Revisitations

May 5th 2010
2010's Blood of the Earth album highlighted a recent propensity of Hawkwind's for revisiting old tracks.  It
included, of course, reworkings of Sweet Obsession (a 1984 track on Dave Brock's "Earthed To The
Ground" solo album), and You'd Better Believe It, from a decade earlier, and previously only known as a live
recording embedded into the Hall of the Mountain Grill studio LP.

When is a raven like a writing desk?
Of course many old Hawkwind numbers remain in, or are reintroduced into the live set, which surprises
no-one.  However, it is less common to re-record old songs, or even make studio recordings of old numbers
that had only ever been performed live before, such as on the new album.  There is also the practice of
recycling of old lyrics, occasionally riffs, sometimes retitling of entire songs.  Take as a case in point the
track "Looking In The Future" from the 1982 Church of Hawkwind album: while much of it recycles the
lyrics from "Assault & Battery", there are more words than just these in the song, and the music is wholly
new.  This discounts it from being considered as a revisitation, which I suppose therefore establishes what is,
and what is not within scope for the purposes of this essay.  There are four factors to consider, and they are
(a) the new song has to be a studio recording; (b) it need not necessarily carry the same title as the old; and it
has to either (c) comprise the same music; or (d) be lyrically identical.  If a number ticks these boxes, I
would consider it to be a revisitation.

But is this, in fact, a recent phenomenon?  Why were some of these numbers redone?  How do the originals
compare with their future versions?  OK, maybe these are hardly burning questions, but the need to
pontificate is upon me, and any excuse will do :-)

1981
1981 seems to be when it began, with the Sonic Attack album being titled for a remake of Bob Calvert's
classic spoken word delivery of the Michael Moorcock lyric that featured on Space Ritual Alive in 1973.  This
is one of those that makes you wonder why it was undertaken...¦Harvey Bainbridge does a long, melancholy
withdrawing roar on the vocals, over a rollicking musical backing of tinkly synths and sirens.  The sense of
menace on the original (which was live, and this is the first studio recording of it) is almost entirely absent, to
be replaced by a wall of hysteria.  There is admittedly a claustrophobic flavour to this, but it is devolved to
becoming just an album track, far from the strongest thing on the LP, and representing three minutes of
atmosphere and nothing more.  If you like, the difference between these two versions is that what was
effective in 1972 had become affected in 1981.  At the time, the band described the forthcoming Sonic Attack
album as a return to their psychedelic roots; maybe redoing Sonic Attack was an attempt to make this happen,
but neither it nor the rest of the album seems to have anything psychedelic about it at all.

1982
The next year the Choose Your Masques album was released, and the same recording sessions also yielded a
tenth anniversary commemorative single comprising remakes of Silver Machine and Psychedelic Warlords
(from 1974...¦an eight year gap).  Since then, they have of course become bonus tracks on CD reissues of the
album.  Dave Brock has pointed out that it wasn't meant to be like this - the re-recordings were intended as a
treat for fans rather than an attempt at another hit single, which was the presumed aim of RCA, their then
record company with whom Hawkwind famously did not see eye-to-eye.

But what both remakes have in common is a somewhat leaden sonic signature which is emphatically that of
Hawkwind 1982 - metronomic drums underpinning a somehow elongated arrangement with a little too much
space in it...¦but the fuzzy warmth of the unison bass / guitar / synth riffing and Huw Lloyd-Langton's liquid
lead guitar offset any potential these tracks have to sound cold or austere.  While the contemporaneous
arrangement doesn't suit either song, they do provide an example of Hawkwind maintaining some connection
with the contemporary zeitgeist and simultaneously bucking it.  But were they worth doing?  In the case of
Silver Machine, however hard they tried for another hit single, the only time that Hawkwind really troubled the
UK singles charts after 1972 was whenever Silver Machine was reissued, as it was about every two years
(1974, 1976, 1978, etc.).  But these had been re-releases of the original (live) recording, and perhaps there
was a justifiable curiosity (on the part of the band) about how it would sound if given a contemporary remake
in the recording studio, and an equally understandable curiosity (from the record company) about whether it
could yield another hit single.  As for Psychedelic Warlords, it was something of a lost classic, having been
issued as a single in 1974 but not achieving anything of note...¦my guess is that the band felt it deserved
another hearing.

