SOFT MACHINE — The Soft Machine

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SOFT MACHINE - The Soft Machine cover
4.04 | 24 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1968


A1 Hope For Happiness 4:20
A2 Joy Of A Toy 2:49
A3 Hope For Happiness (Reprise) 1:37
A4 Why Am I So Short? 1:38
A5 So Boot If At All 7:22
A6 A Certain Kind 4:10
B1 Save Yourself 2:25
B2 Priscilla 1:05
B3 Lullabye Letter 4:37
B4 We Did It Again 3:46
B5 Plus Belle Qu'Une Poubelle 1:01
B6 Why Are We Sleeping? 5:31
B7 Box 25/4 Lid

Total Time: 41:28


- Kevin Ayres/Guitar
- Mike Ratledge/Organ, Piano (Electric)
- Robert Wyatt/Bass, Cello, Drums, Guitar, Vocals

About this release

Probe – CPLP 4500 (US)

Recorded at Record Plant, N.Y.C

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

Way, way back in February of 1968 I had the privilege to see Jimi Hendrix in concert for the first time. I knew that he would be incredible (he was) but what I didn't expect was to be entranced by an unknown trio called The Soft Machine. They (along with Clouds) were one of the opening acts and I'm certain that most of the audience was more interested in seeing if the drummer was actually wearing any clothes or not. With the spacey light show swirling around the stage it was very hard to tell (turns out he had on a miniscule thong thingy of some sort). However, I couldn't have cared less about their stage outfits (or lack of). These guys played a different style of psychedelic jazz/rock that I found to be creative, edgy and much more interesting than most of the contrived, stare-at-the-lava-lamp acid music that was coming out of San Francisco. The very next day I tried to find this album but discovered that it hadn't even been recorded yet. When I finally got it on my turntable (it wasn't released until December of '68) I was thrilled to find that the LP consisted of the same songs in pretty much the same order that the group had performed them live. When I attempted to turn my friends on to this music not many found Soft Machine to be as engaging as I did but I just figured they weren't as evolved musically as I was so I adopted them for my own. It no longer mattered what others thought, this record came along at a pivotal point in my life and I listened to it until the grooves wore out. It will forever have a nostalgic significance for me. They start things off with a very unorthodox free-form, wandering vocal from drummer Robert Wyatt splayed loosely over some moody organ that clearly reveals their modern jazz roots. They slide right into "Hope For Happiness," an up-tempo psychedelic song and here you get your first encounter with Michael Ratledge's furious, intense keyboard style as he delivers a sizzling organ ride. The majority of the tunes blend seamlessly into one another throughout the album and this occurs with the playful instrumental "Joy of a Toy" where guitarist/bassist Kevin Ayers serenades you with a wah wah-driven guitar ditty that's as carefree as a stroll down a country road. It dissolves into dissonance before a reprisal of "Hope For Happiness" brings you back full circle.

I would characterize Wyatt's unique singing style as being the anti-vocal in that he delivers the lyrics in a sort of passive manner, giving the impression that he's not overly concerned about being exactly on key. Yet there's something very human and endearing about his thin voice and I've always found it to be curiously effective. A good example of this is found in his singing on "Why Am I So Short?," a semi-jazz number with an avant garde chord structure that leads you directly into a jam-oriented piece, "So Boot If At All." It comes complete with tastefully brief bass and drum solos. This is followed by a sweet ballad written by Hugh Hopper called "A Certain Kind," by far the most "normal" song on the record. It features an involved progression and melody but it's the poignant keyboard section and the subsequent build up to the climactic ending that seals the deal.

Next is a return to psychedelia with the rockin' "Save Yourself," after which they detour momentarily into the twilight zone with "Priscilla" before transitioning to the fast- paced "Lullabye Letter" that contains another excellent organ lead. It really is amazing the variety of sounds they get with their limited instrumentation. The euphoria- producing, head-bobbing groove of "We Did It Again" follows and it was (and still is) the perfect tune for that cosmic, navel-contemplating era. Ratledge's upwardly-mobile organ chords droning over the basic two-note melody is beautiful in its simplicity. I don't know what "It" is that the singer keeps doing again and again but you can fill in the blank with whatever verb/noun combination that best suits your needs.

"Plus Belle Qu'une Poubelle" is nothing more than a musical preview for "Why Are We Sleeping?," another terrific song. Here Ayers recites the verse's poetic lyrics in a lilting, conversational tone that sets it apart from every other tune. The brooding bass line and deep organ chords along with the emotional dynamics provided by the band's intelligent arrangement make this the highlight of the album. Its plea for some sense of social awareness is as relevant today as it was all those decades ago. "Box 25/4 Lid" is an odd little riff played in tandem on piano and bass guitar and its quirkiness provides the perfect finale.

If there's any downside to the album it's that audio-wise it's a little bit flat and many of the studio effects sound quite dated 40+ years down the road. But the music is just as spontaneous and free as it was that magical evening when I saw them in concert and if you have an inquisitive mind that's open to exploring a totally different side of the psychedelic jazz/rock phenomenon of the late 60s then I strongly suggest that you give this a spin. It's a treat.

Soft Machine's debut isn't fusion album,but this release is one of cornerstones of later Canterbury scene of psychedelic jazz fusion and progressive rock.Soft Machine's roots are deep in British psychedelic pop of late 60-s: Robert Wyatt was a member of quiet successful Canterbury psychedelic soul/pop band The Wild Flowers, bassist/vocalist Kevin Ayers was one time The Wild Flowers member as well.

