Before Motorhead, Lemmy was in Hawkwind, which was an entirely different kettle of fish.
Hawkwind is often described as space rock, but their style encompassed a lot from hard rock to psychedelic rock. “Silver Machine” though, is very much space rock; it’s about space, it uses a lot of reverb, and generally sounds out of this world.
Even though Lemmy was the bassist, the original vocals by Robert Calvert really weren’t good enough, and he got sectioned so the rest of the band had a go. Of course, Lemmy’s vocals were the best!
It caused a bit of acrimony because a lot of things, such as NME magazine, made out Lemmy was the lead singer, when really he just joined. And also, nobody told the original singer that the vocals had been switched…
Just what the silver machine in question actually is, is never made clear. It could be anything from a spaceship, a bicycle, or a needle for injecting drugs. It’s really about freedom in the abstract sense rather than any particular way of getting it. Although that said, Calvert said it’s about a bike!
The song was released in 1972 as a single, and became the band’s most popular song. They’d been a sort of hippy band who did loads of drugs and played at free festivals, so that was a bit of a shock for them.