Those who are aware of the late, great novelist and writer-extraordinaire Hunter S. Thompson will know the importance of musicians and music to him as a writer and human. They are entirely ingrained into all his works and were seen, by him, as the only true comparative soul for the art of writing.
The Godfather of Gonzo journalism considered musicians to be in the same sphere as writers and painters. He treated them with the same heavy and deep respect – something Thompson found quite hard to do in his everyday life – as he did those professions. It means the writer’s viewpoint on music is just as vital as his views on literature or how to deal with a hangover. Therefore, discovering his musical taste is a noteworthy moment and one that deserves a fitting playlist.
So when we found, in a letter to Rolling Stone editor John Lombardi, Hunter S. Thompson’s top ten albums of what he called “the rock age” (AKA the 1960s), we just had to share it. The fact we’ve put them all together into a playlist is just an added bonus and means we can all revel in the vision of one of American literature’s most intriguing voices.
The dynamic writer, Hunter S. Thompson, has gained infamy for his eccentric way of life, combative writing, and beguiling persona. His compulsion for uncontrollable situations left Thompson as a frontrunner of freedom during the last few decades and he remains a pillar of anarchic beauty even after his death, such was his artistic power.
It’s a notion that transcends his work as a writer and bleeds into every fibre of his being. In 1970, with the ’60s falling behind them in a hue of kaleidoscopic peace and free love, Thompson wrote to Lombardi: “I resent your assumption that Music is Not My Bag because I’ve been arguing for the past few years that music is the New Literature, that Dylan is the 1960s’ answer to Hemingway, and that the main voice of the ’70s will be on records & videotape instead of books.” It was clear that Thompson was well aware of the revolution of the written word that was to come.
He may have been full of praise for some acts but he reserved special praise for others, “But by music, I don’t mean the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,” he added. “If the Grateful Dead came to town, I’d beat my way in with a fucking tyre iron, if necessary, I think Workingmen’s Dead is the heaviest thing since ‘Highway 61’ and ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ (with the possible exception of The Stones’ least [sic] two albums… and the definite exception of Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground, which may be the best album cut by anybody.)” It’s a strong case and one well respected at the time.
Ever the journalist, Thompson saw an opportunity: “And that might make a good feature: some kind of poll of the best albums of the ’60s… or ‘Where it Was in the Rock Age’. Because the ’60s are going to go down like a repeat, somehow, of the 1920s; the parallels are too gross for even historians to ignore,” suggests the writer reflecting on an eccentric decade that revelled in debauchery and drew creativity from hellraising.
The following list is full to the brim of completely wonderful and intoxicating albums from some of the most prominent acts of the 1960s. We could listen to all of these albums on repeat, happy in the sound and even happier in the knowledge that the great man loved them too.
Although the list is an incredible collection of hits, it isn’t all Hunter’s work. In fact, he actively describes the selection as Raoul Duke’s list. Duke is known to Thompson’s fans as the fictional character (a drug-addled sports editor) with which Thompson found not only some of his best-selling books, but a worthy counterpart, peace of mind, and respite in a constantly fluctuating world.
It makes for an engaging and interesting list featuring some brilliant artists. Featuring twice in the list is the voice of the ’60s, Bob Dylan. Thompson’s adoration for Dylan knew no bounds and, before Hunter sadly committed suicide, he instructed his wife, Anita, to send his red IBM Selectric II portable typewriter to Dylan. She thought it a little churlish: It was too precious to send away. But after Hunter died, she reconsidered.
The letter Anita Thompson sent to the singer read: “He still has the harmonica you gave him that day in his drawer, in return, he wanted you to have his red IBM Selectric II typewriter. He started a letter to accompany it on a few occasions, but got distracted by various deadlines, and didn’t want to send you a distracted letter.”
She continues, “So anyway, here it is, and I am sorry the letter has to be from me, but it is important to him that you have the typewriter and use it for Chronicles. (I guess it would be Chronicles II now, right?)”
The list includes Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground which Thompson claims “may be the best album ever cut by anybody” as well as The Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead which Thompson calls, “The heaviest thing since Highway 61 and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’.”
So without further ado, here’s Hunter S. Thompson’s top 10: “So for whatever it’s worth–to either one of us, for that matter — here’s the list from Raoul Duke”.
Hunter S. Thompson’s 10 favourite albums of the 1960s
- Herbie Mann’s – Memphis Underground (“which may be the best album ever cut by anybody”)
- Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home
- Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
- The Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead
- The Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed
- Buffalo Springfield – Buffalo Springfield
- Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow
- Roland Kirk’s “various albums”
- Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain
- Sandy Bull – Inventions