Is the song “Silver Machine” by the rock band Hawkwind about a spaceship, an injection syringe, a racing motorcycle, or something else? The hobbies and lifestyle of the musicians left a wide field for the fantasies of the listeners.
Fans, critics and the band members themselves put forward different versions until the author of the text explained the main idea of the composition. His explanation surprised and even made music lovers laugh, although many fans are still sure that the true meaning of the track is being hidden from them.
The story of creation and meaning of Silver Machine
Silver Machine’s lyrics were written by Robert Calvert. The main boogie riff was written by Dave Brock. He hid his name behind the pseudonym Sylvia MacManus. Sylvia was the name of his wife, whose maiden name was McManus.
Dave talked about the sources of inspiration:
This song was inspired in part by Tomorrow’s My White Bicycle. And then we added a bit of science fiction, because then we were all into it. But when it was ready, we could not even think that it would have such an effect.
In this interview, Dave Brock explains what the Silver Machine song is about:
He [Боб Калверт] was one of the first representatives of alternative thinking, very passionate about science fiction – a real freethinker. Everyone thinks Silver Machine is a sci-fi poem, but it’s actually a parody. It’s about the bike!
He was great at conjuring up images that stuck in your head. “Silver Car” was one of them, and the music and riff complemented the picture perfectly.
The version that the “Silver Car” is a bicycle is confirmed by Calvert’s memoirs:
I read Alfred Jarrey’s essay “How to Construct a Time Machine” and noticed one thing that no one seems to have thought of because I haven’t seen it mentioned in the criticism. I immediately saw that he was describing his bicycle. […]
I thought it was a good idea for a song. There were a lot of songs about space travel back then, because that’s what NASA was doing. They sent a man to the moon and planned to open parking lots, hamburger stands and the like there. I thought it was time to present a song that parodies all this. That song was Silver Machine.
The Silver Machine simply says, “I have a silver bike,” but no one understood it. I didn’t think they would understand. I thought everyone would think we were singing about a space travel machine. As a child, I actually had a silver race bike.
Saxophonist Nik Turner shared his opinion about the meaning of Silver Machine:
Bob Calvert’s words were intentionally ambiguous. I have known him since we lived in Ramsgate and we often discussed different ideas about space exploration. The song is about a silver car, but it can be about anything: space, a motorcycle, a syringe, anything that gives you freedom.
Silver Machine record
The song was recorded live at a live performance by Hawkwind. The band members spoke about those events in numerous interviews.
Listen to Dave Brock:
Silver Machine was recorded on a Sunday night in February 1972 at The Greasy Truckers Ball at The Roundhouse, Camden. After dinner, we all took LSD in the dressing room. While we were sitting there, someone said that it was time to go on stage. We were completely beside ourselves, but as soon as we started it, everything went fine. Before that, we performed so often that it was easy.
When we listened to the tapes, we realized that Bob Calvert’s vocal part didn’t sound right, so we went to Morgan Studios to finish it. We all tried to sing it, but no one hit the notes, and then Lemmy took over [Lemmy Kilmister]and everything worked out.
Calvert could not take part in the studio work, as he was hospitalized due to an exacerbation of bipolar disorder.
Now Lemmy Kilmister’s version:
The night we recorded Silver Machine, we were stoned to rubble. Especially me and Dick Mick [клавишник Michael Davis]. When it came time to continue, two of us were almost paralyzed. They put a bass guitar around my neck and literally pushed me onto the stage. I had two questions: “Which side are the audience from?” and “How many steps to them?” They told me they were ten steps away so I took five and started playing. But as soon as the music started, we got excited. […]
I was only allowed to sing Silver Machine because none of them could hit the notes. And I did it in two takes… When it became a big hit, they didn’t like it because all the attention was on me.
vocals [Calvert] was hopeless as hell, although he never realized it. That’s how crazy he was. It sounded like Captain Kirk [Star Trek character] read aloud Blowin’ in the Wind. They all, except me, tried to sing it. Then, as a last resort, Douglas said, “Try Lemmy.”
The Saga of Hawkwind, Carol Clerk
Robert was not at all happy to learn that the song had been re-recorded with Kilmister on vocals, but he could no longer change the situation.
Release and achievements
Silver Machine was released as a single on June 9, 1972. The track climbed to number three on the UK Singles Chart. It was re-released several times, and twice again hit the British charts.
Dave Brock commented on the success of the song:
I must admit, I was very upset that she did not make it to the first place. She did it on some of the charts, but not in the right places… One of the songs that kept us from the top of the charts was School’s Out. Later I met Alice Cooper, he called himself a fan, and that made me feel a little better.
After the success of the single, the group was invited to perform on Top of the Pops. The musicians refused to grimace to the soundtrack in front of an audience that did not belong to the number of their fans. The BBC film crew had to film Hawkwind’s performance at the Dunstable Civic Hall concert.
Watch the video of Silver Machine by the rock band Hawkwind.
Many well-known bands have performed Silver Machine in concert, and some bands have included cover versions of the song in their studio albums.
This is how the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain played Silver Machine.
Check out the video clip of Silver Machine by Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons.
- The girl appearing on stage in the Silver Machine video is Irish Stacia Blake, who often performed nude at Hawkwind concerts.
- A North Carolina rock band named after a song by Silver Machine.
Silver Machine Lyrics by Hawkwind
I, I just took a ride in a silver machine
And I’m still feeling mean
Do you want to ride
See yourself going by
The other side of the sky
I’ve got a silver machine
Sideways through time
It’s an electric line
To your zodiac sign
I’ve got a silver machine
It flies out of a dream
It’s antiseptically clean
You’re gonna know where I’ve been
Lyrics Silver Machine by Hawkwind Alternate
Me, I just drove a silver car
And still feel insignificant
Do you want to ride?
See how you run
On the other side of the sky?
I have a silver car
This is an electrical circuit.
For your zodiac sign
I have a silver car – 3 times
She flies out of a dream
She is sterile
You know where I’ve been
Quotes about the song Silver Machine
To this day, I don’t know why this song caused such a reaction. But isn’t that how it works in music? Sometimes you get a song that captures the imagination and takes on a life of its own. This is one of them.
This is a great riff! I think Dave called it a Chuck Berry riff played backwards.
It was my third concert and I didn’t understand what I was doing. I didn’t go to any of the rehearsals and I thought Silver Machine was a Chuck Berry track.
Simon King, Sounds, 1975
What do you think the Silver Machine song is about?