Triumph: Rock & Roll Machine - Album Of The Week Club review

Triumph's second album Rock & Roll Machine was also their debut, depending on where you lived. It also mixed hard rock with ambitious prog

Triumph - Rock & Roll Machine
(Image: © RCA)

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Triumph: Rock & Roll Machine

Triumph: Rock & Roll Machine

(Image credit: RCA Records )

Takes Time
Bringing It On Home
Little Texas Shaker
New York City Streets, Pt. 1
New York City Streets, Pt. 2
The City: War March / El Duende Agonizante / Minstrel's Lament
Rocky Mountain Way
Rock & Roll Machine

Canadian trio Triumph's second album was first released in Canada in 1977. But when the band signed a deal with RCA Records and the album was released in America the following year, it also included tracks from their self-titled debut, which alas served to confuse fans somewhat over the years. 

On the original, Triumph’s bombastic cover of Joe Walsh’s Rocky Mountain Way gave the band their first big hit, while the emphatic title track remained one of their best-loved songs, and The City: War March / El Duende Agonizante / Minstrel's Lament proved they could almost out-Rush Rush when it came to spectacular, multi-movement prog rock.

"We were signed to different labels in different countries," bass player and keyboardist Mike Levine told Classic Rock, "and it was so hard to get anyone to commit to putting up the money to bring us over to Britain. We should have come over in ’78 when the Rock & Roll Machine album got us attention in the media, but our Canadian label, Attic, refused to finance the trip."

Triumph eventually attempted to capitalise on the attention Rock & Roll Machine received in the UK with a short tour in 1980, followed by an (ill-fated) appearance at the Heavy Metal Holocaust festival at Port Vale football ground 12 months later. But that was it for the Brits, and the band elected thereafter to concentrate on their growing stature in the US.

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Other albums released in November 1977

  • Works Volume 2 - Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  • Rocket to Russia - The Ramones
  • Rock City - Riot
  • Manorisms - Wet Willie
  • This Is the Modern World - The Jam
  • Slowhand - Eric Clapton
  • Down Two Then Left - Boz Scaggs
  • Expect No Mercy - Nazareth
  • Innocent Victim - Uriah Heep
  • It Takes One to Know One - Detective
  • Kill City - Iggy Pop & James Williamson
  • Race With The Devil - Black Oak Arkansas
  • Recycled - Edgar Winter's White Trash
  • Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record - Rick Wakeman
  • Rockin' All Over the World - Status Quo -
  • The Second Annual Report - Throbbing Gristle
  • Spectres - Blue Oyster Cult

What they said...

"Of note, Rock & Roll Machine also boasts some of the band's most daring forays into progressive rock pomposity, via the two-part New York City Streets (the first mixing MOR and jazzy bits; the second returning to hard rock) and the three-part City suite, which includes a brief snatch of Holst's The Planets and some stupendous Spanish guitar work from Emmett on the hilariously named segment El Duende Agonizante (which roughly translates to The Agonizing Gnome)." (AllMusic)

"The only track that is a misstep to my ears is the ill-placed Joe Walsh cover Rocky Mountain Way. While i absolutely adore the original and Walsh's music in general, there is something just so wrong when it's performed without his distinct vocals at the helm. Triumph does a veritable job but it really seems like a fish out of water on this release." (Prog Archive)

"With Rock & Roll Machine, Triumph proves they are just that. Whether it’s the southern rock strip club-worthy boogie of Little Texas Shaker, mellow moments like New York City Streets – Part 1, the nine minute plus The City (which really is three songs in one), a Joe Walsh cover or the album’s closer which features some smokin’ guitar work from Emmet, there’s no denying this album is a hard rock classic." (Metal Misfit)

What you said...

John Davidson: While I was aware of Triumph in 79/80 I never really engaged with them. Which is odd given they should have been totally in my wheelhouse.

