Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Hawkwind—
Silver Machine/Seven By Seven


Released 1972 on United Artists
The Seth Man, July 2000ce
The foundation of this ultimate space metal 45’s A-side was recorded the night of February 13th, 1972 at the Roundhouse, London, where Hawkwind performed at a benefit concert. Their entire set was recorded, with four tracks surfacing on three separate records all released within the same week! Firstly, the “Greasy Trucker’s Party” double album featured “Master Of The Universe” and “Born To Go”; the three-LP “Glastonbury Fayre” compilation held the set-ending burnout “Welcome To The Future” as well as a new Robert Calvert song, “Silver Machine” while finally: a wildly remixed version of “Silver Machine” issued as a single.

Hearing this original “Silver Machine” with Calvert on vocals provides insight into why a remix was deemed necessary -- Calvert seemed to be having a difficult time remembering his own lyrics, and his vocal “harmonies” with Nik Turner kept colliding head on with entire verses left unsung or unremembered. Newly-joined bassist Lemmy Kilminster was inducted to re-sing the lyrics to over a complete overhaul of the entire song for it’s single release. It opens with a strobe-effect “Frankenstein” VCS3 intro then blurring into a left channel audio generator windstorm, the other channel taken up with the original Roundhouse performance augmented by the re-recorded vocals and additional repetitious guitar parts, driving drumming from Simon King and Lemmy baying out the contact high proclamation:

“I
I just took a ride
in a silver machine
and I’m still feelin’ mean!”

After a maiden voyage with this at full volume, those lines will ring in your head for weeks afterwards, more and more echoed until you don’t hear it anymore -- you BREATHE it. It is organised, driving chaos, pummeled into oblivion by Dave Brock’s wall of sonic repetition; newly hired drummer Simon King’s insistent fills, Del Dettmar and Dikmik’s electronic backdrop surrounding -- held together by Lemmy’s unswerving basslines and strongly-reverbed vocals all come together deliriously tight and far more muscular than any of their previous studio recordings.

Bad things had started to happen to Hawkwind shortly before the release of this single. They were practically broke and getting broker through playing too many free shows (resigning them to sell the odd amplifier in order to eat) and the theft of their van full of equipment forced them to borrow instruments and play through the stage PA at the then-upcoming Bickershaw Festival. There seemed no recourse but to call it a day until fortune smiled brightly upon the weary Hawklords as during the week of its release, “Silver Machine” appeared on the British singles charts at #18 and climbed steadily upwards until it soon peaked at #3. Ironically, it was initially treated as a stopgap release between albums for their fans, but quickly wound up a million-selling record. And its success signaled to their label that perhaps Andrew Lauder did have some sort of master plan at work when signing these and other freaks to UA, running counter to their A.O.R. roster of Paul Anka, Shirley Bassey and Don MacLean, among others.

The flipside, “Seven By Seven” is a downered space rock blur-out, all Götterdämmerung guitar chords and pounding drums that nod out only to awaken by the barked out existential chorus:

“Lost am I in this world of timelessness and woe
Can I find the doorway through which I must go?
Is the key to this place
Too much for me to try again?
Is the passport to this world
My astral soul?”

Lemmy’s percussive throb bass pulses throughout the high-pitched, near-theremin electronic layers that waft over the whole track, fragmenting into loud whistling echoes accentuated when the group thrashes it out on the chorus. Dave Brock’s zigzagging riffing gives way to trancey soloing until it breaks down to his patented busking e-guitar strum. It all fades with the echoed words “seven...seven...seven...seven...” ending this fantastically vibed-out single, housed in a beautiful blue, red and silver sleeve executed by their graphic cartographer, Barney Bubbles.