Over twenty years ago, Big Beat reissued garage rock legends the Music Machine’s classic 1966 debut TURN ON on vinyl. We now present that same groundbreaking album in a gloriously expanded, remastered 2-CD format as THE ULTIMATE TURN ON. Loaded with a full bonus disc of unissued material, including rehearsal tapes, demos and two eye-popping vintage TV performances, “The Ultimate Turn On” collects together the complete recordings of the original, definitive line-up of the band, famed for their heart-stopping avant-rock hit Talk Talk.
Here’s what the charismatic, erudite leader of the Machine, SEAN BONNIWELL, has to say about “The Ultimate Turn On”
When Alec Palao’s all-pro white-collar “ULTIMATE” unfolded from his laptop, a long-awaited treasured aspiration was realized; the definitive works of the original Music Machine had at last, arrived.
The continuity of the total presentation is stunning, embodied with a fresh and commanding timelessness that urges the eye, mind (and ear) into the inner mechanism of the Machine’s collective soul. It’s as if a layer of MM mystique has been meticulously unearthed and artfully reassembled by a gifted - technically advanced - music paleontologist [Palao-ontologist]: The once buried ultimate understanding of garage rock, MM style, is, as of this release, brought to light as if shining on a newly arisen plateau.
The tracks, which are nothing short of magical, confound and confront each member’s personal retrospectives, most of which are at odds with the sum total of the whole, deepening the mystery of the Music Machine’s unity as the group pursued - and ultimately captured - what rock historians acknowledge was the vanguard of a genera. For this reason, I would have preferred the omission of certain outtakes, but these conceptual embryos provide the listener with a progressive evolution - a musical gestalt - heretofore unattainable without the two or three ‘takes’ on hand (gloved, of course); ie, rehearsal tapes, first mix, final mix - and even then, the listener may have to cross reference all versions of each song’s development many times over, to garner fully informed enlightenment.
This is but one aspect of “The Ultimate Turn On”’s artful intentions: the re-mastered mono Music Machine classics are nothing short of brilliant -- a painfully overdue resurrection of the band’s dedicated and hard fought-for standard of excellence, not to mention maintenance thereof. No “Ultimate” would be so without mono and stereo renditions, but on hearing the mono re-mastered MM classics, the issue of preference is delivered moot; truth be told, the Machine’s complex musical arrangements were - and are - intentionally tooled to be heard and appreciated specifically by the collaborated sonic impact only mono can, and does, provide.
The deal is, the Music Machine’s modus operandi is now an open hand of cards. The consummate MM fan, the purist - disciples of the era and critics alike - are now able to hear the Machine’s inner gears refine, polish, and re-cut its diamonds in the rough; the rehearsal garage tapes reveal this in spades, being most evident in Discrepancy, Masculine Intuition, and The Eagle Never Hunts The Fly (to name just three). As for the aforementioned classic re-mastered mono MM tracks -- and the “Ultimate Turn On” package as a whole, it is sonically glorious.
A final, ultimate suggestion; with the possible exception of Big Beat’s early re-issue, you now have our official permission to throw away all previously released “Turn On” compilations; those products are deformed bastard children of blue-collar wanna-be deaf-mutes.
His Will, at last, be done,
SONGS & SESSIONS
Sean: “If you want to find the heart of the Machine, follow the songs, because there’s no place else to go.”
RCA Hollywood, July 1966
RCA’s facility on Sunset Boulevard, site of the Rolling Stones’ classic mid-60s sides and many others, was to become the studio of choice for Brian Ross in regard to the Music Machine. The two tunes recorded and mixed in this first three hour session, ‘Talk Talk’ and what was originally planned as the A-side, ‘Come On In’, were both on the cutting edge of rock’n’roll, yet musically and lyrically, owed little or nothing to anything that had gone before.
