SIGIHT (Song I’m Glad I Heard Today): Hawkwind “Fable of a Failed Race”

Some pieces of music take us to a calm, tranquil, zen place.  Rarely are those songs apocalyptic in nature, but this is Hawkwind we’re talking about.

These legendary-in-the-UK, barely-known-in-the-US space-rockers have scripted quite a career, with guitarist/vocalist Dave Brock being the only constant since Day One. If Hawkwind are known for anything here in the States, it’s mostly as “that band Lemmy was in before he formed Motorhead.” The knowledgeable rock and roll fan will at least know songs like “Silver Machine” and have a certain awareness of the double-live “Space Ritual.”  Their sound is best described as Pink Floyd for speed-addled bikers.  They managed to balance aggression and atmosphere, with sci-fi inspired lyrics and a true outsider image. QuarkStrangenessAndCharm

One constant through Hawkwind’s career is that lineup changes occurred with nearly every album; they made a band like Yes seem like the Core Four Yankees. (Even Ginger Baker joined for one album at the dawn of the Eighties).  One important figure who dropped in and out of Hawkwind’s sphere a few times was singer/lyricist Robert Calvert.  Though Dave Brock handled most frontman work for Hawkwind, Calvert returned to the group in 1977 and dominated their excellent “Quark, Strangeness and Charm” album with his writing and singing.  By this time, they had lost key figures like the aforementioned Lemmy on bass, and founder Nik Turner on cosmic woodwinds, but members like Calvert and keyboardist Simon House more than filled the void artistically.

“Quark, Strangeness and Charm” featured a tighter, more focused sound without completely losing touch with their space rock heritage.  There is one track, however, that stands out to me on this album that’s a bit of an outlier, called “Fable of a Failed Race.”  It’s a bit of an apocalyptic tale, perhaps even a warning about our own fate on our planet, shrouded in simple yet beautiful repetitive riffs and hypnotic backing vocals. To my ear, there are seeds of dream-pop and shoegaze rooted in this idiosyncratic track. I was delighted to discover in recent years that the original take of this three-minute song lasted for some six-plus minutes, which remained unissued for years.  I now considered this the definitive version of the song.

I had some personal business to tend to yesterday that involved some long-awaited closure.  En route to my destination, this song came up on the iPod, and everything seemed right with the world.  All my worries were gone. It was just me, this piece of music, and nothing else.  Try it out.  Surrender to the solace.  You’re welcome.

(Yes, this blog is about a song I heard yesterday, not today. I’ve built up enough integrity points over the years that I think we can let this slide, no?)


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