Lost “Civilization” Found

A long, long time ago, I heard a song I really liked on the old WHFS (the subject of an upcoming documentary). The track was very long, so it must have been very late at night (when the station was really “free form” radio). It featured a very distinctive hard guitar blues riff that repeated throughout and the repeated refrain “civilization,” which I assumed must have been its title — you know what they say about when you assume . . . I was surprised when the DJ said it was by Roy Harper. Roy Harper was prog. I did not (and mostly still do not) like prog. But I liked this track very much. Still, I never followed through on it and it soon moved to the back of my mind.

I have no idea what made me think about, and want to hear this track again about a year ago, but I started searching for it. Of course, I checked Wikipedia first, even though I tell my students that it is not an accepted academic reference (I do tell them to check the footnotes for better sources). I examined each album listed, but none contained a song called “Civilization.” Next I plumbed Discogs, which aspires to be the IMDB of popular music (though, since it is crowdsourced, it is far more complete in regard to some genres and artists than others). Went through every album, compilation and single listed under Roy Harper; no “Civilization.” I must have googled it, too, but nothing useful came up.

I began to doubt my memory. Maybe I was mixing Roy Harper up with some other Brit guitarist associated with prog or folk. Maybe it was John Martyn, but I knew his “‘HFS song”* was “May You Never”:

Then I checked Michael Hedges and Shawn Phillips. I know, they’re not even British, but by now I was just running down random associations. Eventually, I set the quest aside.

Recently I received an email from Cherry Red Records (very good reissue label and distributor, especially in regard to post-punk) that some Anthony Phillips recordings were being reissued. I had no interest in any of the prog recorded by this founding member of Genesis, but it launched me on another search for my lost “Civilization.”

I again trawled through Wikipedia and Discogs — still nothing — but this time when I googled “Roy Harper” and Civilization, a lyrics page came up. In “The Game,” Roy Harper repeats the word “civilisation” — was my problem all along that I forgot Brits spell civilization with an S?

I went on YouTube and there it was:

I had found my lost civilization.

When I downloaded the album, I confirmed that  this  is still the only song I like by Roy Harper. The rest is prog — on “Referendum (Legend),” Harper even sings in that nasal prog voice I find so annoying, the voice I associate with tales of fairies and giants in ancient Albion.

Nice to know some things remain constant.

* For all of its reputation of being “free form,” ‘HFS had a definite coterie of artists — Little Feat, Joan Armatrading, pre-Born to Run Springsteen, etc. — along with a lot of single songs from relatively obscure artists that were played fairly frequently, often just one song per artist. For instance, Weasel played “Your Love Is Like Nuclear Waste” by Tuff Darts and “Dancing with My Eighty Wives” so often that they became highly collectible in the D.C. area, but nowhere else.


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