Sean: “‘Talk Talk’ took me about fifteen or twenty minutes to write. I was waiting for my girlfriend, so I went in my little music room, sat down, and I swear it just came. Somehow I tunnelled into the total experience of being misunderstood in high school, the way that misunderstanding takes place in a social setting, in personal relationships, and matures and evolves and still stays within that aching core, where nobody seems to understand who you really are, and they could really care less. It’s kind of a universal statement, because it’s something that every human being has experienced to some degree. I always start with titles, I’ll see a situation or I’ll hear of a political event or see a picture, and a title comes into my mind and once I get that, it starts everything. I don’t know where ‘the title ‘Talk Talk’ came from – I’ve since thought maybe it came subconsciously came from ‘go-go’. Very sophisticated drums in that song.”
Ron: “Sean and I had a discussion about sonic responsibility. To try to explain it simply: when you play jazz, the ride cymbal and the hi-hat are mainly used to keep the time. So they are played lighter and with more finesse. But the Music Machine most of the time was not very delicate. OK, just play the damn thing harder. Well, remember you’re practicing in a single car garage with a vocalist and one hell of a ring coming off the top of a 22 inch Zildjian cymbal. It was hard to take, hard to hear with our ‘caveman’ sound system. So…it was a mutual decision that I would not use the ride cymbal when the vocals were live. As for the other things, fills, riffs, punctuation, I always had an aggressive style during those years.”
Doug: “Ron of course worked out his fabulous drum riff, but my recollection is that a lot of the form of that tune is stuff that Sean and I focused on. There were certain things about ‘Talk Talk’ that originally were not as sharply defined as they were by the time we recorded it, and at least some of that was because of what he and I were working on with that tune. He had an old upright piano in that garage and I played it with him. It was my idea to do the tambourine hit in the middle eight: it just occurred to me that it needed some way to really drive it through that section, and when we did it live on stage, I would just stop playing the organ and bang on the tambourine as hard as I could. One of the reasons why nobody could do much of a cover of it, at least at that time, was because there were so few rock’n’roll drummers that could do what Ron did, particularly at the end: those last few bars, those rolls that he did, were so clean, so incisive. Sean’s vocal delivery has got a wounded animal sound to it sometimes.”
Sean: “It’s more talking than it is singing. You kinda have to vocally step aside from the reality of what you’re saying, so it’s not conversational - if I was gonna sing ‘Talk Talk’, it was not gonna come across. You can’t talk in a normal voice, and yet you can’t sing the song, so what’s the solution – you’re gonna have to cover it with a slightly different tone: top of the roof of the mouth, back of throat kinda stuff. Like it’s fighting to come out.”
Brian: “Sean had an incredible character to his voice, a God-given gift. Nobody sings like that. The musicianship of Sean is in his vocal, his performance. He was very intense [when he laid down vocals], one hand over the ear, concentrating, and was always prepared to do an incredibly good job the moment he got on the mic. He knew exactly what he wanted and he could give that at any time, whether it be the studio or live. There was no mellow in the Music Machine, they were like a spring ready to be sprung – let’s play, let’s get some work done. However, there was an ample share of “kibitzing”, especially with Keith - I used to tease him about tuning his bass so consistently that it kind of became a joke.”
Sean: “I remember writing ‘Come On In’ like it was yesterday. It was pretty succinct. The last line, “come on in and close the door”, completely nullifies the entire libertarian philosophy. The bulk of the message tells the listener to open up, to shed their own self-restrictive ideologies, but every revolutionary does that, they create the revolution by making this freedom available, and once they have everybody under the tent, they can’t get out of the tent. You’re just trading one intellectual addiction for another. I think I’ve gotten more comments about this song over the years than I have about any other I’ve written, and every single interpretation is different. Teenage girls asking me, ‘does this mean that?’ That was originally an A-side, and it got airplay and started to climb the charts in San Diego, but then KRLA flipped it over. Brian and I both thought of that first single as a double A-side. My career as a songwriter, and maybe the band would have been much different, had ‘Come On In’ been a hit record. The girls loved it, but it was teenage boys that loved ‘Talk Talk’.”
Doug: “I liked the fact that ‘Come On In’ was all diatonic, even though it’s got a lot of minor chords in it. From a formal standpoint it’s a long theme, and it lent itself really nicely to a dramatic treatment.”
