Hive Five: Our Daily Listicle of Musical Musings
For the last three-and-a-half decades, Robyn Hitchcock has been British rock’s resident Dadaist, first with the post-punk era’s neo-psychedelic odd band out, the Soft Boys, and, since 1981, on his own. Hitchcock synthesizes the spirit of Syd Barrett, Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, C.S. Lewis, and Edward Lear into a surreal, acid-pop universe full of eccentric humor and off-the-wall imagery. He spent the ‘80s as a college-rock cult hero before maturing into an offbeat elder statesman of quirky folk-rock — without his influence, Hitchcock acolytes like the Decemberists would surely sound drastically different, and we would never have songs like underground institution Damien Youth’s fond homage “I Know Where Robyn Hitchcock Lives.” Robyn’s latest album, Love from London, arrived on March 5, just two days after his 60th birthday, so in celebration of his new sexagenarian status, let’s look in on some illuminating examples of Hitchcock honoring his own inspirations with in-concert cover versions.
1. “Tangled Up in Blue” (Bob Dylan)
Proving that silver hair offsets paisley perfectly, here’s Hitchcock from 2012’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, emphasizing the “hardly” while paying unplugged tribute to rock & roll’s original surrealist. And in case you’re wondering, the cool cat in close-cropped hair and shades ripping it up on the mandolin is none other than Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones.
2. “Bike” (Pink Floyd)
In 2011, Hitchcock toured with storied producer/entrepreneur Joe Boyd; as Boyd read excerpts from his memoir about working with some of England’s most influential artists, Robyn cranked out tunes by the artists in the book. This 1967 milestone by Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd underlines the enormous effect Syd’s weird worldview had on Hitchcock.
3. “River Man” (Nick Drake)
Nick Drake was another of the artists in Boyd’s stable, but this performance is from a recent Robyn solo show, not the Boyd tour. Hitchcock’s connection to the moody troubadour runs deeper than that, as anyone familiar with his song “I Saw Nick Drake” can tell you.
4. “Waterloo Sunset” (The Kinks)
Though Ray and Dave Davies, the perennially battling brothers at the Kinks’ creative core, may seemingly never settle their differences, other members of the band periodically perform the Kinks canon as Kast off Kinks. At 2011’s Meltdown Festival in London, Robyn got to play Ray for a day, fronting the former Kinks in what he introduces as “possibly the best pop single ever.”
5. “The Ghost in You” (The Psychedelic Furs)
Before you get the idea that Hitchcock’s embrace of cover tunes is a latter-day development, or that he strictly salutes ‘60s artists, here’s our boy back in ’89 in the humble environs of a Carle Place, NY Tower Records, playing a classic cut by his contemporaries the Psychedelic Furs. You’ll also be heartened to discover that iffy amateur camerawork was with us well before the advent of YouTube.
Love From London is out now on Yep Roc.