Ten Songs That Made Me Love...
published: 8 /
In 'Ten Songs That Made Me Love...' Nicky Crewe writes of two late 1960's 'Rock Machine' compilations - and ten songs from them - that still have a place in her heart and her record collection.
Cast your minds back to 1968 if you can. A pre-decimal era. A time before cassettes and CDs, Spotify playlists and iTunes. Record shops were different. They had listening booths and you could while away a Saturday morning with your friends, pretending you had money to buy a single, EP or LP. Radio One had been launched in 1967. Radios Luxembourg and Caroline were more popular but had very limited playlists.
Finding music you liked, outside of 'Top of the Pops' and the Sunday afternoon chart rundown, was a quest. It could define your tribe. Networks of like minded people were finding one another and the music that moved and defined them. Sometimes it was as simple as seeing someone at a bus stop with a record under their arm, deliberately displayed so that a connection, that metaphorical nod and wink could be exchanged. You might talk or you might not. We were basically all shy teenagers.
When the 'Rock Machine' albums came out on CBS in 1968 they were a revelation. 'Rock Machine Turns You On' claims to be the first bargain priced sampler. I think they cost 15 shillings. Pre decimal, that’s the equivalent of 75p. But what a wealth of music they contained.
'Rock Machine I Love You' hit the UK charts in 1969, and I guess that’s when I bought the copy I still have. I was fifteen, displaced by my parents having gone to the Far East to work. I’d been plucked from my early teenage social life in Manchester. I’d been going to concerts since I was ten, thanks to the great package tours of the early sixties. I was at boarding school, as were most of my friends by then. I was one of a group of teenagers, including some older boys, also at UK boarding schools, who met up for the long school holidays. A couple of those boys were very into their music and managed to track down some albums that were off the main stream.
On my very limited budget, the 'Rock Machine' albums provided a way of connecting with artists I knew and artists I wanted to hear more of.
'Rock Machine I Love You' also had a rather erotic cover, which seemed suitably rebellious for me to take back to a convent boarding school.
I bought 'Rock Machine Turns You On' within the year. I had a dinky portable record player bought in Singapore. I wish I still had it. It saved my sanity in those difficult school days and these albums (and a few others including 'Love Forever Changes' and 'After the Goldrush') are etched on my heart as a result.
There are fourteen tracks on 'Rock Machine I Love You' and I have chosen five of them.
Laura Nyro/'Stoned Soul Picnic'
I knew nothing about her and I had never heard her music but I loved the swooping sound of this and the optimistic mood. I longed to go to a stoned soul picnic whatever it might be.
The Byrds/'You Ain’t Going Nowhere'
I was familiar with the Byrds’ music, through their other covers of Bob Dylan’s songs. I loved this song, with its harmonies and slide guitar. Many years later I used to go to a folk open mic evening. This was a favourite song of one of the musicians there. One day he pointed out that I was singing along with the harmony rather then the tune. I couldn’t work out why until I made the connection with the number of times I must have listened to this.
Grace Slick and the Great Society/'Somebody to Love'
Before Jefferson Airplane there was the Great Society. Grace Slick’s voice is superb, the band’s performance is transcendental and the emotional impact is overwhelming still. For a lonely and lovelorn teenager it meant everything to me. It was my anthem.
Leonard Cohen/'That’s No Way to Say Goodbye'
Another teenage anthem. I was constantly saying my goodbyes, to my childhood friends when I went to boarding school, to my parents when I left them to come back to the UK, to schoolfriends and holiday boyfriends. I never found the right way to do it, and the longing in this lyric could reduce me to tears.
Another artist I knew nothing about, but I loved his voice and I loved this lyric. It had a melancholy optimism which was probably my best mood in those days.
In fact I’ve only just discovered, because I looked him up, that he was Chet Powers and he wrote the fabulous song 'Get Together', another anthem for those counter culture times. And that he was involved with another favourite band, Quicksilver.
The 'Rock Machine Turns You On' artwork didn’t need to be hidden from the nuns. It’s an image of a rather 'Monty Pythone'-sque Heath Robinson piece of machinery, though the title could have been interpreted differently by the sleeve designer.
There are fifteen tracks and again I am choosing five of them.
This was my first introduction to Spirit and I went on to be a big fan. I even sold one of the band a bong some years later when they were appearing at Manchester University and I worked in a hippy shop just down the road. Happy days!
The Byrds/'Dolphins Smile'
Other worldly, ethereal, magical. A song that transported me to another world when I needed to escape reality. In 1970 I got to see the Byrds at the Bath Festival.
Everything had overrun and they came onstage in a June dawn on the last morning when many people had already left the site. It was one of the best musical experiences of my life.
Tim Rose/'Come Away Melinda'
A dramatic and dark song which chimed with our fears of nuclear war. Uncomfortable listening but compelling in its intensity. Many years later a friend invited him to play a small local festival I was involved with and I got to hear him play it live.
The Zombies/'Time of the Season'
I was aware of Tthe Zombies as a British group and it was nice to see them in such illustrious company on this exotic sampler of CBS music. It’s still an incredible song.
Simon and Garfunkel/'Scarborough Fair/Canticle'
This song was everywhere in the late sixties. Flirting with traditional English folk music, in some ways this made it cool to be a folk fan. I now know the bigger picture, which includes Simon’s tour of the folk clubs of England. He wrote 'Homeward Bound' waiting for a train at Widnes station on Merseyside. The night before he had appeared at a club in Liverpool. A friend was invited to go and jam with him but turned the chance down because he was washing his hair. Sign of the times! Pre hand held hairdryers and you’d catch your death. It’s still a hauntingly beautiful version.