Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Van der Graaf Generator—
Theme One/'w'


Released 1972 on Charisma
The Seth Man, May 2000ce
A perfect companion piece to VdGG’s 1971 “Pawn Hearts” meisterwerk, the B-side of this single was so morbidly weird and ‘down’ they had to use the instrumental as the A-side. Charisma label head Tony Stratton-Smith, so believed in and loved VdGG that he released this single thinking that the beauty and power of their music shouldn’t be lost on the world at large. Although these two tracks were released only on single, “Theme One” did also appear on the Charisma compilation “One More Chance” as well as placed in the middle of side one on the American release of “Pawn Hearts” in a transatlantic “Virginia Plain”-type restructure. A cover of the George Martin Radio One theme, “Theme One” features a Hammill-less VdGG going for it, opening with huge organ chords, the sax playing the main riff over Guy Evans’ overall drumming togetherness. An ARP line is hoisted over the sax, with further ARP flurries developing over the whole piece, circling tighter and tighter as it then breaks down into a sax-led improvisation that gets faded.

The flip side is practically solo Peter Hammill. But then again, seeing as VdGG would back him on his first five solo albums, they were virtual VdGG albums, anyway. “w” starts with melancholy organ over weary guitar and piano, slow tempo drumming to the back of the mix as the doomy yet angelic chorus is sung all strident: “You’re twice as unhappy/As you’ve ever been before/In your life.” By the time the piece breaks down into uncomfortable and quiet weirdness, like Joy Division doing a guitar-less version of “Forty Thousand Headmen,” Hammill’s barely whispered vocals come back informing you matter-of-factly that you’re dead. The picture sleeve is a duotone version of the infrared photo from the gatefold of “Pawn Hearts” and this single will always be inextricably linked to that album like a moon to its mother planet.