It’s May 4th, which means today’s #mayvinylchallenge is space themed. And though my heart forever belongs to the Mothership Connection, I thought I’d turn to something a little more progressive for my album pick. And so we come to Hawkwind, and Hall of the Mountain Grill from 1974. What do you do after you release one of the greatest live albums of all time in Space Ritual? Well, you trim back a bit on the effects and weirdness (but really, not that much) since Robert Calvert is gone, but trimming still makes for a really tight set of tunes that run the gamut of spych, prog, and good old fashioned rock and roll.
It starts with that riff, the one on “The Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke),” the way it slowly builds into the verses, and then fades back for the sax solo before rising again. It’s a psychedelic rocker that recalls the jams the band were known for, but where I really get lost is in the symphonic instrumental of “Wind of Change.” There’s a King Crimson feel despite the lack of Frippiness that really works for me, though I can see others fast forwarding to get to the more rocking tunes. Nik Turner takes a turn at the vocals for “D-Rider” and it feels little anemic until the phase comes in and the chorus gets truly spacey. Still, it’s heavy on the psychedelia, enough so that things get a little lost in the production despite the fun the song has. “Web Weaver” does enough with its Who-vibe descent into boogie rock to make for a satisfying first side.
Where the album truly shines, however, is on Side 2. Opening with the live track “You Better Believe It” the intensity instantly goes up a level, and there’s the added bonus of hearing Lemmy sing along on the chorus. During its original release there were cries that Hall of the Mountain Grill felt more like a stop-gap, something to keep listeners aware as the band continued to tour. That feels little cheap, but it’s hard not to think about that a little bit when you’re rocking you’re head and singing along to the live cuts. There’s a Who-vibe on “You Better Believe It” as well in the little guitar part following the chorus, and I’m perfectly fine with that. The title track has an ominous, cinematic feel to it, more of a interstitial segue than anything else, perhaps lending more credence to the stop-gap views.
But then “Lost Johnny” comes on and Lemmy is in your ears and your brain and your nerves are twitching with sweaty, dirty rock and roll and everything is okay again. It was these tighter, more rocking songs that initially drew me to Hawkwind, and while I grew to love the spaced jams they were really known for, it’s songs like “Lost Johnny” and the live cuts (“Paradox” which closes the album is another live killer) that bring me over the edge for the band.
Ultimately Hall of the Mountain Grill just sounds too damn good to be considered a stop gap. There’s plenty of spaced out gold here for your ears.