The Rock Machine can still turn you on

An unheralded vinyl from 1968 is one of the most influential ablums ever

When I was “challenged” on Facebook some time ago to come up with the albums that had most influenced me, there was no question but that The Rock Machine Turns You On would be high up on the list. I bought it in my teens and played it to death; it helped cement my fanaticism for music.

Released in 1968, the album — vinyl, of course — was remarkable on three levels. First, it only cost 75 pence (around $1) which at the time made it one of the cheapest LPs (long player for the young among you) available. That was between a half and a third the price of a regular album.

Second, it was arguably the first rock compilations ever made — a sampler bringing together the works of different artists on one platter, commonplace now, but unheard of then. This made it cutting edge for the business, in this case CBS Records (Columbia in the United States).

Third, the album cover was silver and black and kind of moved when you waggled it (honest).

Above all, though, it was home to some of the best tunes around. It was not just a sampler, it was a sampler of the very best. On it was Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” ( from the John Wesley Harding album), Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy” (from Songs of Leonard Cohen), “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” from Simon & Garfunkel (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme), and Taj Mahal’s “Statesboro’ Blues”.

Those were just the biggies, it also had “Time of the Season” by The Zombies, “Nobody’s Got Any Money In The Summer” by Roy Harper, and The Byrd’s “Dolphin Smile” among its 15 tracks.

You only really have to kick on Spirit’s “Fresh Garbage” to get the feel of the era.

If you have not heard all these songs, I urge you to sit down in one session and give it a go. It will carry you away in the most pleasant way to another (perhaps simpler) time.

I was relatively shocked to learn that there were only around 140,000 copies sold. There are still a few floating around on eBay and Discogs, but someone has kindly slung together most of the tracks on Spotify.

Side 1

  1. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” — Bob Dylan — from the LP John Wesley Harding
  2. “Can’t Be So Bad” — Moby Grape — from the LP Wow
  3. “Fresh Garbage” — Spirit — from the LP Spirit
  4. “I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar” — The United States of America — from the LP The United States of America
  5. “Time of the Season” — The Zombies — from the LP Odessey and Oracle
  6. “Turn On A Friend” — The Peanut Butter Conspiracy — from the LP The Great Conspiracy
  7. “Sisters of Mercy” — Leonard Cohen — from the LP The Songs of Leonard Cohen

Side 2

  1. “My Days Are Numbered” — Blood, Sweat and Tears — from the LP Child Is Father to the Man
  2. “Dolphins Smile” — The Byrds — from the LP The Notorious Byrd Brothers
  3. “Scarborough Fair / Canticle” — Simon and Garfunkel — from the LP Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
  4. “Statesboro Blues” — Taj Mahal — from the LP Taj Mahal
  5. “Killing Floor” — The Electric Flag — from the LP A Long Time Comin’
  6. “Nobody’s Got Any Money In The Summer” — Roy Harper — from the LP Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith
  7. “Come Away Melinda” — Tim Rose — from the LP Tim Rose
  8. “Flames” — Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera — from the LP Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera

Music writer, historian, reviewer and broadcaster

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