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Baker's Dozen

Grit In One’s Third Eye: Robyn Hitchcock’s Baker’s Dozen
Julian Marszalek , February 11th, 2013 11:14

English songwriter and frontman of The Soft Boys, The Venus Three and The Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock leads Julian Marszalek through his most played LPs

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The Beatles – Revolver
They were still a pop group when they recorded this. This was the last record they made as a pop group when they had to deliver to EMI 14 songs twice a year or whatever it was and the Americans still took four of them off each album so they could make three albums for every two that came out here. They were kings but they were kings in a pop cage.

When this was recorded they were still going on tour and doing ‘Twist And Shout’ and ‘She Loves You’ and they were still playing, with increasing cynicism and weariness, to screaming teenyboppers. Then you had John Lennon’s quote about The Beatles being bigger than Jesus, which had lain dormant for a few months and had suddenly come out, and so they got all this shit in the States and then they got into trouble in the Philippines and it all just got too much for them and they were ready to disappear and do Sgt. Pepper’s.

But with Revolver they were distilling stuff like the Tibetan Book Of The Dead and Timothy Leary and Highway 61 Revisited which obviously John and George would have soaked themselves in. George’s songs, I think, are even more extraordinary because they’re so profound. It sounds pretentious but they’re dealing with really philosophical and existential issues and the fact that George was sneaking this stuff in for teenyboppers. Having said that, there was this sort of rabid Tory anti-tax rant. He wasn’t a morass of enlightenment; he was as greedy as the rest of ‘em but he was capable of delivering.

They were still working as a team. They were kind of breaking down into individual vocalists but it hadn’t separated into, oh this is John’s world, this is Paul’s world, mostly they were all on the songs and Ringo was the drummer as he always was. If they’d have done this ten years later it would’ve been like, “We need Billy Cobham or let’s have Ginger Baker, you sit this one out, Ringo.” It was so simple that world; they only had two roadies yet they produced Revolver! I’m sure they thought, smoke that, universe! They knew what they were doing but it still had to be a pop record. When they went on tour they still had uniforms. Dylan’s stuff was still going via the bongo-playing hipster elite but it wasn’t going straight down to the folks in Alabama [like The Beatles did].

The great quantum leap with Revolver is in the sound. And of course ‘Rain’ and ‘Paperback Writer’, which were the great tracks that didn’t make it on to the album, were the wire-between-the-ears, acid-jangle guitar sound and they had obviously been listening to The Byrds and Dylan and they synthesised this kind of shimmering, trebly, hypnotic guitar sound. You listen to ‘Rain’ and ‘Doctor Robert’ or ‘She Said, She Said’ – which was even written about tripping with The Byrds – and needless to say that was my template. If you hit it right it’s a terrific sound.

I think that, unfortunately, because of the drugs they became much more aware of how things sounded. Their pre-dope stuff was always much happier, you know, ‘No Reply’ or ‘Any Time At All’, it’s just… woah! The drugs come in and they start to get thoughtful and they start to get paranoid and after a while they get less exuberant but texturally it’s just so much more advanced.

I think Revolver’s my favourite Beatles album but if I was marooned on a desert island with any of their records I’d be happy. Except maybe Let It Be.

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Feb 11, 2013 6:35pm

Excellent reading. Give this man his own spot on Quietus!

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Barthold Pelzer
Feb 11, 2013 6:35pm

One could moan: Yeah, a lot of predictable entries, few surprises (apart possibly from The Kinks are Village Green Preservation Society missing). But then there is this delightful and genuinely surprising last choice. And profound and entertaining musings about each and every entry, which make this an excellent and read. Thanks for presenting ever so enlightening music journalism.

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Feb 11, 2013 6:49pm

Funny isn't it? He selects the same bunch of records that a whole host of other aged musicians have chosen but I don't feel like groaning out load. Why? Because he has really really engaged with these and has some wonderful insightful comments to make. So thanks Robyn, this has been the best Dozen for a long long time.

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Feb 11, 2013 8:50pm

White people suck, especially the Beatles and fucking Bowie. Some people should never be allowed NEAR Captain Beefheart and it seems Robyn is one. (Oh yeah, Robyn made half a good album thirty years ago, I should be 'thankful'?)

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Post-Punk Monk
Feb 11, 2013 8:53pm

I have to say that this was engrossing reading! Could it be that it's time for Robyn to start writing a career sideline? As soon as I read this I looked to see if he had written any books that I might have missed! Anyone who can me care about the like of The Doors or The Beatles is an alchemist of words!
For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

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Feb 11, 2013 9:49pm

What a great read! Robyn's enthusiasm is totally infectious, & it's patently obvious that he's still a rabid listener to, & lover of, music. He always comes across as a stand-up gent who knows his shit &, consequently, I could listen to him ramble on for hours...

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peluche brutale
Feb 11, 2013 10:54pm

No revelations but, as others said, quite an engrossing read. it's good to share such a personal, passionate and well listened through selection of some of the best music of the last century. perhaps he should be invited to write more on the quietus about his mate peter buck, which seem to make him so proud.

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chris church
Feb 11, 2013 11:58pm

Robyn is just wonderful. Was listening to Ole Tarantula earlier. As said already nothing too surprising (Avalon excepted?) but his summation and insights are worth anyone's time Thanks for this!

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Feb 12, 2013 1:56am

In reply to :

Bitter, party of one...

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Fielding Melish
Feb 12, 2013 6:11am

In reply to :

Sparkling insight. I'm so glad you thought to write in!

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James McKeown
Feb 12, 2013 11:21am

What an absolute joy to read. At the first scan through, I thought some of the choices were a bit obvious, on further reading I understood a whole new level of explaination and tangents - which is a classic Hitchcock trait! I'm a massive fan of Robyn and his work. I would love to see him do a spoken word tour, just sharing anecdotes and stories of his life. Clean Steve Fabulous.

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Wayne Champagne
Feb 12, 2013 12:13pm

An absolute joy. Fresh and enlightening perspectives on well worn themes.

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Feb 12, 2013 9:54pm

A thundering good read! Since I’ll soon be taking to the trees too, I’d weave all of these into my nest.
I remember reading a top ten list by Robyn about 30 years ago. As I recall, a lot of the same stuff was on it. A few there that didn’t make this list: Martin Carthy’s “Shearwater,” Nic Drake’s “Pink Moon,” and Kinks “Village Green….” were there as I recall, though my memory of that essay is a little dim. I don’t think “Avalon” had been recorded yet though.
I ‘m interested to read of RH’s preference for a post Cale VU. To my mind, his ideas was what made their music interesting. His solo lp “Paris 1919” is singular in the same way that RH’s “I Often Dream of Trains” is: sparse, vaguely familiar but distinctly original.

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Rob Curry
Feb 13, 2013 3:56am

Very nice! This is one of the most engaging of the Baker's Dozen articles. I am not familiar with his music, but I am going to remedy that situation. And if any of it is half as witty as this piece, I shall be in for a treat.

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Orthodox Caveman
Jun 21, 2013 5:33pm

In reply to :

Troll detected!

Robyn is awesome. Like many others have said, he doesn't have particularly original choices, but his rationale for each choice and his way of communicating his ideas about music, life, and history are engrossing. This is one of my favorite Baker's Dozen entries.

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