When thinking about 80s AOR, there are a few bands that immediately spring to mind: Journey, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, and Survivor. Legends all, but rock’s most radio-friendly subgenre spawned a truckload of other great bands, and during the 80s, this most American sound even influenced a few British musicians. FM remain one of the best known and most successful exponents of the UK contingent; much has been said about Magnum’s most commercial period from 1986-90, and at the end of the decade, Little Angels scored chart success by taking an AOR core and injecting it with a couple of rockier influences. For all the hitmakers, there are several great bands that aren’t mentioned anywhere near as much. And the greatest of those? That, without doubt, would be Scotland’s Strangeways.
Space Rock is a musical label that instantly conjures a few pre-conceived ideas. It’s become synonymous with long, prog-like arrangements, heavy droning riffs – some of which could be considered a precursor to the US-centric stoner/deep psych scenes – and other-worldly synth freakouts. This isn’t entirely unfair since space rock pioneers Hawkwind have relied heavily upon various combinations of those sounds and moods throughout their career, but, as this box set shows, there’s more to it all than that, and a world of bands beyond the obvious practitioners. Taking a voyage through a twenty year stretch of cult noise, ‘This Was Your Future’ serves up various treats too marginal to be considered obvious nostalgia for a lot of people, but somehow manages to be accessible enough to retain the interest of the vaguely curious. …And who better than to guide you through this world of free festivals and hazy noise than Hawkwind’s very own Dave Brock?
For a band once considered to be the epitome of counter culture and not in it for “the bread, man”, it sometimes seems as if the twenty first century Hawkwind are just a machine churning out new products. December 2021 brought the career spanning, anthology ‘Dust of Time’ – their fourth release in under two years. Although it was beautifully put together, it didn’t give hardcore fans much they wouldn’t already own. However, it successfully covered a lot of musical ground, and for the keen eared and eagle eyed, a couple of rarer BBC recordings could be found within its sprawling eighty one tracks. It’s hard to please everyone, but the six disc box set had a really good go.
Since the release of the ‘Human’s Lib’ box set in 2018, the Howard Jones reissue programme from Cherry Red has been very well curated, but in terms of giving the bigger fan something long overdue and exciting, a five disc box set of BBC recordings (released at the end of 2021) proved essential. It rounded up lots of early radio sessions and also gave an official release to a couple of oft-bootlegged gigs, creating a listening experience that felt comprehensive without being overwhelming. Also, by being offered at a sensible price, it showed how a premium product need not be exclusive to those with deep pockets. In many ways, this collection should set the benchmark for a decent box set. [Read a full review of the Howard Jones BBC box here.]
Before the arrival of grunge, the US was awash with sleazy bands sporting huge hairstyles and huge attitudes. Guns N’ Roses would go on to achieve world domination, and MTV made huge stars out of many others, including Ratt, Motley Crue and Poison. For every band that hit the big time, of course, there were many that didn’t achieve quite the same levels of success. Kik Tracee, Tuff, and Jetboy were bands that very much fell into this category, along with LA’s Faster Pussycat, but even these “also rans” gained more than their fifteen minutes of fame at the height of the music television boom.