The Flicknife Years
Whether it was due to the non-charting of the 1982 Silver Machine / Psychedelic Warlords single or a muted
response to it from the fanbase, it would be a further decade after this before Hawkwind were to do another
raid on the archives.  Or perhaps it was because after leaving RCA / Active, the band embarked on what has
been described as a half-life issuing records on Flicknife, a small independent record company, with live
albums starting to predominate over studio recordings.  Mr. Brock has also pointed out the futility of
continually making the same album over and over again, likening Hawkwind's creative process to that of a
painter, who begins a new work after completing an old one.  The 1980s, though, were a less productive era
for the band, with only two fully studio albums being released after the RCA period.  Any suspicion that old
songs get revived to compensate for lack of new material when an album is being recorded falls down here.  
With such a meagre output of titles during this time, there wouldn't have been the need to scratch around for
material to fill them.

1992
Fast forward, or back to the future...¦ It almost doesn't fit within the theme of remakes of old songs, but in
1992 the Electric Tepee album included Mask Of The Morning, which turned out to be a wholesale reworking
of Mirror of Illusion, from the 1970 debut album.  The original had been a Dave Brock busking number with a
rough-and-ready acoustic quality (undistinguished street blues, someone once called it).  Only the lyrics
survived into the retitled song, which now featured an all-electric arrangement of pretty much completely
different music - typical of Hawkwind at the time, triangulated between Alan Davey's thrumming basslines,
raunched-out slabs of power chording guitar from Brock and bright, bold synthesizer voicings.  Perhaps by
now Hawkwind were getting the measure of returning to old songs in the studio - but more likely is the fact
that they just sounded so much better in 1992 than they had a decade earlier.

So, Mask of the Morning, good thing or not?  Undoubtedly yes, it's one of the highlights of the Electric Tepee
album.  The link back to Mirror of Illusion is almost unfortunate, as it distracts attention from what is a
barnstorming song, perhaps the best exemplar of the astonishing muscularity of the album - self-produced,
and recorded in a home studio by a three-piece.  But all this is on account of the new music to which these
old lyrics had been set.  Mask of the Morning can thus be viewed as either a resounding validation of
revisitations of old songs, or as a refutation of the practice.  Perhaps it's just a vision of how this works when
it's done right.

1993
The following year something similar occurred with an album track called The Camera That Could Lie being a
reggaefied reworking of "Living On A Knife Edge" from the 1981 Sonic Attack album.  Again, it's borderline
as to whether this can be called a revisitation of an old number, considering it has a new title and completely
different music.  Of course it's a matter of personal taste as to whether or not this is "good".  Considered on
its' own merits as a song, it certainly works - and there is artistic validity in the application of a completely
different treatment to an idea that had already been out there for some years.  But which came first, the
chicken (new music in need of some lyrics) or the egg (what would happen if we took these old lyrics and
did them a completely different way)?

1995
Death Trap featured on the Alien 4 LP, and for the first time since 1981 Hawkwind unambiguously
re-recorded an old song as a core track on a new album.  The original version that appeared on PXR5 in 1979
had in reality been little more than a demo, with a spare arrangement dominated by a punky, growling guitar
underpinning Bob Calvert's perfectly overwrought declamation of the lyrics.  There are telltale signs of there
not being quite enough new material for the album, with the track Are You Losing Your Mind nicking the old
Iron Dream riff from 1977 (though that riff has been claimed as originating with Holst on "Mars" from the
Planets...¦).  There's also the presence of Ron Tree in the band, and it was later to become apparent that he
had a talent, and a taste for resurrecting Bob Calvert's lyrical and vocal contributions from the archives.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that Death Trap got redone just because it had never had the proper treatment
in the first place, and once again the revisitation was performed in the contemporary style rather than as a nod
to past sonic glories.  Perhaps a parallel can be drawn with the comment that Bob Calvert made in 1978 when
Hawkwind was resurrected in the guise of the Hawklords: that this represented a renaissance of old values
rather than a reformation of the old lineup.  For the 1995 remake Death Trap acquired a much fuller
arrangement that threatened to overwhelm the simplistic construction of the song (a single two-chord riff,
periodically transposed down a couple of steps to provide some elements of a structure).