Wyatt founded Soft Machine in 1966 with Ayers, keyboardist Mike Ratledge and Australian guitarist Daevid Allen, who left before debut album was released (because of problem with British visa and stayed in France,where he founded successful band Gong).

Debut band's album, recorded without Allen,obviously are influenced by his psychedelic vision and sound.Music there is psychedelic soul/pop of The Wild Flowers reworked under free jazz and psychedelic rock of the time influence. Even if songs are mostly melodic, there are plenty of complex arrangements and compositions' structures,unusual for psychedelic pop/rock of the day. Music is still far not jazz rock, but the most important step is done - the album is one of cornerstones of the territory will be named as Canterbury Scene very soon.Wyatt's singing and drumming are seriously jazz influenced,and of course this still their pre-fusion release (as well as their second album)had build strong basis for their great jazz fusion period,which starts with their classic "Third" album.

Members reviews

siLLy puPPy
All one has to do is listen to the demos (available as Jet-propelled Photographs) recorded the year before to hear how quickly THE SOFT MACHINE was evolving their sound. It had been a wild ride since the days of the Wilde Flowers for drummer Robert Wyatt and bassist Kevin Ayers to get to this point. Mike Ratledge joined the band in 1966 when they officially formed as keyboardist and fellow ex-Wilde Flower veteran Hugh Hopper (bass) joins in on a few tracks here. Hugh would later join the band as a full member.

Originally the band also included Larry Nowlin on guitar but by the time we get to this debut album there is no guitarist to be found and just as well. It allows the band to emphasize how much a band can do with just a bass, keyboards and drums. Although Daevid Allen (guitars and vocals) was out and would begin his own Canterbury powerhouse Gong, on this debut we get a mixture of his own beatnik philosophy that he left behind, the psychedelic rock that was in fashion at the time and a new found appreciation for jazz that is incorporated into the nooks and crannies of the song structures creating a very new and exciting kind of music.

I personally believe that the sudden evolution can be attributed to the musical genius of Jimi Hendrix with whom SOFT MACHINE would tour. Hendrix was a major catalyst in the musical world at large and such a close proximity to his world surely must have served as an energizing lightning bolt for the band catapulting them suddenly into the more progressive interpretations of their earlier psychedelic pop churned out just a short time prior their debut. The band tackles the songs quite creatively. I love how the leading track “Hope For Happiness” is really one long track but in the middle they insert another track titled “Joy Of A Toy.” That strategy is repeated throughout the album making a smooth. flowing album from beginning to end. The melodies are catchy, the musicianship is excellent and the arrangements are quite brilliant. Ayers and Wyatt trade off vocals complementing each other quite well.

This one was certainly a grower. Upon first listen most of the complexities passed me by and I was more focused on the psychedelic pop aspects of the music. To fully appreciate SOFT MACHINE albums takes patience and dedication to fully unlock the brilliance embedded into the music. Although I liked this album on the first listen, I have grown to really love it for its bold and daring display of creativity as well as for its long lasting influence on not only the Canterbury side of jazz-fusion but for the evolution of progressive music in general. A belated 5 star masterpiece in my world but one that will firmly remain in that status. You'll know you're hooked when “Hope For Happiness” becomes the dominant ear worm beckoning you to put on the album time and time again!
The Softs' first proper album shows an incredible and immensely welcome growth in their musical style following their 1967 demos (available under various names - "Jet Propelled Photographs" being the more common one). As well as the band just plain being tighter and adapting well to the loss of Daevid Allen, the complexity of the songs - which in the demos were given a more simplistic psych-pop delivery - is upped significantly. Most importantly, the band shows a willingness to make a really big noise as well as providing stimulating and intelligent songwriting - perhaps picking up an influence or two from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, who they were touring with at the time they made the album (literally - the tracks were recorded during downtime here and there over the course of the tour). The production by Chas Chandler, Jimi's producer, evokes the murky, swirling morass which the Softs mould into wonderful, delirious proto-Canterbury psych visions.

Although Hugh Hopper wouldn't be a full band member yet (though he does guest on the closing Box 25/4 Lid, showcasing some of the tight bass playing he'd bring to the table on Volume 2), he and brother Brian remain a presence (thanks presumably to their earlier participation in the Wilde Flowers), with several compositions by the brothers Hopper showing up. The album kicks off with the delirious triptych of Hope For Happiness/Joy of a Toy/Hope For Happiness (reprise), sandwiching the Ayers/Ratledge composition between one of Brian Hopper's pieces arranged by the band, and Hugh Hopper's A Certain Kind provides the beautiful, haunting close to side one, featuring an impassioned and wonderful vocal performance from Robert Wyatt.

The two lead vocalists on their albums share their duties well, in fact; Wyatt's earthy, haunting voice adapts to a variety of material, whilst Kevin Ayers' deeper, rich, stentorian tones are perfect for his own Why Are We Sleeping? and back up Wyatt wonderfully on Save Yourself. Possibly *the* most out-there psychedelic album of its time, the Soft Machine debut is Canterbury's Ground Zero; whilst the Wilde Flowers and the Softs' own early demos showed a promising pop band, this is the album which raised the bar a hundredfold. A true masterpiece.

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  • MoogHead
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  • lunarston
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