The Hawklords, live in 1978
This week one of my favorite music writers, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, published an article at Cuepoint titled “Paul Plays Synths: When Classic Rockers Embraced the New Wave.” It focuses on the year 1980 as the year new-wave “broke” for 60s and 70s dinosaur rock acts trying to remain relevant. It discusses some fine works by Paul McCartney such as his bizarre and excellent “Temporary Secretary” off of McCartney II and Alice Cooper’s “Clones” from Flush The Fashion, which to this day remains one of my top five Cooper tracks. Robert Palmer, Linda Ronstadt, and Shaun Cassidy are discussed—all artists who turned in fine new-wave tracks.
The article resonated with me because I’ve had countless conversations with other music nerds about this magical time when established acts went all new-wave, many times with fascinating results. Though Erlewine’s piece focuses on 1980, some of the most interesting work in this “genre” came within the three years following. Neil Young’s Trans album is a masterpiece which was brutally panned by critics upon release. Yes and ZZ Top are two more obvious examples of classic rock bands that did the new-wave thing quite well (and to great chart success).
One of the best records in the “old bands who went new wave” cycle actually pre-dated 1980. In 1978, the Hawklords, comprised of Hawkwind and Pilot members, released their only full studio album 25 Years On.
On the Hawklords album, you can hear a lot of the elements that made Hawkwind great, and indeed the argument could be made that the sort of heavy psychedelic rock with grooves and sci-fi synths that Hawkwind pioneered was a sort of blueprint for new-wave anyway. The Hawklords songs are infused with a bit more pop-danceability than the grittier sound of “classic-era” ‘Wind. The vocals at times bring to mind Roxy Music—in fact, some of the arrangements sound as if they may have been informed by the post-Roxy work of Brian Eno.
Following the release of the album the band embarked on a tour featuring a stage show that according to Wikipedia “designed by Barney Bubbles and based on a Metropolis/Mao Tse-tung dystopia theme, featuring a projected film based light show, dancers in drab clothing performing mundane tasks, and spotlight towers creating an oppressive internment camp atmosphere.” Apparently the elaborate stage show was abandoned when it became too much of financial burden.
The 25 Years On LP stands the test of time, and as a Hawkwind fan I actually include it in my top five favorite Hawkwind albums—even if it isn’t a “proper” Hawkwind record. It’s not actually that far of a leap from the earlier work of Hawkwind, but it’s certainly reflective of the post-punk musical landscape. It’s worth noting that there’s a big difference between a song like Hawklords’ “Psi Power” which, in 1978, is working to create a new paradigm; and a song like Alice Cooper’s 1980 “Clones,” which, regardless of it being a great song, seems desperately trying to keep up with the times.
Listen to the Hawklords after the jump…