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Soft Machine (initially called The Soft Machine after William S. Burroughs' novel) was/is a British band founded in 1966 by Daevid Allen (guitar), Kevin Ayers (guitar, bass, voice), Mike Ratledge (keyboards) and and Robert Wyatt (drums, voice), as an offshoot from The Wilde Flowers, the first Canterbury Scene band. True to its roots, Soft Machine initially played Psychedelic Rock as heard in their first album and singles. After Daevid Allen was barred from returning to the UK after a tour in France (thus being cut off the band) for overstaying his visa in 1967, Kevin Ayers dropping out in 1968 and being replaced by Hugh Hopper, Soft Machine began to quickly drift towards jazz-rock. The transition took place during their second and third albums (aptly called Volume Two and Third), and adding horn players to the ensemble, including saxophonist Elton Dean.

Robert Wyatt's vocal and composing abilities had been relegated to only one song in Third and completely dropped in their fourth album (called, you guessed it, Fourth), after which he left Soft Machine. From 1971 to 1973, the band suffered serious line-up changes (such as Robert Wyatt, Elton Dean, and Hugh Hopper leaving) and newcomer Karl Jenkins (saxophone, oboe, keyboards) replacing Mike Ratledge as main composer and bandleader. As a result, their albums from this period (Fifth, Six and Seven) sound somewhat stale and uninspired.

In 1973, after releasing Seven, Soft Machine switched record labels from Columbia Records to Harvest Records, and recruited guitarist Allan Holdsworth to record their next album, Bundles. By then, Jenkins wrote the bulk of the songs. In 1976, Ratledge left the band during the recording sessions of Bundles. He was the last founding member of Soft Machine.

In 1978, Soft Machine disbanded. Jenkins regrouped the band in 1980/1981 to record their last studio album, Land of Cockayne, only for it to disband once again. It spawned an offshoot called Soft Machine Legacy that later changed its name back to Soft Machine. The band continues to tour and, after decades without a new studio album, unexpectedly released a new album called Hidden Details in 2018 to considerable acclaim.

An absolutely colossal number of people have been members of the band throughout the years. A young guitarist named Andy Summers was briefly in the band, but did not make any recordings with them. Roughly ten years later, he was in a band called The Police that achieved worldwide stardom almost overnight. Renowned jazz fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth also spent some time in the band in the mid-seventies and shows up on the album Bundles. Daevid Allen did not spend much time in the band, but shortly after his departure, he founded his own Cult Classic band, Gong. Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt both had Cult Classic solo careers after leaving Soft Machine.

For more information, check That Other Wiki's page about them here.

Studio Discography:

  • The Soft Machine (1968)
  • Volume Two (1969)
  • Third (1970)
  • Fourth (1971)
  • Fifth (1972)
  • Six (1973)
  • Seven (1973)
  • Bundles (1975)
  • Softs (1976)
  • Land of Cockayne (1981)
  • Hidden Details (2018)

We Troped It Again:

  • Alphabet Song: The band bookend the track "Hibou, Anemone and Bear" with the two-part "A Concise British Alphabet" on Volume Two. Both parts are roughly ten-second songs melodically reciting the alphabet, with the second part going backwards from Z in the same melody as the first.note 
  • Broken Record: "We Did It Again", from "The Soft Machine", consists of Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt repeating the same line - "I did it again" - over and over. They are said to have performed it for forty minutes in a live performance.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Robert Wyatt and his playful attitude had already been sidelined by the time Third rolled over to make room for Hopper and Ratledge's po-faced jazz-rock. On Fourth, he limited himself to drumming duties and left the band after recording the album.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Their first two psychedelic/progressive albums with Robert Wyatt handling most of the singing, compared to their later instrumental, jazz-driven work.
    • Hell, you could even list their first single, as well as the demos they recorded in 1967, when Daevid Allen was still in the band. It would take them eight years and as many albums to have a guitarist in their ranks again.
  • Epic Rocking: Due to their fondness of improvisation, quite a few of their albums featured very long songs. We will spare you the complete list.
    • The Soft Machine: "So Boot If At All", is a bizarre jam that lasts more than seven minutes.
    • Volume Two: "Esther's Nose Job" lasts for over eleven minutes. "Hibou, Anemone and Bear" almost clocks six.
    • Third: Given that Third is a double album with four songs, "Facelift", "Slightly All the Time", "Moon In June" and "Out-Bloody-Rageous", taking up a whole side of a disc, all of them last 18-19 minutes.
    • Fourth: "Teeth" lasts nine minutes and "Virtually" more than twenty.
    • Bundles: "Hazard Profile" takes 19 minutes.
  • Genre Mashup: Their first two records could be described as Free Jazz Psychedelic Pop.
  • Genre Shift: Soft Machine was, at first, a psychedelic rock band. In Volume Two they start to drift towards jazz, adding horns and improvisation in some songs, e.g. "Hibou, Anemone and Bear". By the time they were recording Third, most of their songs were instrumental. Their last psychedelic hurrah was "Moon In June", written and played mostly by Robert Wyatt alone. After Seven, the band moved to more structured and guitar-led songs, leaving little room for the improvisation and free jazz that had marked their previous albums.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Hugh Hopper's fuzz bass and Mike Ratledge's distorted Lowry organ (which sounds like a clarinet or a saxophone on steroids) can provoke such reactions on first-time listeners.
  • Hello, Sailor!: In his later solo career, Kevin Ayers recorded a film sequence, a prototype video, for his 1973 hit Carribean Moon. The video presents a young-looking Kevin, in a sailor suit and a fetching pageboy haircut, performing the song while behind him, three very fey and somewhat under-dressed male dancers, whose only clothing appears to be very minimal loincloths and strategically placed bananas, camp it up to a ridiculous extent just behind him. The video has justly been described as the gayest thing ever committed to film for a musical video.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: Starting with Bundles, the band reintroduced guitars into their sound.
  • Miniscule Rocking: "A Concise British Alphabet, Part One" and "A Concise British Alphabet, Part Two", which, together, amount to less than twenty seconds.
  • New Sound Album: After two psychedelic/progressive albums, Third was already heavily veering towards instrumental jazz-rock. However, by the time Fourth came out, any trace of their psychedelic past, or vocals of any kind, was gone for good.
  • Psychedelic Rock: Their beginnings saw them doing a VERY artsy, extravagant and experimental take on the genre.
  • Punny Name: Robert Wyatt's band Matching Mole, formed after he left (or was fired from) Soft Machine, was allegedly named that because "Matching Mole" is homonymous with "machine molle", the French for "Soft Machine".
  • Revolving Door Band: Each album has had a different lineup. When Ratledge left in 1976, the band was left with no original members, a state that has continued ever since.
  • Rock Trio: Hopper, Ratledge, and Wyatt were the lineup for Volume Two.
  • '70s Hair: To absurd levels by Bundles
  • Sexy Packaging: There's an unidentified nude girl on the cover of The Soft Machine, seen from behind.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Have You Ever Bean Green?", on Volume Two, has them thanking The Jimi Hendrix Experience for exposing them to large audiences.
    • On "Moon in June" (on Third), Robert Wyatt briefly quotes his ex-bandmate Kevin Ayers' "Singing a Song in the Morning" and "Hat Song".
  • Soprano and Gravel: The Cake's feminine choir contrasted Kevin Ayers's deep, menacing voice in "Why Are We Sleeping?". Could apply to Kevin Ayers baritone/bass and Robert Wyatt's characteristic tenor as well, but they refrained from sharing lead vocals in most songs.
  • Title Drop: Mostly from their first album. "Hope For Happiness", "Save Yourself", "A Certain Kind", "Lullaby Letter". "We Did It Again" is a pathological case, as the title is repeated many, many times for humorous effect. And "As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still", from Volume Two.
  • Uncommon Time: Many of their songs have odd time signatures. For instance, "Esther's Nose Job" theme is in 7/8.
  • Ur-Example: They are arguably this for Progressive Rock, what with their attempt at mixing pop, psychedelia, jazz and primitive electronic music.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: A major difference between early Soft Machine and the post-Fourth era was the presence of Wyatt's witty lyrics on the first albums.