Sunday, 20 November 2016

Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music - Tracks & References

The view, according to Robert Calvert: 

“The style of the music changed dramatically on the Astounding Sounds album…there was never a time when any conscious planning was made to determine musical content.” (Interviewed by Tim Gadd)

The view, according to Dave Brock: 

“I (saw) a major turning point in the Astounding Sounds album… I threw it out of the window… like a Frisbee.” (Interviewed by Tommy Buzzetta for Hawkfan)

The view, still according to Dave Brock:

“Not one of my favourite albums, haven’t listened to it for years. That tune about never flying through a cloud if there’s a mountain in it! How awful is that, you know! We used to collapse in hysteria over it!” (Interviewed by the author for Vive Le Rock magazine, 2016).

What they said then: 

For a recording that many see as the nadir of 1970s Hawkwind output following the alleged classic Warrior on the Edge of Time, the music press of the time were surprisingly positive. “On the strength of this album all those who stopped listening after ‘Silver Machine’ should tune into this wavelength again,” noted the NME (6 November, 1976). 

What they say now:

On the Head Heritage website, a reviewer lamented the “internal politics [that] blew the band apart … and the potential and possible new directions left tragically unexplored,” describing the album as “a halfway house nodding respectfully to the past and pointing the way forward to the future.”

Tracks and references:

Reefer Madness 

Title drawn from Reefer Madness (Louis J. Gasnier, 1936, aka Tell Your Children), a propaganda film warning of the dangers of the “evil weed” (Marijuana), told from the perspective of a high school principal. DRUG-CRAZED ABANDON! Screams the movie’s tag-line. “A terribly made, sensationalised, preposterous film,” notes Danny Peary in The Guide for the Film Fanatic. “If you’ve seen the film…. this is what it’s all about,” adds Brock. 


Calvert noted “Harry Haller [in the novel Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse] is a fascinating character… a solitary figure who stays in his room writing poetry and letters… The hero figure is something I am fascinated in mostly sending up.” 

The lyrics were originally written for an album by Adrian Wagner, Distances Between Us. Calvert reused them when “[Brock] played me this riff he’d written and I immediately thought of using the words… with a bit of expansion.”

City of Lagoons 

Credited in error to Simon House, but actually written by Alan Powell. (‘City of Lagoons’ and ‘Chronoglide Skyway’ have transposed composers)

The Aubergine that Ate Rangoon

“It was developed on a whimsical sequence that simply started at home on my EMS AKS synthesiser and everybody added some bits.” (Paul Rudolph) 

Kerb Crawler

The title is popular slang for men who cruise red light districts for the express purpose of picking up prostitutes in their car. The Eight Track Stereo was the fore-runner of the cassette player for in-car entertainment. Cool… for around five minutes in 1976. 

The sleeve notes credit Dave Gilmour with producing this track. “Tony Howard was a mate of Gilmour’s and thought it would be good if Dave got into production.” (Dave Brock)

Kadu Flyer 

Includes a writing credit for “Mandelkau” due to copyright complications. Jamie Madelkau (former manager of the Pink Fairies and author of a book about the British chapter of the Hells Angels) stood in for Nik Turner in name only. The rights to the song were subsequently re-assigned to Turner. 

The trail to Kathmandu is more fondly known as the “hippie trail” amongst certain members of the 1960s generation, stretching from Thailand, through India to Nepal.

Chronoglide Skyway

‘The Skyway’ is an impressive and famous series of overground walkways that link many buildings in the US twin cities of Minneapolis and St Pauls.

A note on the album title:

Astounding Science Fiction (first published 1930, now Analog) and Amazing Stories (first published 1926, now defunct) were two of the most notable “pulp” magazines of science fiction’s Golden Age. The inner sleeve of the LP featured members of the band promoting rather weird novelty products (Dr. Brock’s Atomic Piles Preparation, Paul Rudolph’s Manly Strap-On Company) in the style of American comic-book adverts. 

What this author says:

Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music is a neglected gem amongst the Hawkwind’s output. Derided at the time by some reviewers and by Dave Brock himself, it appeared to be a radical departure for the band. The lighter-touch used in the whimsical psychedelia of ‘Kadu Flyer’, the gothic atmosphere in ‘Steppenwolf’, Calvert’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics for ‘Kerb Crawler’ and the nod to the dope-craze paranoia public information film ‘Reefer Madness’ (all included here) are very different from the proto-grunge of ‘Silver Machine’, ‘Brainstorm’ and other earlier Hawkwind standards. The range of writing credits showed an expansive attitude to the band’s creativity and listened to with hindsight, there’s a lot of Eastern flavours and tones here that signpost Hawkwind in the mid-90s. 

Sleevenotes: Spirit of the Age - From Atomhenge To Earth Ritual (Atomhenge/Cherry Red)


  1. Reefer madness and Steppenwolf are still among my favourite Hawkwind songs.

  2. If Brock hated it that much, how come it even got pressed up at all? Maybe label pressure left DB thinking that at least 3 of the tunes were good enough and that it would have to do.