Silver Machine

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"Silver Machine"
Single by Hawkwind
B-side"Seven By Seven"
Released9 June 1972
Format7-inch record
Recorded13 February 1972
GenreSpace rock, hard rock
LabelUnited Artists
Songwriter(s)R.Calvert, Sylvia MacManus
Producer(s)Dr Technical
Hawkwind singles chronology
"Hurry on Sundown"
"Silver Machine"
"Urban Guerrilla"

"Silver Machine" is a 1972 song by the UK rock group Hawkwind. It was originally released as a single on 9 June 1972, reaching number three on the UK singles chart. The single was re-issued in 1976, again in 1978 reaching number 34 on the UK singles charts, and once again in 1983 reaching number 67 on the UK singles charts. The original mix has been re-released on the remasters version of In Search of Space.

The single[edit]

"Silver Machine" was recorded live at a Greasy Truckers benefit gig at The Roundhouse, London on 13 February 1972 and this version was released on the various artists compilation album Glastonbury Fayre and the 2007 box set of Greasy Truckers Party. Overdubs were applied and mixing took place at Morgan Studios with Douglas Smith and Dave Robinson overseeing the process. Dave Brock took production credits using an alias of Dr Technical. The sleeve was designed by Barney Bubbles (uncredited). Stacia appears prominently in the music video.



The writing credit on the single is Robert Calvert and Sylvia MacManus[1]. MacManus was Dave Brock’s then wife Sylvia whose name Brock used in order to put pressure on his publishing company to improve his deal.[2] The verse is an eight-bar rock and roll boogie whose riff is an adaption of the standard riff that can be heard on the likes of Johnny and the Hurricanes' "Red River Rock" (About this soundsample ).

[The Greasy Truckers] was about my third gig, and I didn't know what I was doing. I hadn't done any rehearsals and I thought that Silver Machine was a Chuck Berry number – really. – Simon King[3]

Vocals and lyrics[edit]

The lyrics were written by Robert Calvert and he sang the lead vocal on the original live recording. However, the vocals were considered too weak (About this soundsample ) for the single release so they were re-recorded in the studio. Calvert, who suffered from bi-polar disorder, had been sectioned at the time so was unavailable to attempt another version, and the lead vocals were eventually recorded by Lemmy:

[Calvert's] vocal was fucking hopeless, but he never realised it. That's how mad he was. It sounded like Captain Kirk reading 'Blowing in the Wind'. They tried everybody singing it except me. Then, as a last shot, Douglas said, 'Try Lemmy'. And I did it in one take or two.[4]

Lemmy just had the best voice for it. Of course, Bob was not pleased when he found out. – Douglas Smith[5]

The lyrics are a send-up of space travel, inspired by the Alfred Jarry essay How to Construct a Time Machine which Calvert interpreted as a description of how to build a bicycle:

I read this essay by Alfred Jarrey [sic] 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 did have that turn of mind. 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 (and it has got some proper physics in it), describing how to build a time machine, which is actually about how to build a bicycle, buried under this smoke-screen of physics that sounds authentic. Jarrey got into doing this thing called 'Petaphysics' [sic], 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 exceptions to the Laws of the Universe, people like Ionesco the playwright. The College of Metaphysics. 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 actually sent this all up, which was 'Silver Machine'. 'Silver Machine' was just to say, I've got a silver bicycle, and nobody got it. I didn't think they would. I thought that what they would think we were singing about some sort of cosmic space travel machine. I did actually have a silver racing bike when I was a boy. I've got one now, in fact. – Robert Calvert[6]

Top of the Pops[edit]

Hawkwind have very rarely appeared on television, but the success of the single necessitated an appearance on the BBC chart show Top of the Pops. However, the group felt ill at ease at the prospect of miming a performance in front of a studio audience who didn't represent their following, so a compromise was reached with the BBC recording the band performing live at Dunstable Civic Hall on 7 July 1972, this clip being shown with the single version dubbed over it.


Year Single format Silver Machine Seven By Seven Notes
1972 7-inch Original mix – 45UP35381 A-1U Original mix – 45UP35381 B-1U Winged monkey in clockwork sleeve
1976 7-inch Roadhawks version – UP35381 Remix – UP35381 (available on Stasis)
1978 7-inch Roadhawks version – UP35381 A-4 Space Ritual version – UP35381 B-4 Black Doremi shield on white background
1978 12-inch Original mix – 12UP35381 A-1U Remix – 12UP35381 B-2U Silver foil sleeve with embossed Doremi shield
1983 7-inch Roadhawks version – UP35381 Space Ritual version – UP35381 White Doremi shield on black background
1983 7-inch pic disc Roadhawks version – UP35381 A-4 Space Ritual version – UP35381 B-4 White Doremi shield on black background
1983 12-inch Original mix – 12UP35381 A-1-1 Remix – 12UP35381 B-1-1 White Doremi shield on black background

Other versions[edit]

BBC sessions[edit]

A version was recorded at Maida Vale Studios, London on 2 August 1972 for broadcast on the Johnnie Walker show on the 14th, "Brainstorm" also being part of the session. These two recordings have subsequently been included on the 2010 EMI release Hawkwind: At the BBC – 1972.[7] The song was also recorded live at the Paris Cinema, London on 28 September 1972 as part of the hour-long In Concert series broadcast. This full concert was released in mono in 1991 as BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert, and in mono and stereo in 2010 as Hawkwind: At the BBC – 1972.[7]

On 3 December 2007, Cleopatra Records in the USA issued a limited edition of 500 10-inch vinyl EPs consisting of both BBC versions of "Silver Machine", the live version as the A-side and the session version as the B-side.