That same year, Space is Deep also got a re-recording, but not on a Hawkwind album: instead, it appeared on
Dave Brock's Strange Trips and Pipe Dreams solo album. The original, as with Mirror of Illusion, had an
acoustic character, but this had been successfully fused with a spacier provenance when first recorded in
1972.  The 1995 version is an attempt to do something different again with the song.  It features a more
staccato, slightly subdued approach with fingerpicked acoustic guitar being replaced by strummed, widely
spaced electric guitar chords: again, an artistically valid re-exploration of older material.

1997
1997 saw the release of the Love In Space EP, and once again Sonic Attack gets an outing, this time with Bob
Calvert's original vocals preserved (hurrah!) over an updated musical backing.  Unlike the revived "Lord of
Light" that also appears on the EP, this appears to be a studio recording.  It is probably fond imagining on my
part, but I like to think this is an answer to the unsatisfactory 1981 remake of the same track.  Here it is again,
but done right in that it preserves the ominous deliberation of the Calvert vocal, but pairs it with a decent
(synth-based) musical backing that is effectively an upgrade when compared to the crude / minimal
underpinning that it got on the 1972 Space Ritual Alive album...¦

Early 2000's
There was also a...¦thing...¦called Sonic Space Attack (or something like it) that appeared on the official
website for a couple of months in 2003 or thereabouts.  This was fairly frightful, a rehash of the lyrics to
Sonic Attack (narrated by Dave Brock) over the worst kind of thumping fairground ride techno backing
track.  As I recall it appeared at a time when the band seemed to be otherwise relatively inactive on the
recording front, and no, it didn't make up for that fact.  This did actually make it onto a CD of sorts, the 2002
Christmas Party EP that was given to all who attended that year's, er, Christmas Party at the Kentish Town
Forum.  In fact there were a few CD singles and the like coming out at around that time, featuring old
numbers redone, but most of these were live recordings or "remixes" by bandwagon jumpers such as
Astralasia, who didn't remix so much as wreck what they touched - typically by removing almost all the
original tracks and substituting vile dance-orientated guff.  (I don't like this sort of thing.  Can you tell?)

2004
2004 was when Hawkwind re-recorded Spirit of the Age, released first as a promotional video, then a single,
and finally on 2005's Take Me To Your Leader.  As a bonus track on the second release of that album (Dark
Peak records) the band threw a new version of Paradox into the mix, sometimes listed as Paradox 2005.  This
added a layer of melodic piano and greater vocal finesse, sacrificing some of the elemental thrust of the
original as a consequence. Erm...¦it's almost the same move as the band made in 1982 when recording the
Choose Your Masques album, where they revived Silver Machine and Psychedelic Warlords as two sides of a
single (but at least had the wisdom to exclude them from the album proper).  Some of the reasons for doing
that in 1982 (10th anniversary, record company interference, etc.) aren't immediately apparent in 2004-2005.  
It does look like a straightforward commercial calculation, although there's the mitigation of band members
who'd joined long after these tracks were originated wanting to do something with them.  It seems to me as
though Alan Davey's fingerprints are on the re-recording of Spirit of the Age.  Paradox 2005 is a little
different: its' popularity as a revived number in the live set probably stems from Jason Stuart's presence in the
band.  Band and fans both probably wanted to know what his keyboard talents could add to Paradox - which
after all, had never been done as a studio recording before...¦

2005
There was yet another studio recording of Silver Machine, which was available on the official website for a
while and was dedicated to the memory of Radio 1 DJ Tommy Vance.  In fact this may have been recorded
for, and then removed from the running order of the Take Me To Your Leader album.  That, on top of the
inclusion of Spirit of the Age would really have been waving the white flag, and what a good thing it didn't
make the cut, excellent version though it is.  The major fault of  the original Silver Machine single is that it
was sonically pretty muddy.  This revisited version retains Lemmy's vocals, but supplies a clean, burnished
musical score, replete with some unusual instrumentation such as touches of slide guitar.  It really ought to be
made available again somewhere (other than the next studio album!)

2009
I've mentioned before that it's generally not a good idea for a long-established band, that still has ambitions to
break new ground, to re-record their old material, and especially not when it's included on a supposedly new
album.  Although there are sound reasons (a few already mentioned) for a band wanting to do this, that would
be the artist's perspective, and it's quite different when seen through the eyes of critics, and even the
record-buying public.  The way it can be perceived is as a public confession that "we've run out of ideas", and
could be more uncharitably described as self-parody, desperation or even grave-robbing.  However it seems
that Hawkwind are wise to these potential pitfalls, and have started to judiciously use other channels with
which to push out this kind of material.  Quite a few old songs surfaced on the 40th Anniversary promo CD
that was given out at Porchester Hall in August 2009.  Amongst these are The War (a reworking of Who's
Gonna Win The War), Lighthouse and Right To Decide.  A promo CD being given to hardcore fans attending
a flagship anniversary event is the *perfect* vehicle for revisitations of older material.

