Acid Bird :: A Robyn Hitchcock Companion – The First 20 Years

The following playlist is a celebration of Robyn Hitchcock's first 20 years of recordings; specifically ones that, while they may be ‘accessible’, still showcase the singular nature of his creativity.

Hitchcock spent his university years in the early 70s busking while seeking a band that fit his vision. The pieces were in place when he formed Dennis & The Experts, a group which then morphed into The Soft Boys in 1976. The Soft Boys were a vehicle for Robyn’s psychedelic vision, and their earliest recordings exhibit a noisy chaos that is equal parts Barrett and Beefheart (see: 1977’s Give It To The Soft Boys EP). "Hear My Brane" showcases the guitar chemistry of Robyn and Kimberley Rew, and matches a very Beefheartian vibe with a bridge that foreshadows the shape of melodicism to come.

The band's debut LP, A Can Of Bees, was released two years later in 1979, and while the element of chaos was still present in tracks such as "The Pig Worker", Robyn began to allow his gorgeous (and quintessentially English) melodic sense to come to the forefront on such tracks as "Human Music". The Soft Boys split soon after their 1980 masterpiece, Underwater Moonlight. As a record its sound was incredibly influential within the alternative rock scene of the 1980s -- "Queen Of Eyes" alone works as a blueprint of jangly college rock, and the title track stands as one of the most unique and imaginative tracks of the decade; an ode to the ocean falling in love with a human being and the ensuing drowning.

While The Soft Boys may have been finished in name, all of the members soon appeared on Robyn’s solo debut from 1981, Black Snake Diamond Role. Here, Hitchcock went full bore into psychedelia for the LP’s classic track, "Acid Bird", itself one of the artist's most enduring tracks and a staple of live shows. 1982 saw the release of Groovy Decay, which was perhaps an effort to ditch the psychedelic elements in order to be more "contemporary". Whatever the motives, Robyn wasn’t happy with the record and re-envisioned it a few years later by substituting several demo versions billed as Groovy Decoy. Both editions contain the brilliant "America", a stand-out composition that succeeds in its dense, synthesizer and horn driven production.

Perhaps it was the distaste left behind in the wake of Decay that sent Robyn inwards for what is perhaps his greatest record -- 1984’s I Often Dream Of Trains. While the album's strongest tracks clearly channel Hitchcock's heroes (Syd Barrett, John Lennon), they also match the excellence of those legends. "Flavor Of Night" pairs a Lennon-like lyric and melody with a piano line that sounds downright classical. The title track, sparse as it is with only voice and lone electric guitar, is completely satisfying in its poetic brilliance. "I Used To Say I Love You" (inexplicably left off of the original vinyl LP) deftly captures of the feel of heartbreak, one that is both universal and incredibly real.

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