dead wife, who can still communicate with him. Our tormented narrator sings: “And I can’t decide which one I love the most/the flesh and blood or the pale, smiling ghost.” A great example of the humor that runs through Robyn’s music.

I’m Only You-1985-from “Fegmania!”: Robyn’s sultry song of love and desire, “I’m Only You” often inspires beautiful guitar playing from him when he sings the song live. Check out the version from “Storefront Hitchcock” for evidence.

Heaven-1985-from “Fegmania!”: A lovely song with fantastic guitar playing. 

Airscape-1986-from “Element of Light”: Another lovely song with great guitar playing.

Balloon Man-1988-from “Globe of Frogs”: This is one of Robyn’s most famous songs, as it garnered quite a bit of airplay on college radio at the time. “Globe of Frogs” was Robyn’s first album for major label A&M, so he was now reaching a wider audience. Lyrically, it’s a rather silly song about Robyn meeting “balloon man” on the streets of New York City. It features some great lyrics like, “And it rained/like a slow divorce.” 

Madonna of the Wasps-1989-from “Queen Elvis”: Features the trademark Hitchcock trifecta of a catchy melody, great guitar playing, and inscrutable lyrics. 

So You Think You’re In Love-1991-from “Perspex Island”:  Robyn’s biggest “hit single,” as it reached #1 on Billboard’s “Modern Rock Tracks” chart. Like his other A&M recordings, the sound is a bit more commercial and polished. “So You Think You’re In Love” is one of Hitchcock’s catchiest songs, if one of his most lyrically slight. 

Alright, Yeah-1996-from “Moss Elixir”: “Moss Elixir” is one of my favorite Robyn Hitchcock albums, and it’s the album that really made me a Robyn Hitchcock fan. “Alright, Yeah” is a catchy, guitar-driven tune that features lyrics like, “I gotta walk/but I’m gonna put my fork next to your spoon.” Robyn also recorded this song in Swedish, which is available on the outtakes collection “Mossy Liquor.”

Beautiful Queen-1996-from “Moss Elixir”: One of my favorite Robyn Hitchcock songs, I love the hypnotic effect of this song. One of the few rock songs to use the word “phosphorus” in it’s opening line. Also features the lovely image of the beautiful queen “gliding through the snowdrifts in your miniskirt.” And the heartfelt sentiment, “I’m not afraid to be the only person on the planet/I’m not afraid to be the only person in the world with you.” 

Viva! Sea-Tac-1999-from “Jewels for Sophia”: In which Robyn expresses his love for the Pacific Northwest. Okay, so this might be a somewhat slight song from an excellent album. But I quite like it, and it’s catchy as hell. The chorus is wonderful: “And the Space Needle points to the sky/the Space Needle’s such a nice guy.” 

Everybody Needs You-2004-from “Spooked”: With a whiplash-quick guitar, Robyn spits out lyrics about how everybody needs love. “Spooked” is his excellent collaboration with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. 

Underground Sun-2006-from “Ole! Tarantula”: I could pick just about every song from “Ole! Tarantula” for this CD. “Underground Sun” has great vocal harmonies and beautiful guitar work. 

Ole! Tranatula-2006-from “Ole! Tarantula”: More catchy goodness about, well, tarantulas. 

Saturday Groovers-2009-from “Goodnight Oslo”: I also feel like I could pick just about every song from “Goodnight Oslo” for this CD. “Saturday Groovers” has a catchy vocal chorus and lyrics about those who go out and party on the weekend. Only Robyn would write a song with the lyrics “Emphysema, heart disease and gout,” and make it catchy. 

Up to Our Nex-2009-from “Goodnight Oslo”: Also featured in the film “Rachel Getting Married.” Another catchy song full of hooks from Robyn. 

Intricate Thing-2009-from “Goodnight Oslo”: A beautiful, jazzy song about relationships, with some very true lyrics. “You got all kinds of seeds that you don’t know you’re seeding/all kinds of needs that you don’t know you’re needing/all kinds of signals that you don’t know you’re reading/little drops of blood that you don’t know you’re bleeding.” 

I Just Wanna Be Loved-2009-bonus track from “Goodnight Oslo”: I think this is a great, overlooked song. It was only included on a bonus CD accompanying “Goodnight Oslo” from Yep Roc Records. In a perfect world, this song would have been a huge hit single. I wonder why Robyn didn’t put it on “Goodnight Oslo."

Strawberries Dress-2013-from “Love From London”: There are many fab songs on “Love From London,” as I can tell you here. But the sexy and slinky “Strawberries Dress” is one of my favorites. 

As I’ve said before, there are many other terrific Robyn Hitchcock songs, but hopefully some of the songs on this CD will make people who are unfamiliar with Robyn take a closer look at his music.


Uncle E said...

Mark: I owe you, and Holly (from The Song In My Head Today) a debt of gratitude for introducing me to the sonic pleasures of this sadly underrated artist. I was aware of Robyn but always found his discography a tad intimidating. I bought “Jewels for Sophia” first and instantly fell in love, quickly snatching up everything I could lay my grubby hands on. I have yet to be disappointed, and even though I have, I think, 12 of his projects there's still lots more to discover. Awesome selection of tracks and a great introduction for newbies (and relative newbies, like myself!), and great that you took the time to talk about each and mention the parent album from whence they came. Next up I'll have to get Ole Tarantula!

Mark said...

E: Thanks, I'm happy that Holly and I could introduce you to the wonders of Robyn Hitchcock! Have you had the chance to see him live? He's very entertaining in concert. I'm hoping this post might inspire some folks to give Robyn a listen, it's definitely meant for those who want a good intro to his work. Yes, Ole Tarantula is amazing, I would highly recommend it!

Uncle E said...

Unfortunately Mark I have not had the pleasure of seeing him live...yet, but I will eventually! I know I've bugged you before, but have you checked our The Jazz Butcher yet?

Mark said...

I have not! I just looked them up on Wikipedia, I'll have to give them a listen.

Uncle E said...

If I could, you may want to begin with A Scandal In Bohemia, Sex and Travel, Distressed Gentlefolk, first. Or, perhaps, the great compilation album "Draining the Glass". Their new one is pretty terrific as well, Last Of The Gentlemen Adventurers. Oh heck, just listen to everything you can find, then let me know what you think. One of the great English eccentrics!

Anonymous said...

i came about your blog as i'm lucky enough to see Robyn Hitchcock twice next month in Melbourne, one night he's covering Dylan songs for the great mans birthday and the following night he's performing I Often dream of trains album.
Anyhow that is a great selection of Robyn Hitchcock songs you've chosen, the only one i'm not familar with is I Just Wanna be Loved which unfortunately is unavailable in Australia. The only songs that i would add to your list wld be Raining Twilight Coast (Eye) Queen Elvis (Eye) & Cathedral (Trains). Enjoyed your post.

Keith Monshine said...

any chance you could upload this mix cd please?