At that time I was listening to AC/DC, Sabbath, Rush and Zep, but just as into Magnum, Styx (Equinox, Pieces of Eight), Boston (Don’t Look Back), Judas Priest (up to Unleashed) and UFO’s Schenker years.

Maybe it was expectations. All the bands above had been on my turntable before NWOBHM properly exploded and Triumph arrived (in the UK at least) at the same time as Def Leppard, Iron Maiden and Diamond Head.

What a difference 12 months makes when you are 16/17!

Listening to Rock & Roll Machine it strikes me that Triumph hadn’t yet found a unique voice of their own. There are hints of Kiss, Judas Priest and Deep Purple in the mix as well as some US southern blues stylings .

Opener Takes Time sounds to me like Rocka Rolla-era Judas Priest doing a cover of a Kiss song. Bringing It On Home has a slightly southern vibe (Outlaws). Little Texas Shaker is a simple but decent rocker. The two New York... songs again show their early Priest influences.

The City (sadly) is the sort of slightly pretentious, overambitious stodgy Pomp/Prog that Punk sought to eviscerate. If I’d heard it in 1977 I’d have loved it, but it has dated pretty badly to my ears. 

The fact that Rocky Mountain Way is the best written song on the album shows where Triumph were in their development. It’s a decent cover, but it doesn’t deviate very far from the source.

Rock & Roll Machine is their nod to Deep Purple. It's a cracking four minute song, but they stuck a three minute guitar meander in the middle of it. You know the kind that plagued double live albums in the period. (I’m looking at you Mr Blackmore and Mr Page).

For all that I have been a bit critical I do like the album, and definitely would have loved it 40+ years ago. The band are clearly talented musicians, another power trio that don't sound like they are missing anything, and the recording/production is great but they don't quite have the songs yet.

Listening to Just A Game, Progressions Of Power and Allied Forces, they definitely had better and more consistent albums ahead of them.

Cameron Gillespie: This weeks pick has been an awesome choice! Another band I haven't listened too, and all I am left thinking is where has this been hiding!

The sound is reminiscent of the early Kiss and Deep Purple with the experimentalism of Rush. It flips between slow blues and upbeat in your face rock'n'roll. I personally loved the The City War March - it just has soo much going on, which I understand is probably it's downfall for many others, but I loved it, and the vocal performance on that song is phenomenal. I say crank the volume up to 11!

Uli Hassinger: I haven't listen to the album for a long time and have forgotten about how good it is. Allied Forces, Thunder Seven and Never Surrender are more familiar to me, because these are albums I've grown up with. With this album I came in touch much later.

The climax of the album to me is The City. Starting with marching sound with underlaying Italo western guitar, followed by a Spanish tango guitar masterpiece leading to the main song, which starts as a slow Styx-like tune increasing power and ends up as a heavy rocker. To me a very complex and almost perfect song.

Takes Time is a solid rocker, Bringing It On Home a classic 70s tune, Little Texas Shaker a grooving boogie. New York City Streets consist out of a softer and a rockier part, both brilliant. The album finishes with two solid rockers, not bad but to me the most mediocre songs.

I especially like the vocals and the guitar playing of Emmett. His guitar skills are best shown in the title track. He is a very precise and varied player. His vocals sometimes remind me of Geddy Lee and I'm sure he and the whole band was influenced by Rush. The similarities to Kiss which some could hear I can't detect. Instead I can hear some Kansas elements in some of the songs.

It's a pity the band is almost forgotten. In the beginning of the 80s they were well known in the german heavy rock scene, but at the end of the 80s they were disappearing into nowhere. They receive that we pay tribute to them. My score : 8/10.

Thick House: Before I listened to this album, I was only familiar with Triumph's later hits Fight The Good Fight and Never Surrender. This album came as a surprise. Like last week's pick, I wouldn't rate it as a classic, but unlike last week's pick, it got better with every repeated listen.