On 14 November 2019, the group recorded a session for Marc Riley's BBC Radio 6 Music show, playing "65 Million Years Ago", "Last Man on Earth", "Spirit of the Age" and "Silver Machine".[8]

Live versions[edit]

The song has sporadically been played live by the band. Its first re-appearance is on the 1980 live album Live Seventy Nine, but it explodes after a minute and is suffixed with "(requiem)" in Brock's attempt at laying the song to rest, sick of having to play their "hit single". Further live versions have been released, most notably a version on the 2002 live album Canterbury Fayre 2001 with vocals by Arthur Brown.

Lemmy continued to make guests appearances with the band when their paths crossed. Some live versions of the song on which Lemmy appeared include The Friday Rock Show Sessions from the Reading Festival 24 August 1986 and Motörhead's Stone Deaf Forever! boxset from Wembley Arena 19 October 2002.

10th anniversary[edit]

"Silver Machine"
Single by Hawkwind
from the album Choose Your Masques
B-side"Psychedelic Warlords"
Released27 August 1982
Format7-inch record
StudioRockfield Studios
GenreSpace rock
Songwriter(s)R.Calvert, Mick McManus
Producer(s)Pat Moran, Hawkwind
Hawkwind singles chronology
"Angels of Death"
"Silver Machine"
"Night of the Hawk"

In 1982, the band recorded a new studio version of the song which received general release on 7-inch record and 7-inch picture disk by RCA/Active (RCA267, 27 August 1982). The B-side was a 33 RPM extended play featuring the full 7:25 version and a new version of "Psychedelic Warlords" with a Huw Lloyd-Langton vocal.

Receiving criticism over the release, Brock defended their actions: "It was only done as a tenth anniversary thing, and wasn't supposed to come out just as a picture disc. That was RCA's decision, and I didn't like it one bit. The only reason we cut it was as a special souvenir."[9]

In addition to the single release, the record company included it on the Choose Your Masques album, leaving Marion Lloyd-Langton to complain: "[Huw and I] actually had three tracks for the Masques album, but RCA insisted that Silver Machine went on, so the third track was dropped; pity about that."[10]


Cover versions[edit]

  • James Last performed a version on his Non Stop Dancing 1973 album. Currently available on James Last: Best Of The 1970s DVD and The James Last Collection boxset.
  • Vardis recorded a version in 1980.
  • Discharge's guitarist Bones riffles through 8-bars at the beginning of Why (Reprise) on their 1981 hardcore punk mini-album Why?.
  • The Church recorded a version on their covers album A Box of Birds and also have performed the song live regularly – most notably as the second and final encore during their world tour promoting A Box of Birds.
  • 1980's psychedelic revival band Doctor and the Medics recorded a version for single, played the track live and also performed a version on UK television.
  • Sex Pistols opened the set with the track on their 2002 tour. The song used to be an integral part of the Sex Pistols set list up until mid 1976. The song was reintroduced to the set list on the 2008 Harvester Combine tour as an encore.[citation needed]
  • The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performed a version at their 2005 Festival shows (the Cropredy Festival and GuilFest) Dreamworker. They also did a version (as part of a medley with Ride of the Valkyries) at a BBC Proms concert in August 2009, which was released on their DVD of the concert.
  • Alien Sex Fiend included the song on their 1988 LP Another Planet
  • Jarvis Cocker performed the track at The Roundhouse in December 2006 as a tribute to its place of birth.
  • Skullhead recorded the song and released it on their Victory Or Valhalla and Ragnarok albums.
  • Japanese noise group Hijokaidan included a version of the song on their 1986 LP Tapes.
  • The Mars Volta's singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala often recited some of the lyrics live on their 2008 tour during the improvised sections, most notably in "Drunkship of Lanterns".
  • German band Die Sterne used parts of the song in their own "Risikobiographie", from the album Posen, 1996.
  • The Indecent cover "Silver Machine" on their album Her Screwed Up Head.
  • William Shatner (with Carmine Appice and Wayne Kramer) covered the song on his 2011 album Seeking Major Tom.
  • Psychic TV have covered the song live and released it on Silver Sundown Machine Vs. Alien Lightning Meat Machine (12" Vinyl only) in 2012.
  • Thin White Rope released a live version of the song on their album The One That Got Away.
  • UK grind/crust band Sore Throat recorded a version titled "Silver Kerching", which was released on their 1989 album "Never Mind The Napalm Here's Sore Throat".
  • Voivod included a cover of the song as the final track on their 2016 EP Post Society.
  • Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons will release a cover of Silver Machine on 21 April 2018 for Record Store Day. Phil Cambell was guitarist with Motörhead alongside Lemmy who sang on the original version and the record is intended as a tribute to Lemmy.[11]


Joel Veitch has used it for his Stephen Hawkwind sketch on his Rather Good Videos Channel 4 show.

The song has been used for two different UK television advertising campaigns: Mazda cars in 2000 and Red Square alcopops in 2004 (preview[permanent dead link]).

External links[edit]


  1. ^ United Artists Music Ltd - Words & Music by Bob Calvert and S. MacManus
  2. ^ The Saga of Hawkwind (pp98-99), Carol Clerk
  3. ^ Sounds, January 1975 Archived 15 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ The Saga of Hawkwind (pp97-98), Carol Clerk
  5. ^ Mojo, September 1999 Archived 14 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Cheesecake No. 5, April 1981
  7. ^ a b esounds. "Hawkwind – Hawkwind: At The BBC – 1972". EMI. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  8. ^ BBC. "BBC Radio 6 Music - Marc Riley, Hawkwind Live In Session". Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  9. ^ Kerrang, 1982 – The Strange Saga of Hawkwind
  10. ^ Orbit 4, June 1983: Huw Lloyd-Langton interview
  11. ^ [1]