On March 3, 2013, Robyn Hitchcock will turn 60 years old and his new album Love From London will be two days away from being officially released. Though most of the living, breathing world barely knows of him, if at all, the hardcore musical elite, who honor such things as creativity, silliness, pop songs, British accents and mediocre record sales, consider Mr. Hitchcock to be an artist of considerable greatness.
In honor of his continuing life, I though it would be touching to round up his ten best albums. It beats writing a blog about Michael Bolton!
As always, the order could be thrown together differently in another hour. Certain choices could be moved for others at another time of year. I avoided live albums. And if you're wondering what got cut at the last minute: Respect (1993).
10) Underwater Moonlight (1980) -- The Soft Boys: With his band The Soft Boys he recorded several interesting albums, including the 2002 reunion album Tomorrowland. Due to my particular age (too young to be seeking out obscure groups in 1980), Underwater Moonlight means slightly less to me than to folks slightly older who heard this album in real time. My theory on Robyn Hitchcock fans is that the first album of his that you hear is the one you like best, because all of his albums have something worth hearing and it's quite the splash in the face when you first hear it, a splash that becomes slightly less refreshing the second and third and fifth and tenth times around. Slightly!
Choice Cuts: "I Wanna Destroy You," "Kingdom of Love," "Queen of Eyes"
9) Moss Elixir (1996): I know this album has cousins with different songs from the same sessions and maybe I do prefer it, but I can't keep track. I make mix CDs of everyone, so I learn songs more often than albums. Having seen many of these songs performed live opened them even further for me. But I think you can still get the idea right here.
"Sinister But She Was Happy," "The Devil's Radio," "You and Oblivion"
8) A Star For Bram (2000): OK, here I actually take the cousin. Jewels For Sophia is a great album, opening with the essential "Mexican God," but for some reason I was more entranced by this album of outtakes released on Hitchcock's private label. You really think I could resist a song called "I Saw Nick Drake"? No, it isn't possible.
"I Saw Nick Drake," "1974," "Nietzsche's Way"
7) Ole! Tarantula (2006): Peter Buck might be the most average guitar player to be invited onto other people's albums. If people are using him with the idea that his name will bring attention to their album, they might be right, but it sure doesn't seem to help sales. Mainstream R.E.M. fans are like everyone's mainstream fans, un-curious about anything else. Think of it this way. If you are friends with someone famous, do you really think his fans are interesting in knowing who you are? Anyhow, the best songs here are so good they forgive the less exciting ones.
"(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs," "N.Y. Doll," "Red Locust Frenzy," "Cause It's Love (Saint Parallelogram)"
6) Spooked (2004): This is an odd collaboration. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings might be a bit tight on their own with their period restoration pieces, but they do a lovely job here adding the right touches to Hitchcock's frequent meditations on death. Not sure Hitchcock needed to do a blues album but we'll let it slide. He even picks a recent Dylan song also concerned with premature door closings in the big room.
"Television," "Tryin' To Get To Heaven Before They Close The Door," "Creeped Out," "Full Moon In My Soul"
5) Black Snake Diamond Role (1981): Hitchcock pulled off a pretty clever feat. He split with The Soft Boys other songwriter Kimberley Rew and then took the remaining dudes for his backing band and then hired back Rew on guitar for four cuts. All Hitchcock albums, like Elvis Costello albums, have been re-issued by several labels with different bonus tracks, in order to confuse everyone and to force hardcore fans to buy the same albums over and over and over and over.
"The Man Who Invented Himself," "Brenda's Iron Sledge," "Love"
4) Eye (1990): Despite his great way with a band, I confess to preferring ever so slightly the man stripped down just enough to let the lyrics be heard and to allow the melodies to soar. Or maybe it was the 1980s and you could make fewer stylistic 'oopsies' with a smaller sound.
"Cynthia Mask," "Queen Elvis," "Raining Twilight Coast"
3) Fegmania! (1985): Throughout the first half of the 1980s, R. Hitchcock had the touch. Sure, Groovy Decay had production issues but I wouldn't want to be without "Fifty-Two Stations" or "St. Petersburg" or "America," so quite frankly I'm sneaking them onto a version of this fine album, which is where many other people I know got on the often-dreamed-of train.
"My Wife and My Dead Wife," "Another Bubble," "Heaven"
2) I Often Dream of Trains (1984): People forget how tight the emerging alternative scene could be. Punk quickly embraced rules of conduct. New Wave was slightly freer, but both demanded a purity pledge so ridiculous no one could uphold it. Money? What is that? This acoustic album, a sort of Nebraska for people with weirder inclinations, caught something beautiful in Hitchcock's freaky hallucinations. Sure, "Uncorrected Personality Traits" is fun, but who knew he could be so poignant?
"Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl," "Flavour of Light," "Autumn Is Your Last Chance," "I Used To Say I Love You"
1) Element of Light (1986): You guessed it. This is the album where I came in and I was transfixed. I consider it to be nearly perfect and I always add the bonus cuts, "The Black Crow Knows," "The Leopard" and "Tell Me About Your Drugs" to the official album to make it even better. I feel as if you must hate yourself if you don't find something to like here. But I'm prone to ridiculous crackpot theories all the time. Don't pay any attention to me. No one else does.
"If You Were A Priest," "Winchester," "Raymond Chandler Evening," "Airscape"