Top Of The Progs: Hawkwind - Silver Machine
The inside story of classic prog hit singles
Dave Brock recalls the time when a hit single meant he finally got recognised in his local bank...
Silver Machine b/w Seven By Seven
(United Artists, 1972)
Highest UK Chart Position: No. 3
Amazingly, Silver Machine was only Hawkwind's second ever single (Hurry Sundown had been released in 1970) and never officially appeared on a Hawkwind studio album. It originally appeared on a 1972 compilation album Glastonbury Fayre, although latter-day reissues of In Search Of Space feature the song as a bonus track, and it also appeared on the 1976 compilation album Roadhawks. A massive hit in 1973 for the band, the song charted again at No. 34 when the single was reissued in 1978, and again at No. 67 in 1983.
Where did the inspiration for Silver Machine come from?
“Well, Bob Calvert wrote some lyrics and I then came up with the music. We were actually a good songwriting partnership, and that's the way we worked a lot of the time. The song was partly inspired by Tomorrow's My White Bicycle, and we then added in a sci fi element, because that's what we were all into at the time. But we never thought when it was finished this would have such an impact.”
What was the reaction to the single?
“Oh it was great. We played it live for the first time at The Roundhouse, and the crowd went mental for it. To this day, I don't know what it is about the song that got such a reaction. It's the way things happen in music, isn't it? Sometimes you get a song that captures the imagination and takes on a life of its own. This one of those.”
Did you feel like pop starts when it was climbing the charts?
“Well, in one way I did. Because it allowed me to go into my local bank in Tiverton and get a mortgage for a cottage I wanted to buy. Even the bank manager knew the song, which made it easier for me, ha! Also, I got a decent publishing deal as a result. All of which helped enormously. So, it wasn't so much feeling like real stars as getting some tangible benefits as a result.
“The single might have done even better had it not been for Alice Cooper, who was at number one with School's Out. The bastard!”
Looking back now, was it a blessing or a curse, having such a massive hit for the band?
“Oh, definitely a blessing. We could afford to buy our own PA system, and a good one at that. We even commissioned someone to paint Captain America and the Silver Surfer on the side. And we could also get our own van. The money the single brought in was very welcome. There was no down side at all.”