RCA Hollywood, October 1966
Two months later, with the Original Sound deal in place, the group return to RCA to record ‘Some Other Drum’ and ‘Masculine Intuition’, possibly with an eye to more single material, though the segues that had been developed live to link these two recordings were already in place. The arrangement of the driving ‘Masculine Intuition’ had undergone considerable change from the tentative rehearsal recorded in the Almeira Street garage.
Sean: “I wrote ‘Some Other Drum’ in the Ragamuffins days, and once played it for [producer] Nik Venet, who told me, ‘That’s a hit record’. The theme is simply, he who marches out of step, marches to the beat of a different drummer. ‘Masculine Intuition’ was the first anti-feminist song – ‘you’re not gonna tell me how I should behave as a man, I am not a work in progress’. “The neighbours next door” – very controversial line, back then, if I’m talking about wife swapping. The group never commented on the lyrics, that I can remember. In fact I used to ask them, ‘what do you think about that phrase?’ The material was written developed, arranged and recorded so rapidly I don’t think there really was anytime to reflect on it.”
Brian: “Everything was planned, everybody knew their exact notes, because we had X amount of minutes delegated to cutting the tracks. In part, it was a financial thing, because we never had that huge blank cheque to sit around and experiment. But there was really very little to be gained by experimenting in the recording studio.”
Ron: “I remember using a long roll on the ride cymbal as an interesting intro to ‘Masculine Intuition’. We used to segue it that way on the road. Then, at the end of the tune, the bass drum part kicks through the ending. I don’t think anyone [else] did that in rock.”
Original Sound, Hollywood, October/November 1966
On Halloween 1966 the group rushed back to Hollywood from an engagement at Wayne Manor in Sunnyvale to record more material, this time at Original Sound’s own studio at Sunset and La Brea. The plan was to cut new originals, as well as tracks to mime to on LA-based TV pop shows such as Ninth Street West, Boss Cityand Where The Action Is. Due to the rapid ascent of ‘Talk Talk’, the covers would be utilised to make up the tracklisting on the Machine’s debut album in late November, something the group had not bargained for during the recording process. Not that any of them are anything to be ashamed of – the performances are uniformly dynamic and, in the case of ‘Hey Joe’, considered strong enough to become an A-side in 1968 after the act had left Original Sound. Nevertheless they are totally overshadowed by Sean’s new songs, which are the Machine at their apex. ‘Trouble’, ‘Wrong’ and ‘The People In Me’ all boast an incredible musical and intellectual power. These sessions would be the only time the original group recorded on the famed 10-track tape deck, devised and operated by engineer Paul Buff, who got a special thanks from the group on the sleeve of “Turn On” (though the embryonic Machine had visited the studio shortly before they met Ross, to record early demos such as ‘Point Of No Return’). The mono version of ‘People’ featured here is the punchier remix created in early December for single release.
Keith: “You had to pick a song that was on the radio that week, go in and record your version and then go out on location and mime to it. That’s why all those weird ass songs got on the album. We got that “Star Trek” bit at the end of the middle eight of ‘Trouble’, by recording the backing vocal at one speed and playing it back triple fast. That was the marvellous thing about Paul Buff. We would tell him, this is what we’re going for, and he understood and he found a way to do it. What a wonderful collaborator.”
Mark: “Paulhad modified the Original Sound studio. It was a magic era. When we finished a recording, if it sounded great, I always got a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. If it was difficult in the studio, I just hated it from beginning to end. ‘Taxman’ is an example – it feels primitive to me.”
Sean: “That yell before the solo in ‘CC Rider’ is pretty cool, even if I say so myself! And ‘Cherry, Cherry’ is a classic example of where I got to sing! I’m proud of the line, “she got the way to move me, cher-ree” – that took me some time to figure out.”
Ron: “It’s possible we would have done those covers [anyway]. ‘Cherry, Cherry’ we did on the road, but we also had great success with ‘I’m A Man’, and ‘Hey Joe’, that was a show stopper . . .”
