The one and only hit single
ever achieved by British anarcho space rock
. Written, recorded and released in 1972. Lyricist Robert Calvert
's vocals were re-recorded by then Hawkwind bassist (and, obviously, sometime vocalist) Lemmy
(Ian Kilminster, who of course went on to front Motörhead
) - presumably because he could manage the word 'mean' with more conviction - and the band never looked back.
The success of the single was enough to fund their subsequent Space Ritual tour, complete with very extravagant lightshows, dancers, and three-hour sets, which itself was instrumental in creating the substantial reputation and fanbase that cemented their musical careers. Much to the embarrassment of themselves and many of their fans, they've performed it at most of their gigs since then (though it doesn't appear on the double-live Space Ritual Alive album itself, as far as I recall.)
If you're fortunate enough not to have heard it, think Status Quo with whooshing noises - a simple enough chord progression going up the neck: E, G, C, E (and that's two more chords than a lot of Hawkwind songs from the same era) - with the normal Quo little finger action on the fifth string. Hold the upper E chord for endless repetitions of "I got a silver machine" for the chorus, while the sonic generator team does their worst behind the vocals.
I just took a ride
in a silver machine
and I'm still feeling mean
I got a silver machine
Do you want to ride
see yourself going by
other side of the sky
Well I got a silver machine
It flies sideways through time
It's an electric line
To your Zodiac sign
It flies out of a dream
It's anti-septically clean
You're gonna know where I've been
In my silver machine
Contrary to popular misapprehension, the subject of the song is a good deal more humdrum
than usually realised. Robert Calvert explains...
I read this essay by Alfred Jarry called How to construct a Time Machine, and I noticed something which I don`t think anyone else has thought of because I`ve never seen any criticism of the piece to suggest this. I seemed to suss out immediately that what he was describing was his bicycle. He was the kind of bloke who'd think it was a good joke to write this very informed sounding piece, full of really good physics, describing how to build a time machine, which is actually about how to build a bicycle buried under this smokescreen of physics.
Jarry got into doing his thing called "Pataphysics" which is a sort of French joke
science. A lot of notable French intellectuals formed an academy around the basic idea of coming up with theories to explain the expectations to the Laws of the Universe, people like Ionesco. The College of Pataphysics.
I thought it was a great idea for a song. At that time there
were a lot of songs about space travel and it was the time when NASA was actually, really doing it. They'd put a man on the moon and were planning to put parking lots and
hamburger stalls and everything up there. I thought that it was about time to come up with a song that sent this all up, which was Silver Machine. It was just to say, "I've got a silver bicycle", and nobody got it. I did actually have a silver racing bike when I was a boy.
Calvert quote and information from:
which now seems to be defunct.