My favorite 100 albums of all time: #7 ("Element of Light")

"Element of Light" album coverIf Robyn Hitchcock hadn't gone into music, perhaps he'd have become a novelist like his father. His penchant for storytelling shows through heavily in Element of Light.

Hitchcock has a pretty solid catalog of music as a solo artist, with his backing bands The Egyptians and The Venus 3, and (of course) with The Soft Boys. It took a lot of mulling before I decided on the ones that would make the top 100, and two things put Element of Light at the top of the stack – the music (obviously) and the stories.

Musically, Element of Light features some of my favorite Hitchcock compositions (and that's saying quite a lot). But Element clearly features some of the most developed stories in his songs.

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My favorite 100 albums of all time: #21 ("Queen Elvis")

Album cover "Queen Elvis" by Robyn HitchcockWatching "alternative" bands like The Cure, R.E.M., and U2 punch through to mainstream success, I had high hopes that Robyn Hitchcock would break through with Queen Elvis.

Released in March 1989, Hitchcock was opening for R.E.M. on the Green tour. Queen Elvis, by Robyn Hitchcock 'n the Egyptians, was on a major label and they were putting money into videos for MTV. It seemed to me that the rest of the world would surely notice what they'd been missing so far.

By rights, Queen Elvis should have garnered more attention than it did. Musically, it's phenomenal, and it's one of Hitchcock's most accessible (read: there are no songs about "furry green atom bowls," or men with lightbulb heads) albums.

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My favorite 100 albums of all time: #59 ("Black Snake Diamond Röle")

Album Cover "Black Snake Diamond Role" Robyn Hitchcock Robyn Hitchcock's Black Snake Diamond Röle literally opened a new world of music for me. A friend in high school declared that I'd like it, and handed me a cassette recorded from the LP. She was wrong, though. I didn't like it, I loved it.

This was around 1986, and at the time I was mostly into classic rock – The Beatles in particular. I dabbled a bit in popular 80s music, but I hadn't really gotten into alternative yet. Robyn Hitchcock was my gateway drug.

Lots of 80s alternative and indie bands have found mainstream audiences or at least have widespread name recognition. The Cure, Depeche Mode, R.E.M., etc., all went on to fill stadiums. XTC stopped touring before they could hit it big, but you still catch references to XTC in mainstream media and I hear them occasionally even in the soundtracks they pump into malls and restaurants. Robyn Hitchcock, not quite so much.

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My favorite 100 albums of all time: #85 ("The Minus 5")

The Minus 5 album cover The Minus 5 may be one of the best bar bands ever assembled. Made up of a rotating cast of alt-rock heroes like former R.E.M.'er Peter Buck and drummer Bill Rieflin, and headed by Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, the self-titled The Minus 5 is a loose, rollicking set of songs that practically beg to be performed live.

I can thank Robyn Hitchcock for my introduction to The Minus 5. Several members of The Minus 5 (Buck, McCaughey, and Rieflin) backed Hitchcock on his 2006 album Olé! Tarantula as "The Venus 3," and I had the chance to catch the bands in Seattle, playing the Crocodile Cafe in November 2006. So I nabbed The Minus 5 too, to see what they had to offer. Quite a lot, as it turns out. (Spoiler alert, this isn't the only time Hitchcock or Buck will appear in the top 100.)

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Autumn Is Your Last Chance

I Often Dream of TrainsPerfect song for an Autumn Sunday. One of my favorite Robyn Hitchcock songs – and that's saying something, really. He has an amazing body of work, but this is quiet and beautiful little song that always catches my ear when it's on. I chose a YouTube video of him playing the song live, rather than a "perfect" clip of the song with only the album cover.


Of course, Hitchcock doesn't really do straightforward songs – so he doesn't just sing about the pretty colors of autumn:

The leaves
have never looked
as good
as now
(they're going to die)

I love his delivery as well as the lyrics, how he drops his voice on the last line as if to say "didn't you see that coming?"

"Autumn is Your Last Chance" is on "I Often Dream of Trains," which is a lovely, weird little album that features a few instrumentals, some of the weirdest a cappella songs you'll hear ("Uncorrected Personality Traits" and "Furry Green Atom Bowl"), and a few others like "Autumn is Your Last Chance." The title track is another gem that is really worth listening to, and don't be surprised if it gets stuck in your head.

Off to crunch in some dead leaves. Enjoy the song!