Doug: “By the way, we did ‘Hey Joe’ before any of us knew about Jimi Hendrix’s version. I had heard it at a house party somewhere, and then I heard Love play it at a club inHollywood. It’s a fascinating tune because it’s unlike much of anything else even from that era: very distinctive and dead simple. And mysterious too, because no-one ever seemed to know where the song had come from. I think Sean is probably the one who suggested we do it slow, like a ballad with all this dramatic build up, and in fact the idea was for it to be done somewhat in the same style as ‘Come On In’.”
Sean: “There’s a lot of drama in ‘Hey Joe’. There is a melancholy, you come down off that, but you have to maintain the intensity, and you have to do it such a way that you’re relenting but you’re not giving up. I do remember that when we listened to the playback at Original Sound, Art Laboe said something to the effect that he had always regarded me as a little above average in talent until this vocal: “this is truly great”. That startled me.”
Keith: “You come up with one good line in your life – mine was ‘The People In Me’.”
Brian: “That bass line is the kind of thing that took months to prepare for the studio. I absolutely remixed ‘People’ for the 45, I punched the keyboard on a mono mix so it wouldn’t be lost, and rode the gain on the beat, gave it a little more definition for the end product. The trick was to make things pop out but not lose the vocal.”
Sean: “People’ was inspired by the Trojan Horse. All people have layers and nuances within their psychological structure. The face we show the world is not the one we wear inside. And there’s some very sophisticated irony in ‘Wrong’ – “in the eyes of just myself, just like everybody else/that’s wrong” - but I’m saying everybody’s wrong, and it’s wrong that everybody’s wrong. The audiences really picked up on that too. The performance had to be tightly wound, it had to be constantly moving and going some place.”
Studio 76, New York, February 1967
Grabbing what opportunity they could on the never-ending tour of late 1966/early 1967, the Machine routined Sean’s new songs on the road and decided to demo them en route. The first batch was taped at this funky little studio on New York’s Broadway, during a stand at Action City in Brooklyn. ‘Discrepancy’ and ‘The Trap’ feature early, different arrangements; ‘No Girl Gonna Cry’, ‘Absolutely Positively’, ‘Worry’ and ‘Bottom Of The Soul’ are closer to their final incarnations, though all feature different lyrics and/or arrangement touches; and there is the marvellous, previously unknown gem ‘Sufferin’ Succotash’. However, the most stunning artefact is a fierce full-length assault upon ‘The Eagle Never Hunts The Fly’, featuring an intra-band interplay absent from the later single version.
Sean: “‘Sufferin’ Succotash’ was actually the very first rock song that I ever wrote, before the Ragamuffins and stuff. David Gates produced a copy of it that was just me and bunch of session players. Succotash is a poor man’s stew – so the song is about tolerating the intolerable human condition, in terms of food.”
Brian: “‘Sufferin’ Succotash’ wasn’t one I embraced, and I felt some of it needed to be reworked, but I was always ginger about saying something like that to Sean, because they were all his children, and you didn’t wanna tell him, ‘that’s an ugly child’.”
Keith: “‘Sufferin’ Succotash’, how can I forget it? [laughter] I know the vibe that I had from that song, though I can’t remember any of the parts. But, for the time, ‘Eagle’ was a pretty good song. We started doing it inChicago, when Mark and I got frostbite from driving a van without a heater. We were up and rehearsing two hours later, with black fingers.”
Ron: “The demo is better than that over-produced nonsense that came to be the final record. The sound was pure and raw, just [because] it was live. The form of the tune was even, and it made sense.”
Brian: “Listen to how they change their tempo on ‘Bottom Of The Soul’. That was unheard of for those days, and of course a no-no on any kind of commercial release.”
Sean: “I never liked ‘Bottom Of The Soul’. It was in the wrong key when we recorded it, but I didn’t wanna go back and re-do it, so I just changed the vocal. Lyrically, it’s the id speaking – “haven’t got the time for better days, if I can’t eat the cake, I’ll lick the bowl”. That comes from my grandmother, who would make a cake but would never eat it, though she would say, ‘you can lick the bowl’. The calliope/circus part in the middle, in the context of the song, signifies you’re on a merry-go-round of poverty. The backing vocals on ‘Discrepancy’ are the sub-conscious: the ‘discrepancy’ refers to the conflict between what the singer is saying to the love of his life, whom he is losing, and what he is actually thinking, because the thought is very feminine - it’s her [qualities], why he’s in love with her. But what he’s saying to her is the opposite. And ‘The Trap’ is a pretty deep song. It’s a verbalisation of the Matrix before we knew what the Matrix was. The verses are universal, the choruses strictly introspective. In other words, by comparison, loneliness might hurt, but you’re not bombarded by this warfare, and it’s gentle by comparison, but it comes undone because it interpolates. This took a while to teach the band.”
