Third: What is Rock?

Several week ago I picked up the 2007 re-release of the Soft Machine’s 1970 album Third. For those who missed my 2007 post about the band a brief introduction to the band may be in order.  

The Soft Machine, along with Pink Floyd and Tomorrow, were Britain’s first underground psychedelic bands. Along with Caravan, Gong, Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North and National Health they were major players in the”Canterbury Scene” of British progressive rock.

Third was the group’s third album but it was their first on Columbia Records.

With its mixture of jazz and contemporary electronic music this sprawling double album

incited the Village Voice to call it a milestone achievement when it was released.

Each side was devoted to a single composition, two by Mike Ratledge, and one each by Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt,

with substantial help from a number of backup musicians, including Canterbury mainstays Elton Dean and Jimmy Hastings.

 Aside from Wyatt’s “Moon in June” the album virtually dispenses with vocals and “conventional rock songs entirely.”

Even with their “tape loop effects and hypnotic, repetitive keyboard patterns” the two songs by Mike Ratledge, Slightly All the Time and Out-Bloody-Rageous are the closest the album comes to fusion jazz. 

Culled from two live performances in 1970, Hugh Hopper’s “Facelift” in parts bears a fleeting resemblance to King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”, though it’s more complex and there are several dissimilar sections. “Facelift” with its

pulsing rhythms, chaotic horn and keyboard sounds, and dark drones …. predate some of what Hopper did as a solo artist later.

Lyrically Robert Wyatt’s “Moon in June”  is

a satirical alternative to the pretension displayed by a lot of rock writing of the era

Hailed by some critics as a popular music milestone and considered a landmark by progressive rock and jazz-rock aficionados Third helped to push the boundaries of what might be considered rock. Many rock listeners, however, found the album’s music far too oblique and at nearly 75 minutes long something they were unwilling to sit down and commit to listening through. 


Third [2007]

Playing Time: 74:20


soft machine - third

Disc 1 [Original album]
Playing Time: 74:20

1. Facelift [Live] 18:48
2. Slightly All the Time 18:13
3. Moon in June 19:07
4. Out-Bloody-Rageous 19:12

[Part 1] [Part 2]

Disc 2 [Bonus Disc]
Playing time: 38:58

Recorded at The Promenade Concert at The Royal Albert Hall
for BBC Radio Three on 13th August 1970

1. Out-Bloody-Rageous 11:57
2. Facelift 11:22
3. Esther’s Nose Job: Pig / Orange Skin Food / A Door Opens And Closes / Pigling Bland / 10:30 Returns To The Bedroom 15:39


Buy Soft Machine’s Third from


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