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What’s So Great About Machine Head?

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I’m here to tell you what’s so great about Machine Head.  And I’ll begin by dispensing with claims based on its influence or on the number of kids who’ve learned to play heavy rock by copying the riff to “Smoke on the Water” – not that those claims are insignificant.  Finally, an album’s excellence rests on the quality of the songwriting and the performances.  There – I think I’ve made my argument.

I’m one of those people who really can listen to certain songs daily, even twice or thrice daily, for years and never tire of them.  There are only a few such songs for me, of course, but they include “Stairway to Heaven” (sorry, Mr. Plant); Nazareth’s cover of “Love Hurts”; and, yes, “Highway Star.”  You thought I was going to say “Smoke on the Water,” didn’t you?  Well, quite honestly, I could probably listen to that one every second day without tiring of it, but, for me, “Highway Star,” the opening track on Machine Head, is the real killer.

But What About The Filler?

Check out venerable rock critic Robert Christgau’s criteria for an A+ album, and you’ll see that he requires that there be NO filler, that every song be notable.  Well – please point out to me a weak link on Machine Head.  I suppose I’d list “Maybe I’m a Leo” and “Lazy” as my two least favourite songs on the album, but that only means that they’re slightly less excellent than some of the greatest hard-rock songs ever recorded.  And please – won’t you agree with me that “Pictures of Home,” “Never Before,” and “Space Truckin’” are, well, more or less flawless?

“Classic” Should Mean Just That

I’m not one who believes in the phrase or concept “instant classic.”  Geez, people, have we no patience any more?  I mean, I like the latest Killers album and the new Lady Gaga single as much as the next guy (really!), but can’t we agree that it’ll take a couple decades before we know how any of this new stuff really holds up?  Forty years on, I’m going to say that we have evidence of Machine Head’s lasting excellence.  The fact that most of the guys who played on it have just released a really good new album, Now What?!, should only increase our pleasure as we revisit one of the finest records – yeah, I said records – ever made in the rock-and-roll era. 


Check out our review of  their latest work, Now What?!

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