Cosimo’s, New Orleans, February 1967
A couple of weeks later, the Machine were in the south, when they visited the legendary facility of Cosimo Matassa in the French Quarter of New Orleans, venue for some of early rock’s classic sessions in the 1950s. In keeping with the tenor of the locale, the group utilised the bluesier textures of piano and Hammond B-3, and also swapped instruments. The tracks recorded were ‘Somethin’ Hurtin On Me’, ‘Smoke & Water’, ‘Affirmative No’ (note the longer instrumental break on this version) and ‘I’ve Loved You’.
Doug: “I knew that Cosimo’s had some prominence in the R&B world. It was on the second floor of a warehouse building, with wood panelling inside, like studios from the 20s and 30s, and I remember a very slight woman with short blonde hair and glasses engineering. I know we did four tunes there, and the tip-off is that fabulous snare drum sound that’s on the early version of ‘I’ve Loved You’.”
Sean: “The early version just burns. Listen to how Ron can suspend the space without losing time – hear how it hangs in the pocket? ‘Smoke & Water’ is about starving to death. You spend what little money you have on cigarettes, and the only thing you can afford to drink is water. ‘Affirmative No’ was more of the sexist stuff - women want what they can’t have, and after they get it, they don’t want it anymore. ‘Somethin’ Hurtin’ On Me’ was done late at night, with Keith in the booth. The piano was me, and Doug was on bass, I think he overdubbed the organ later. We couldn’t get the right sound from Mark’s guitar, so had to settle on that kinda thin sound. I had gone to see the Otis Redding show, so musically I ventured into more of an R&B feel, but the lyric had no pretensions – I’m not gonna try and impress somebody as somebody I’m not, regardless of how cool it is to the outside world. That’s not the reason something’s hurtin’ on me; rather, I’ve got an emptiness in my heart and I don’t know why. All those dances I refer to (“ain’t walkin’ no dog, no mashed potato” etc), by that time, they were all passé.”
Doug: “I overdid it [with the bass] at the end of ‘Somethin’ Hurtin’ On Me’, I should have stayed pretty much with the riff. There were two or three items that I would play bass on when we performed live, a couple of Bo Diddley tunes like ‘Mona’. It’s possible that Sean played piano on that cut, though I always thought it was an overdub. Either way, that was a favourite of mine, I liked that.”
Keith: “There was an amazing vibe in that studio. All we had for lighting was a great big giant bulb strung down on a wire. I had some experience getting sounds, and I did understand what was beneath the console as well as what was on top of the console. So I kinda just took charge, because that was what I had always wanted to do anyway. I think we probably cut it all on four track, and then either made dubs or had the tapes sent back to LA.”
RCA Hollywood, March 1967
A marathon session when the demos of the road were cleaned up – either re-recorded or subjected to numerous vocal and instrumental overdubs, particularly keyboards - and a fabulous new A-side, ‘Double Yellow Line’ was taped. Incidentally, all the versions of this material included here are the original mono mixes as prepared by Brian Ross at the time. Most significantly, the outrageous ‘Eagle Never Hunts The Fly’ is featured here in its correct, tightly focused single mix, loaded with production touches like harmonica, feedback and duck call (!) It also happens to be Art Laboe’s favourite Music Machine recording.
Brian: “‘Eagle’ defined the Music Machine to Art. It was one of our most sonically compelling works and a lot to listen to, for the time. It was the kind of thing you just didn’t hear, you almost worried about getting those sounds onto a 45.”