As the post above said, this band was unfairly compared to Rush. However, the real influences on this album seem to be Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Bad Company, and Led Zeppelin. At some points you can pretty much hear what bands Triumph was copying in this set. Little Texas Shaker is a complete knockoff of Foxy Lady, and the guitar break in Rock & Roll Machine is a clear homage to the similar break in Heartbreaker

Although the band wears their influences on their sleeves, the music is enjoyable, and encompasses a pretty wide range, from the bluesy boogie of Rocky Mountain Way, to the more chilled sounds of New York City Streets Pt. 1 and the quasi-metal of Takes Time and New York City Streets Pt. 2

If, like me, you like anything that's 70s hard rock, this will be in your wheelhouse. What will prevent this music from having a broader appeal is a lack of strong songs. In fact, this album gave me more appreciation for classic rock lyricists than anything else. While I don't defend most classic rock songwriters as great poets, the best classic rock songs contained at least a few catchy and inventive lines to sing along to, and this is what's missing in this album. 

The first three songs, for example, have choruses that consist of two extremely similar cliched lines, e.g. "I'll bring it on home to you / I'm singin' my song for you." While the two New York songs and the quasi-prog epic The City have much better lyrics, they lack the big, singalong chorus or catchy hooks that a memorable song needs.

Ultimately, I found this album enjoyable. It passed the "getting ready for work" test, the "going to work" test, the "listening to my earbuds while I work" test, and the "cleaning my house" test. The band clearly has loads of potential and energy, and I'm now interested in exploring the rest of their catalogue.

Brian Carr: I’ve been a Triumph fan since the 1980s, but Rock & Roll Machine was never a go-to album for me. Listening critically this week, it sounds like a band with loads of talent already in place, but struggling to find a direction. As a longtime guitar geek, Rik Emmett really shines here, showing off his versatility with jazz bits, a riff borrowed from Isaac Albeniz’s Leyenda/Asturias and, of course, stellar rock riffage. What is missing on this early release are the hooks that eventually made them a fantastic though somewhat overlooked band. Hopefully the upcoming documentary from Banger helps the retired band get more of their due.

Rock & Roll Machine isn’t a bad album (I struggled to choose between 6 and 7 on a 10 scale), but it just doesn’t hold up to the classics that would come in ensuing years.

Greg Schwepe: A decent debut (or whichever album this is, the different versions threw me a curve!) by Triumph. First time I have ever listened to one of their albums start to finish. Became familiar with their catalog from songs played on rock radio and only own a compilation CD. 8 out of 10.

Because of the “International Guidelines For Writing Album Reviews”, here is the point where I am required to mention Rush and make some kind of comparison to the two bands. Well, they are both power trios from a city (Toronto) on the shores of Lake Ontario. That’s about it, folks! OK, and both guitarists sometimes played double necks and the both bass players both played keyboards too. My guess is the only thing Triumph wanted to copy from Rush was their success!

Triumph are basically a hard rock band with talented musicians that allowed them to cover a lot of ground on Rock & Roll Machine. Fist pumping up tempo rock out stuff (Rock & Roll Machine), your basic boogie about hot chicks (Little Texas Shaker), a nine minute jazzy/proggy excursion (The City: War March/El Duende Agonizante/Minstrel’s Lament), and a pretty straightforward cover (Rocky Mountain Way). Guitarist Rik Emmett can play many styles and this allows the band to make those song style variations.

General side note about cover songs. I’ve read interviews with bands where they say “oh, you’ve got to make it your own” or “if you’re a fan of the song, honour it and make it sound just like the original.” Neither approach is wrong in my book, it’s interesting how bands approach covers. In this case Triumph stay true to the original for Rocky Mountain Way. Why mess with success here?

Because of the wide range of song styles, this album kept my interest and I listened all the through with no skipping, cheating, or “man, is this over yet?” thinking. Two vocalists also offer variation as well.

