One Album Wonders: The Music Machine’s (Turn On) The Music Machine

THE MUSIC MACHINE — (TURN ON) THE MUSIC MACHINE (1966)
The Music Machine

Los Angeles‘s  The Music Machine are one of those bands which was not only a one album wonder but aone hit wonder as well (there are a few of them). The Music Machine’s big hit was “Talk Talk,” a grunted neolithic garage stomper from 1966 that quickly rose to #15 on the charts and remained in the Top 40 for twelve weeks.

The Music Machine’s San Jose-born singer-songwriter Sean Bonniwell, Doug Rhodes (organ), Ron Edgar (drums), Keith Olsen (bass), and Mark Landon (guitar) first assembled in 1965 as The Ragamuffins. Rhodes and Edgar had previously played with Curt Boettcher in folk-pop act, The Goldebriars. The changed their name to The Music Machine in 1966 and seem to me to have been musically inspired by The Troggs — a British band capable of peppy pop (“With a girl like you”), sparkling psychedelia (“Purple Shades”), and caveman rock (“Wild thing”). Sartorially, they were inspired by bands who adopted a gimmicky uniform like The Count Five, The Monks, and Paul Revere & the Raiders. The Music Machine’s look consisted of head (including dyed hair) to toe black — topped off with a single, black glove. It’s a gimmick, to be sure, but one that nonetheless allowed for more individuality, creativity, and fun than a nation of indistinguishable crate-service-clothed beardos.

Turn on the Machine

The sudden success of “Talk Talk” saw the band hastily embark on a tour and equally quickly crank out their only studio album, (Turn On) The Music Machine, which was released a month after “Talk Talk.” The second single, “The People In Me” b/w “Masculine Intuition” only reached 66 in the charts. Their sole album is clearly a rushed affair; five of the twelve numbers are covers by the likes of The Beatles, ? & the Mysterians, Neil Diamond, Ma Rainey, and the song, Hey Joe,” first recorded by The Leaves and de rigueur for garage rockers and psychedelicists (and also recorded by The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Love, The Standells, and The Surfaris). I have to say, however, that on the right day The Music Machine’s version is my favorite. 

In 1967 The Music Machine embarked on another promotional tour but at its conclusion everyone but Bonniwell quit. Rhodes and Edgar rejoined Curt Boettcher, first backing Keith Colley on a single and then in with another one album wonder, The Millennium. Despite having been abandoned by his band, Bonniwell signed to Warner Bros. and a line-up of new members and studio musicians (recording as The Bonniwell Music Machine), who released a self-titled album in 1968. 

The Music Machine

As T.S. Bonniwell, the singer released a solo album called Close in 1969, published a memoir in 1996 called Talk Talk, and died of lung cancer in 2011. Olsen formed the still-active Pogologo production company in 1973. Edgar died in early 2015. Various labels have rereleased (Turn On) The Music Machine, most recently Germany’s Repertoire Records in 2007. In 2000, Sundazed Records released a compilation of material recorded for a second, unreleased Bonniwell Music Machine album paired with Ragamuffinsdemos as Ignition.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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