Robyn Hitchcock

Young People ScreamGroovy Decay
The Cheese AlarmJewels For Sophia
Autumn SunglassesRobyn Hitchcock
Do Policemen Sing?Black Snake Diamond Röle
Midnight Tram To NowhereShufflemania!
Brenda’s Iron SledgeBlack Snake Diamond Röle
The Man Who Loves The RainShufflemania!
I Often Dream Of TrainsI Often Dream Of Trains
The Ghost In YouThe Man Upstairs

Robyn Hitchcock photo 1
A&M Records promo photo by Greg Allen c1987


Robyn Hitchcock playlist



Contributor: Simon White

The world is full of eccentrics but the British seem to produce more of them than any nation you can care to mention. Perhaps it’s the bucolic aspect of our island nation that makes for eccentricities? Or perhaps being a mix of many different nations, perspectives and – while it’s hard to believe right now – a tolerance for the quirks of all human nature?

Perhaps it’s the creativity that the United Kingdom is renowned for that makes these eccentrics flourish? Music seems to produce more than its fair share. We have the likes of Ivor Cutler to Arthur Brown, from Vivian Stanshall to Robert Wyatt. Who can forget Keith Moon or Screaming Lord Sutch, Kate Bush or John Lydon. Heck, even the Beatles showed a healthy regard for eccentricity, with and without the hallucinogens.

And it’s to that famous four that I turn to when I think of Robyn Hitchcock. Imagine their music accompanied by the lyrical equivalent of Edward Lear and you’ll be coming close to the kind of experience your ears will get when listening to Hitchcock’s back catalogue. However, as I hope this article will show, there is a depth and vulnerability to Robyn’s work that lifts it beyond mere trifling wordplay.

Now, bearing in mind that Robyn has been creating and releasing music for over five decades, I’ve decided to only focus on his solo output. That’s still 23 albums worth of songs to consider. So, I did what any self-respecting Topper would do, I listened to them all and gave a thumbs up to those that stood out to my ears. It took two weeks of tweaking to get down to the Toppermost Ten tracks, but I’ve done it.

Now, imagine a summer’s day in the late 1980s. (There may even have been some herbal cigarettes involved.) Someone drops a new disc into the CD player we’d taken to the woods. A mixture of absurdity and beauty comes out. It’s full of catchy melodies, profound yet incongruous lyrics, and a tender voice that’s slightly at odds with our expectations. This is my first introduction to Robyn Hitchcock via his debut solo album, Black Snake Diamond Röle, released in 1981. I was hooked.


However, my first choice is Young People Scream, taken from Robyn’s second solo effort, Groovy Decay, which came out a year after his solo debut, in 1982. Fun fact: Sara Lee of Gang of Four fame (not frozen desserts) was on bass duties in the backing band, which is evident on this quite punky track. The lyrics are, if you’re young, totally on the nose; if you’re old, they’re totally on the nose. The opening lines depict the battle lines, for me, between those who lived through the 60s and those who were born a decade after it had faded. Nothing like the last line of the opening verse to sum it up better:

Because it’s all been done before and baby, if it hasn’t they don’t care …

Old people, they make young people scream. Yep. And no matter which age group you might align yourself with, the song encapsulates the feeling of having been there or having to hear about having been there. It’s a strong start on my list considering this is number 10, even if I say so myself.


I jump ahead to 1999 for my number nine spot, which is taken from Robyn’s twelfth album Jewels For Sophia and is called The Cheese Alarm. This is a song about cheese. Literally. But in true Hitchcockian form, this is not really a song about cheese but about the existential guilt you feel while others in the world suffer and you’re enjoying something. Or, perhaps, it’s enough to be about alarms made of cheese. If I had to point out a flaw in this piece of surrealist joy it would be that the word klaxon obviously didn’t scan. Although, I’m not that picky about the song, or cheese, to be honest.

At number eight is Executioner, from Robyn’s fourth solo album, which was dropped amidst his work with The Egyptians. Largely acoustic, like many of his later albums, it’s more melancholic, too. It’s about killing love, leaving a person and moving on and not looking back. For once, this is straightforward but it’s too good a tune to not include in my Toppermost Ten.

Coming swiftly after is one of Robyn’s psychedelic moments, of which there have been many in his career. The guitar part is played backwards, and unlike many of his songs this one goes over five minutes thanks to its trippy intro. Autumn Sunglasses features Gillian Welch and while it has a late 60s feel it’s also very 90s. There isn’t a narrative unfolding in this song – although in the video he turns into a wide-eyed cat – but because of its musical nod to Revolver-era Beatles it makes me think of the Summer of Love and the feeling that must have evoked as it faded away. Yeah, yeah, I can hear the young people screaming already. Still, despite the obvious melancholy, it isn’t a song to cry to. I’ll get to those.


Right, for track six in my Toppermost Ten, I’ve gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. Except, of course, as you may well have worked out, Hitchcock’s ‘ridiculous’ often hides a deeper message. That’s certainly true of Do Policemen Sing? which is taken from his debut solo effort. It’ll make you chuckle, perhaps even laugh out loud as the call and response of the verses mocks the boys in blue; it’s worth recalling the riots and police brutality taking place in the early part of the 1980s that this undoubtedly refers to. It starts to get a little dark towards the end refrain of Our law and order’s never, never, never, never, never gonna break down. Still, the melody will be an earworm you’ll find hard to shift – the Robyn Hitchcock modus operandi in all its glory.

As we move into my top five, I’m jumping to the most recent Hitchcock release, Shufflemania!. Probably one of my favourites, even this late in his career. While the title track is brilliant, I’ve eschewed that to pick up a bluesy number, Midnight Tram To Nowhere. This is a song that showcases everything that’s great about Robyn’s music – the lyrics are off-kilter but familiar, the music is catchy and melodic but carries a thread of mischievousness that alludes to wickedness, and you’ll be humming it for days to come. The harmonica warble, the train-shuffle rhythm, the minor key, all come together so perfectly.