But it's not the only one.  The content to be found on the 40th Anniversary promo CD seems to overlap to a
degree with the material that Hawkwind have located on their official Myspace page.  This latter has become
somewhat obfuscated by the addition of multiple live and sample tracks from various albums they've released,
but there are some revisited nuggets among them...¦ Notably, Death Trap 09, Aerospaceage/Cyberspace and
Steppenwolf.

Steppenwolf adds cool, jazzy keyboards and a reverb-laden Dave Brock vocal in place of Calvert's sombre
intonations, alleviating the starkness of the original with a more ethereal, musically nuanced vibe.
Aerospaceage/Cyberspace is the old Bob Calvert song, from his 1974 Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters
album, often performed live by Hawkwind.  Here, it's given a pacier and lighter arrangement that contrasts
with the slightly ponderous heaviness of the original.  Different, yes.  Better?  That's up to the listener, though
it does tack on a Jason Stuart-dominated ambient keyboard piece, over which Mr. Dibs narrates the lyrics to
The Awakening.  So this is really two revisitations in one.  As with many latter-day renditions of Bob's poetry,
I personally find it to be overcooked - but not everyone will.

Death Trap 09 kicks off with a cast of voices, among which Tim Blake's is most recognizable, before Death
Trap proper gets going, with an arrangement that slots perfectly in between the spare minimalism of the
original and the slightly overripe instrumentation of the 1995 remake.  However, a few passages are rendered
with drum'n'bass stylings that slightly remind me of Bloc Party's more atavistic moments ("Mercury's in
retrograde...¦")  Some definite experimentation going on here, rather than any notion of
we-can't-think-what-else-to-do-so-we're-doing-this.

So we are really back to the principle first noted in 1982 with the 10th Anniversary Silver Machine
re-recording: the band seems to have seen their Myspace page as a place to locate "treats" for the fans.  But
another important point to note is that these numbers also seem to function as a memorial to Jason Stuart,
who played on many of these recordings, and of course his influence looms large on the 40th Anniversary
promo too.

2010
What prompted this entire polemic was the inclusion, on the new Blood of the Earth studio album, of not one
but two old tracks, Sweet Obsession and You'd Better Believe It.  The former seems not to have evolved an
awful lot.  Its author said in a recent interview that it "should've been a hit", which suggests it has been
revisited to give it a fuller / fairer hearing second time around.  Regarding You'd Better Believe It, as with
Paradox 2005 the popularity of this revived golden oldie in the live set seems to be what prompted it to be
re-recorded. There's enough newness about this, in terms of the arrangement and the middle section, to
justify the revisitation, but as noted above, it's something I hope the band continues to be cautious about.  

This Future
One wonders what might be next for this treatment.  There are a number of songs that Hawkwind have
played live but never recorded in the studio, but many of these are heavily associated with ex-members, are by
way of being electronic filler, or just weren't that much cop in the first place (We Do It?).  But there are a
few from their classic years that are still waiting for the studio treatment, such as Born To Go, Orgone
Accumulator, Upside Down, It's So Easy and Welcome To The Future.  That's half of a pretty strong album
right there, but I hope they resist the temptation.  Much better for the band to continue as they have been
doing for the last couple of years, using their Myspace page and the odd fan's / promo release like the 40th
anniversary effort, to put out such things.

If there are conclusions to be drawn concerning the overall rationale behind Hawkwind's revisitation of their
old numbers, it seems to be that they're mostly motivated by a desire to update what has gone before; to
explore new ideas in the context of old songs, and this generally involves rearranging the old material into
whatever has been the band's contemporary sound at the time the remake was tackled.  There are a couple of
exceptions to this, but one can confidently say they're not just reliving past glories or covering up a lack of
inspiration.  Having said that, I can't honestly say there are many instances where I think the revisitation has
been an improvement on the original, but that is probably more to do with the innate conservatism of the
middle-aged listener (me) trying to draw comparison with the gilded treasures of youthful memory.
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