The Rock Machine Turns You On: Music Landmark


Great Songs By Great Artists – Including Leonard Cohen – For About A Buck In 1968

… the album on which I first heard Leonard Cohen: a cheap sampler that came out in England when I was in my early teens, The Rock Machine Turns You On. That old vinyl record, which I’ve still got, has a lot to answer when it comes to my musical education.

Sylvie Simmons1

It turns out that The Rock Machine Turns You On, the first bargain priced sampler album, introduced lots of folks to lots of artists. Released across Europe in 1968,  it was an integral part of  an international marketing campaign by Columbia Records (CBS).


An ad for the LP in Billboard magazine establishes the tone:2

The Rock Machine…it’s the happening sounds of today. Out of it comes the biggest, hottest rock list that ever started off any month. And with our Columbia Rock Machine, the most exciting and meaningful merchandising campaign we’ve ever devised….. It’s all here – the talent, the product and the big concept to make it all happen. Now, doesn’t that turn you on?



The Rock Machine (Still) Turns You On, posted by musicJJMG on June 30, 2012 at No Depression, offers some details and, more importantly, insight into the significance of this album:

The album was remarkable on three levels. First, it only cost 75 pence (around $1) which at the time made it one of the cheapest LPs (long player for the young among you) available. Second. it was arguably the first rock compilation ever made, bringing together the works of different artists on one platter — commonplace now, but unheard of then. This made it cutting edge for the business, in this case CBS Records (Columbia in the States). Third, the album cover was silver and black and kind of moved when you waggled it (honest).

Above all, though,  it was home to some of the best tunes around. It was not just a sampler, it was a sampler of the very best. On it was Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” ( from the  John Wesley Harding album), Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy” (from  Songs of Leonard Cohen), “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”  from Simon & Garfunkel (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme), and Taj Mahal’s “Statesboro’ Blues”.

Those were just the biggies, it also had “Time of the Season” by The Zombies, “Nobody’s Got Any Money In The Summer” by Roy Harper, and The Byrd’s “Dolphin Smile” among its 15 tracks.

If you have not heard all these songs, I urge you to sit down in one session and give it a go. It will carry you away in the most pleasant way to another (perhaps simpler) time. Apparently, there were only around 140,000 copies sold. There are still a few floating around on eBay, but you cannot download it from iTunes. You will have to compile it yourself — which is kind of appropriate.


The Rock Machine Turns You On Tracklist:

Side 1

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – Bob Dylan – from the LP John Wesley Harding
“Can’t Be So Bad” – Moby Grape – from the LP Wow
“Fresh Garbage” – Spirit – from the LP Spirit
“I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar” – The United States of America – from the LP The United States of America
“Time of the Season” – The Zombies – from the LP Odessey and Oracle
“Turn On A Friend” – The Peanut Butter Conspiracy – from the LP The Great Conspiracy
“Sisters of Mercy” – Leonard Cohen – from the LP The Songs of Leonard Cohen

Side 2

“My Days Are Numbered” – Blood, Sweat and Tears – from the LP Child Is Father to the Man
“Dolphins Smile” – The Byrds – from the LP The Notorious Byrd Brothers
“Scarborough Fair / Canticle” – Simon and Garfunkel – from the LP Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
“Statesboro Blues” – Taj Mahal – from the LP Taj Mahal
“Killing Floor” – The Electric Flag – from the LP A Long Time Comin’
“Nobody’s Got Any Money In The Summer” – Roy Harper – from the LP Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith
“Come Away Melinda” – Tim Rose – from the LP Tim Rose
“Flames” – Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera – from the LP Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera

 The design of the “Rock Machine” logo, used in subsequent publicity material, including album covers, was by Milton Glaser.

Credit Due Department: Covers and discs from Discogs. Inserts from Rare Inserts.

  1. From Sylvie Simmons site []
  2. Wikipedia []

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