Now, if you can get the words … as hot as sprouts! into a song, I’m interested. But Brenda’s Iron Sledge isn’t a song about the much-maligned Christmas veg, it’s – apparently – about Maggie Thatcher. Whatever the subject matter, this is a song that is both completely bonkers and one that should be a karaoke favourite across the land. There’s a suggestion of Beefheartian tendencies – Robyn has said that Captain Beefheart “changed my molecular structure” – as moments in this song could be lifted from Safe As Milk. It’s a track that proves Robyn is a consummate musician, too; the guitar lick between verses is not only catchy as fuck, it’s not as simple to play as he makes it sound. All Aboard! There’s the two-word phrase you’ll be saying out loud for ever. Trust me.

Given that the previous seven songs have been, I think, incredible, you might be wondering what the top three contains? Let’s find out, shall we?


We’re back in melancholic mode for the third Toppermost track with The Man Who Loves The Rain which is taken from 2022’s Shufflemania! album. It could be autobiographical, as it sounds like a man looking back over his life and pulling at the threads of sadness that are stitched into his very being. Yet, it’s not dismal and dark, it’s compelling and like every one of the songs I’ve picked, there are hidden depths and layers to pick apart and consider. Wistful, that’s the word to describe this track. Easing us towards the penultimate song on my list.

I’ve kept the low tempo, but gone back to the absurdity I talked up, way back at the beginning of this Toppermost Ten post. I Often Dream Of Trains is a song about trainspotting, ostensibly. Trains to Reading and Basingstoke. Those quintessential provincial towns in southern England. Except it’s not only about dreaming of trains. It’s also about that someone special, about love, about the wonder we’ve all experienced as we live our lives. I’m coming back to the word wistful.

Now, my Toppermost Top Ten choice for the number one spot is a cover song. Yes, I’m suggesting the best Robyn Hitchcock song wasn’t even written by him. Sacrilege! However, there are times when a cover version becomes the best version of a song, when it transcends the original. Such is the case with The Ghost In You which was originally recorded by the Psychedelic Furs for their 1984 album Mirror Moves.

Robyn takes it to new heights, imbuing it with a vulnerability that the original didn’t afford. Lifted from his 2014 album The Man Upstairs, which was a collection of mostly cover songs and a few originals, it dispenses with all the tricks that Robyn normally hides behind (the lyrical obfuscation, the catchy melodies) and brings to the fore what makes him so amazing to listen to: his outstanding acoustic guitar skills and his ability to use his distinctive and beautiful vocal talents to bring a tear to the eye and thaw the coldest of hearts.

The Ghost In You strips Robyn Hitchcock back to the dazzling singer songwriter he is. That he can bring some wizardry to what is already a great song and somehow magic it into something new and even more special, well, that takes more than just talent, more than just eccentricity. It requires the ability to put your entire emotional heft – everything that makes you human – and hand it over to your audience. Quite frankly, it’s an astonishing feat and this track will leave you awestruck.

I’ll say no more.







Robyn Hitchcock official website

The Asking Tree – RH database

The Glass Hotel – your second-favorite RH site

Robyn Hitchcock Is God, Okay? fansite

The Robyn Hitchcock Ticket Stub Gallery

Robyn Hitchcock Song-ography

RH News & Information (Fegmania archived site)

Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians at discogs

Robyn Hitchcock biography (AllMusic)



Simon White started a small record label called Unspun Heroes in April 2023. It was created to highlight music that deserves wider attention and, where possible, to release it on vinyl – perhaps for the first time ever. While not picky about genre, he wants to make sure what is released is done with a real love for the music. Pressings are limited to 500 copies max, with the first release due in stores on 23rd February 2024. Find out more about Unspun Heroes and what they’re up to, and the music being shared, on their blog, on Instagram and various other social media platforms.

TopperPost #1,079


  1. Andrew Shields
    Oct 17, 2023

    Thanks for this excellent piece. One of the great enjoyments of the last few years was watching Robyn and Emma’s live streaming performances. All sorts of interesting covers and deep cuts from his brilliant back catalogue. And also being introduced to Tubby, Ringo and Daphne.
    Might have to have ‘Falling’, ‘My Wife and My Dead Wife’ and ‘Madonna of the Wasps’ in my Top 10 though. And Robyn’s version of ‘Visions of Johanna’ at a gig here in Sydney was the best live Dylan cover I have heard.

    • Simon White
      Oct 28, 2023

      Thanks for the praise! This was a tough list to get to and many amazing Hitchcock songs got pushed for my own personal choices. However, I’m Falling is with Venus 3 and not a solo record; same with My Wife & My Dead Wife which is done with The Egyptians (a Toppermost 10 for this should be written, for certain, so please take up the mantle!)
      I allowed myself one cover song. You’re right, that Dylan cover is sublime. It’s made number 11 in my own personal list.

  2. Calvin Rydbom
    Oct 22, 2023

    I saw Robyn and Emma a few months ago. Great Show.

  3. Glenn Smith
    Oct 23, 2023

    Fine work Simon, I’m a huge fan of I Often Dream of Trains but not a super fan beyond that. However I’d not clocked his cover of the Furs The Ghost in You, which meets the test for all great covers by besting the original. What a brilliant interpretation it is, I can’t stop playing it, thanks.

    • Simon White
      Oct 28, 2023

      Thanks so much Glenn! Robyn has recorded many covers – he’s doing a Syd Barrett set in San Fran soon! He has an entire album of covers called Robyn Sings, which you should check out.

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