Sean: “‘Eagle’ is about the environment, and food. The song is delivered and arranged almost instantaneously, and I think that my vocal delivery has a lot to do with it. I also played the duck call, it just magically appeared - someone had left it in the studio. And that’s me playing that lead line – when the instrumental alters, Mark is playing, and then we switch. The guitar strikes a third above that guitar note. There’s no question that there was a magical unity that transpired within the band, and it really took on the full impact of identification [with songs] in arrangements and everything.”
Mark: “Sean would strum a song on the guitar, and we’d go, yeah OK, and then we’d start coming up with ideas and suddenly the arrangement made it into something interesting and powerful. Like ‘Absolutely Positively’, when I first heard that it didn’t really knock me out, but then as we started to arrange, it took on a life of its own and subsequently became one of my favourite songs.”
Doug: “My favourite was ‘Absolutely Positively’, which had that riff that I played up high. One of the hottest things we ever did. I’d found that, from a classical background, the thing that was the most accessible and applicable to rock’n’roll - I didn’t know how to play blues - was the baroque stuff, and Sean really liked that. The first opportunity I had to use the harpsichord in the studio, I just loved it, because it was so percussive and so rhythmic. Sean just picked up on it, and it seemed to lend itself well to that baroque style.”
Sean: “I was disappointed with the lyric of ‘Absolutely Positively’, it was not developed fully. I was really being quite satirical in that song: I was saying hey, this is what it’s gonna be like when you start demanding your way, and your way only, when you start thinking about nothing but yourself. The next stop is the toilet or the gutter, because you’re gonna alienate everybody around you. I saw the ‘me’ generation coming - that’s really what those songs are about. I wrote the lyric to ‘Double Yellow Line’ on the way to the studio. We had the track down but I hadn’t done the vocals. This was the one time I didn’t have the title – I had the verse but I didn’t quite have the melody. But lyrics came to me quickly back then. The doubling of the organ in the same sonic range as the lead guitar, that was a very ‘European’ sound.”
Ron: “I wanted to sing a lead part, and there was ‘Worry’. I did sing some backup parts live, but Keith and Doug did most of the background vocals. All three of us did vocals in the studio.”
Sean: “Ron was always so dedicated and so willing to do the vocal gymnastics I asked of him. Keith could sing too, but Ron had great background vocals. He took direction well. ‘No Girl Gonna Cry’ was really pretty straight ahead. There was a wariness to some of the more savvy girls who came around the band, so the song was a half-hearted attempt at seduction, ie it’s gonna be worth it! That first line is “sittin’ on my hands like a Motown monkey when I heard a crashing racket outside/I hurried through the door in a fit of pleasure, you were waitin’a for another ride”.”
RCA/Western, Hollywood, May 1967
This involved further augmentation to tracks from the road sessions, including backing vocals and horns. Horns are also present on ‘Astrologically Incompatible’, which, like ‘Talk Me Down’, was amongst the last recordings by the original Machine. Eventually, the master takes of these tunes and others from the March session would carry over to Warner Brothers, to whom Sean and Brian Ross signed as the Bonniwell Music Machine, in the wake of the original quintet’s fragmentation. However, these early mixes sport a power and dynamism absent to those that were part of the official release. The one song from this final period that is absent here is the controversial ‘The Day Today’.
Sean: “The backing vocals on the single version of ‘I’ve Loved You’ are me, Ron, and Dotti Holmberg from the Goldebriars. That’s Doug and I playing the trumpets on ‘Astrologically Incompatible’, which is why one of them is flat, because he had the lip and I didn’t. “The heavens can reveal how in time we will really feel”. Difficult track to mix, we never got it the way I wanted it. ‘Talk Me Down’ was early. The Ragamuffins had done a version that was just the bare bones of the song. Ron swears it should have been the follow-up to ‘Talk Talk’: it’s in the same vein of a mature neurosis, but it’s not as mature, in fact lyrically it’s very sophomoric.”
Ron: “If they would have listened to me and chosen ‘Talk Me Down’ [as the follow up to ‘Talk Talk’], we would still be travelling on the road together. That’s just my personal view. I loved playing that song. With a little extension on the tune, maybe a guitar solo, it would have been a big breadwinner for us. Still could be . . .”
ALEC PALAO, 2006