The Music Machine: (Turn On) The Music Machine (1966)
With their matching bowl haircuts and all-black uniform (turtlenecks, leather pants, one leather S&M glove each), The Music Machine presented a sinister, gang-like image when their seminal debut album, (Turn On) The Music Machine, arrived on New Year’s Eve 1966.
Formed in ‘65 under the leadership of singer Sean Bonniwell, initially as a folk rock trio named The Ragamuffins, The Music Machine eventually plugged in and reinvented themselves as psych-fueled garage rockers, bound to become a proto-punk influence, despite their short lifespan.
Their line-up also included guitarist Mark Landon (son of Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie star Michael Landon *), organist Doug Rhodes (ex-The Association), bassist Keith Olsen (later a successful producer for Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, and many others **), and drummer Ron Edgar.
Their lone hit was the future Nuggets staple, “Talk Talk,” which peaked at No. 15 and somehow managed to cram four time changes within one minute and 56 seconds of raw, urgent teenage alienation – thankfully immortalized with all due menace on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
“Here’s the situation; And how it really stands.
I’m out of circulation; I’ve all but washed my hands.
My social life’s a dud; My name is really mud.
I’m up to here in lies; Guess I’m down to size … to size.
Talk talk! Talk talk! Talk talk! Talk talk”
But The Music Machine’s real stone cold classic, if you ask me, is “Trouble,” with its fire-and-ice combination of fuzz guitar and fruity farfisa (***), and the way both instruments get their frug on behind another lyric festering with anti-establishment intent and teen angst.
The rest of the album featured a balanced mix of covers (“Hey Joe,” “See See Rider,” “96 Tears,” The Beatles’ “Taxman”) and generally impressive originals (“The People in Me,” “Masculine Intuition,” “Wrong,” “Come On In”), but all of these sound rather tame when comped to contemporary garage rock savages like The Sonics and The Litter.
In fact, The Music Machine’s version of Neil Diamond’s “Cherry Cherry” sounds sweet enough to seduce the teeny bopper set, and Bonniwell’s “Some Other Drum” reveals far greater songwriting maturity than his band’s calculated, roguish posturing would suggest, and I’ll quote:
So you see, life’s just a card;
You play it right or you play it hard.
It’s a personal slant; I would if I could, but I can’t.
Everybody’s singing their own song;
Everybody’s got their own plan.
Some it seems are marching on time wrong;
They’re only hearing some other drum.”
The singer’s dominance (pretty sure that bowl cut was a wig, baby!) would, first fragment the original line-up, then rebrand the band as The Bonniwell Music Machine ahead of a sophomore set released in 1968, by which time their underground spirit had faded, along with that brief moment in American music history.
But if you’d like to learn more about The Music Machine and other, oft-forgotten underground originals of the ‘60s and early ‘70s, there’s no better resource than Richie Unterberger’s essential Unknown Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a book that educated and influenced me in oh so many ways.
* If this is true, and there are multiple sources to back it up it, then Michael, born in 1936, must have been a teenage dad in order to spawn a young man capable of wielding a guitar in 1966.
** Olsen was also instrumental in pushing the careers of Fleetwood Mac legends Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, as I explained in a previous blog.
*** The song’s framework may ring a bell for fans of the fabulous ‘60s spook/spoof sitcom, The Munsters!
More ‘60s Garage Rock: The Electric Prunes’ “Get Me to the World On Time,” The Hombres’ “Let it Out (Let it All Hang Out),” The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” The Litter’s Emerge, Paul Revere & The Raiders’ “Just Like Me,” Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ Best of …, The Sonics’ !!!Here Are The Sonics!!!, Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints,” The Troggs’ “Wild Thing.”