“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Few writers, if any at all, have had the same stranglehold over the music industry as the aberrant maniac Dr Hunter S. Thompson. His pure daring and determination to stay well within the wild and groovy realm of the demimonde was a freak tenet that musicians have tried to follow forevermore.
As a writer, he engrossed himself in the world of pop culture rather than trying to observe it from afar, and that stretches way beyond his Gonzo style of journalism. He wanted to be in and amongst what was happening, not just to place himself in the story or capture a moment from a ground-level perspective. He wanted to change what needed changing and celebrate what he thought was right. In short, this was reflected in the collaborative artistic milieu of the sixties and seventies, where artists became engines of reform rather than merely reflecting it retrospectively in their work.
There is, of course, no way to prove this, but I would be surprised to find a musician’s bookshelf that doesn’t include a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – it is pure kerosene for music. This relationship flowed both ways, as Thompson put it himself: “Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel,” he once sais. “Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”
Added to this proposition is his impeccable taste in sonic sustenance. While this came to the fore in various ways throughout his career and works (the dedication on Fear and Loathing is to Bob Dylan for ‘Mr Tambourine Man’), it is no more apparent than when EMI Records asked him to select a few favourite discs to be cast away with. As part of their Songbook Series, various authors were tasked with whittling their record collection down to just a playlist worth of tunes for a compilation album. Thompson’s effort, Where Were You When the Fun Stopped, is now a rarity that fetches a pretty penny on the internet or at record fares.
Among the chosen tunes is an eclectic mix that ranges from the gruff blues stylings of Howlin’ Wolf to the jazz wizardry of Herbie Mann, unsurprisingly a drinking song, and a few expected favourites that crop up throughout his novels, including the defining anthem of the 1960s, Jefferson Airplanes’ White Rabbit’. Other notable inclusions are the almost literary tracks’ American Pie’ and ‘Take on the Wild Side’ by Don McLean and Lou Reed respectively. The two anthems are amongst his all-time favourites that no doubt would grace the top 5 of this list had he chosen to rank them; both of them sharing his daring venture on “a savage journey into the heart of the American dream.”
You can check out the full list of tunes below, and we’ve even tied them up in a handy playlist to boot. Enjoy responsibly.
Hunter S. Thompson’s 18 favourite songs:
- ‘Ballad of Thunder Road’ by Robert Mitchum
- ‘I Smell a Rat’ by Howlin’ Wolf
- ‘Spirit in the Sky’ by Norman Greenbaum
- ‘The Hula Hula Boys’ by Warren Zevon
- ‘Maggie May’ by Rod Stewart
- ‘The Wild Side of Life’ by Hank Thompson
- ‘Will The Circle be Broken’ by Nitty Gritty Dirt
- ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ by Bob Dylan
- ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ by Lou Reed
- ‘If I Had a Boat’ by Lyle Lovett
- ‘Stars on the Water’ by Rodney Crowell
- ‘Carmelita’ by Flaco Jiminez
- ‘Why Don’t We Get Drunk’ by Jimmy Buffet
- ‘American Pie’ by Don McLean
- ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane
- ‘The Weight’ by The Band
- ‘Melissa’ by Alman Bros
- ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ by Herbie Mann