Today history was made. Canadian William Shatner became the oldest man to ever be launched into space at the age of 90. To honour this accomplishment I wanted to review a space rock album. I purchased this album yesterday so I figured it was as good a choice as any. Robert Calvert’s name may not ring very many bells with you, but the list of musicians on this album is a who’s who of early to mid 1970’s space rock and out-there, experimental music, Canadian Paul Rudolph, Lemmy, Simon King, Brian Eno (credited as Brian Peter George St John Le Baptiste De La Selle), Del Dettmar (who emigrated to Canada right after this album), Nik Turner, Dave Brock, Twink, Arthur Brown, Adrian Wagner (great-great grandson of classical composer Richard Wagner) among others.
Robert Calvert was in Hawkwind for 3 years before leaving in 1973. After this he became obsessed with making a concept album about how the German Airforce purchased 916 F-104’s Starfighters from Lockheed. The jet had limitations such as short range and poor turning ability. It was basically a clear day, higher altitude rocket with wings. The German Luftwaffe had other plans. They wanted to add bombs, make it a lower altitude fighter in any weather. Add to this the lack of skill amongst the pilots and ground crew alike(the German Air Force had been grounded after WW2 for 10 years), it was a recipe for disaster. Of the 916 Starfighters flown by Germany, 292 crashed resulting in the deaths of 115 pilots. It was later revealed that Lockheed had bribed Germany and many other countries into purchasing the fighter jets.
Franz Joseph Strauss, Defence Minister, reviews the Luftwaffe in 1958. Finding it somewhat lacking in image potential – A spoken word section that sounds like WW2 German propaganda movie except done by an Englishmen using a bad German accent. These spoken word sections are laced between all the songs and sometimes come across as a Monty Pythonesque skit.
The Aerospaceage Inferno – No comedy skit here folks. This is an amazing song which could easily fit onto a stoner rock album in 2021. Driving, droning, pounding and repetitive. “..Fly through the ground like a circus hound through the burning hoop with just one bound, not even your ashes will be found, what a good way to go, what a good way to go..” Really great.
Aircraft Salesman (A door in the foot) – Amongst the musicians and singers included on this album there are others that performed the spoken word sections including Vivian Stanshall, Jim Capaldi and others. The tongue in cheek humour of this spoken word is how the Lockheed salesman ropes the German Air Defence Minister in to the sale by saying they will add a G to the end of the jets designation ( F 104 G). G for Germany.
The Widow Maker – This was the unfortunate nickname the jet got by the Germans after numerous crashes. There is nothing unfortunate about this track though. It is a mix between early 70’s Black Sabbath drone, mixed with horns and a bit of early Roxy Music that still sound great today.
Two test pilots discuss the Starfighter’s performance – More comedic spoken word skit in which the voice actors give up pretending to be German.
The Right Stuff – This one has a pre-punk era punk sound to it. If Lemmy, Brian Eno, the Sex Pistols and Kyuss would have been thrown into a time machine this song would be the result.
Board Meeting (seen through a contract lense) – More fake German accents discussing how many jets will be bought and why the high costs. “G for Germany”.
The Song of the Gremlin (part one) – This one has a real Brian Eno feel. The screeches and synth work are fitting to the German theme with an early Krautrock feel.
End of side 1
Ground Crew (last minute reassembly before takeoff) – The bumbling aircraft mechanics (with British accents back) discussing a loose bolt. One says it has to give a bit in the wind, like a bridge. The skit ends with the sound of the jet crashing. Remind me if I ever get to fly at Mach 2 that I bring my tools along to check the work of the ground crew.
Hero with a Wing – This one is listed in brackets as a folk rock song on the album liner. I would say this song is more progressive rock meets space rock meets NWOBHM than folk. Sort of if Jethro Tull and Iron Maiden were to collaborate and instead of the flute had some spacey synthesizers thrown in for good measure.
Ground Control To Pilot – Basically as it sounds of chatter between ground control to the pilot but premise is the ground control is checking to see if the pilot has all of his anti psychotic meds on board.
Ejection – More pre-punk punk goodness. I can almost imagine the Sex Pistols listened to this song and used it to help form a base for God Save The Queen.
Interview – A ridiculous discussion between an German officer and new recruit(along with British accents). It almost has a Meatloaf – Bat Out Of Hell feel to it. Again, I believe this is another one that influences a future amazing album.
I Resign – Germans resigning in unison.
The Song Of The Gremlin(part two) – This has a very Pink Floyd – The Wall feel to it. Even including the part two. A third example of what I believe influenced a future amazing album.
Bier Garten – “Do you want to buy a Starfighter?” (German accents are back) “Well then buy an acre of land and wait” Ouch
Catch A Falling Starfighter – A tribal sounding song with a pounding drum, vocal harmonies, background talking and radio transmissions, explosions and haunting wind noises. A really great song to end this album where it began, on a great note.
Robert Calvert wanted to be a fighter pilot but was rejected early on due to an inner ear problem (which I share as well). He also suffered from bipolar disorder and perhaps that was part of the obsession that led to this album. After hearing this one I will be searching out more of his music and I urge you to do the same.
Congratulations on your accomplishment today William Shatner. You boldly went where no 90 year old has ever gone before.