The Rock Machine Turns You On


Discovered via the latest issue of The Wire magazine in a feature about compilation albums, The Rock Machine Turns You On (1968) was the first budget sampler album. Given the success of this release I’m sure I must have seen it over the years but that cover wasn’t familiar at all. I have to assume that the “Hey, pop kids!” title would have been enough of a turn-off to ensure the fingers kept flipping through the sleeves. Priorities change with the passing of time, however, and my attention was caught by the cover art alone, another example of the engraving-collage style whose evolution I’ve been tracing over the past few years. The only design credit on the sleeve is for the back cover photo by Wadham Artists. The front cover is credited online to Milton Glaser, some of whose album covers have already featured here. He was working for Columbia/CBS in the late 60s so it’s a possibility. If anyone out there has a copy of the vinyl then maybe they can tell me if that’s an artist credit in the lower right of the picture. A CD reissue in 1996 only copied the album credits.


As to the music, it’s a pretty good compilation, lots of familiar names together with a track from cult favourites of mine The United States of America whose one and only self-titled album had been released that year. One of the few negatives about the superb United States of America album is the cover design which isn’t bad but does nothing to reflect the extraordinary musical invention within. It’s a shame that whoever designed The Rock Machine… couldn’t have worked on that sleeve as well.

Update: Rick Poynor writes to say that this cover appears in Milton Glaser: Pop, so the Glaser attribution is accurate.

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8 thoughts on “The Rock Machine Turns You On”

  1. That’s a great cover! I don’t think i’ve seen this one before either, I do have the next one in the series though also released in 1968 which is called ‘Rock Machine I Love you’..and the final one in the series from 1970 which is probably my favourite sleeve design, it has more of a classic pop art feel to it. I’ve just taken a quick photo or two, i’ll post it over on my blog shortly so that you can have a proper look, in the meantime Discogs have some larger images & detailed info about both of the Rock Machine 68 lps.

    Ps I’m a fan of The United States of America myself, ‘Coming Down’ is one of my favourite tracks!

  2. Thanks, Jane. I scrutinised all the Discogs pages but no details were forthcoming. I still find it odd that none of the covers in this series look familiar, I must have been blanking them for years.

  3. I’ve a copy of this somewhere, was given it as a child, far too young to realize that it included the unforgettable United Sates of America

  4. Good news for U.S.A. fans – there’s a freshly polished reissue of the album entitled Columbia Recordings coming out on July 8th with 10 bonus tracks! More on topic, I have my father’s old copy of this -a fair amount of it (U.S.A., Dolphin’s Smile by the Byrds & Turn On A Friend by The Peanut Butter Conspiracy) sounded wonderous to six year old ears and probably contributed to my lifelong obsession with psychedelia. Amusingly at the time, CBS were attempting to inveigle themselves with the Underground set by using the terminally embarrassing slogan ‘The Man can’t bust our music’ in their advertising! I’ve a book of Milton Glaser’s work – the cover doesn’t seem at all typical of it (incidentally, he did the psychedelicized poster for the final series of Madmen) and the wording on the bottom right is the name of the sleeve’s printers. A few years ago Rev-ola released a reasonable psych comp with the same title and a similar but rather less sucessful cover.

  5. Thats an excellent post (Alex in The Chelsea Drug Store) I totally missed it first time round but just had a read now. Yeah, I wonder if Arnie is aware that he was on the set..or even on the cover of Rock Buster! I was talking to my sister about the Rock Machine Turns You On lp..she has it somewhere in her vast collection (DJ), so we’re going to have a look for it over the weekend,apparently it’s a gatefold a definite chance of there being some extra information on the inside! The mystery may be solved yet!

  6. That post has been surprisingly popular, still receiving traffic years after it was written. I should probably update it a little more since some of the commenters spotted other titles.

    I’ve been told that the tiny lettering on the front pic of Rock Machine is illegible which is a shame, I was hoping that might solve the credit mystery.

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