I also tried to listen from the perspective of a first-time Triumph album buyer who plopped the vinyl down on their turntable and listened for the first time. Because that’s what we all did at one point with our music! I tried to imagine what I thought of the band. And my overall feel was “yeah, that was really good, and I will definitely buy their follow up and go see them if I have the chance.” Part of that was due to the rocking finish with Rock & Roll Machine.

I did get a chance to see the band once at the 1982 edition of the Toledo Speedway Jam (Foreigner, Loverboy, Triumph, Donnie Iris). They were one of those “Festival Bonus Bands.” You know, the kind of band on the bill that you didn’t go there specifically to see, but you like the band, know a bunch of their songs, and will watch their whole set (versus some band you can’t stand, which forces you to waste time during their set). And that kind of sums up their debut; good songs that get your attention and leave you wanting more.

Marco LG: The three albums by Triumph that made it into my collection over the years happen to be the ones following this week’s pick: Just a Game (1979), Progressions of Power (1980) and Allied Forces (1981). My absolute favourite is Progressions of Power, an album without a bad song that makes me want to sing from the beginning until the end, and Allied Forces is a great AOR album that belongs up there with the best music of the early 80s. The earliest of the three however, while containing probably their most famous song (Lay It On The Line), displays a band still searching for their sound.

Given the above, it might not be a surprise to read I find Rock & Roll Machine lacking. But it’s not just an earlier album where the band were still experimenting, it’s much worse than that. This is a failed attempt at writing a progressive rock album, derivative at its best and cringeworthy at its worst. If I was to compile a Triumph buyers guide for Classic Rock I would place Rock & Roll Machine firmly in the “avoid” category. It’s that bad.

There are countless examples of bands ripping off The Planets by Holst, but none as pedestrian and uninspired like the first movement of The City. From King Crimson’s The Devil’s Triangle (from In The Wake of Poseidon) to Emerson, Lake & Powell's full rendition (Mars, the Bringer of War). From Symphony X's Divine Wings of Tragedy (from the album by the same title) to several black and death metal bands, the latest of which is Gardenjia in their 2019 album, Immortal

They all managed to create a listening experience that goes beyond the main rendition of an outstanding piece of classical music, they all gave us something new to savour beyond the familiar tune. Triumph chose instead to mash Holst with an equally pedestrian and uninspired rendition of Hotel California by the Eagles. The result is so bad it’s actually laughable.

Lost among pieces ripped off of bands as diverse as Yes, UFO and Boston the album has its moments, starting off rather well with two songs worthy of inclusion in any playlist of AOR between late 70s and early 80s. The musicianship is good, and the mesmerising guitar soloing makes up for the majority of the song writing failings. But there is no escaping the prog aspirations on display fall desperately short. New York City for instance is a two part song where the main themes of part 1 fail to counterpoint part 2, leaving the guitar work in part 2 as the only element worth noting.

In conclusion: Rock & Roll Machine is not an album I would suggest to include in any classic rock collection. It’s probably the one to avoid in the discography by Triumph, which however includes several great pieces of work people should check out and enjoy. I will score this week’s pick 3 out of 10.

Mike Canoe: The best may be yet to come, but Rock & Roll Machine finds Triumph living up to the description in the title. The original side one reminds me of the swagger and groove of early Kiss. Gil Moore gives us his Gene Simmons impression on Little Texas Shaker and Takes Time while Rik Emmett plays the role of the more gentlemanly Paul Stanley on Bringing It On Home. New York City Streets, Pt. 2 could be the continuing adventures of Black Diamond - or Moore's reaction to seeing the movie Taxi Driver. The band certainly does rock with conviction though.

As with the debut, Emmett gets the chance to strut his stuff with an extended suite that references both Holst's Mars, Bringer of War and includes some frenetic Spanish guitar before settling into a proper song. He also gets to show off on the extended solo that makes up about half of the title track. Throw in what seems like an almost obligatory cover of Rocky Mountain Way and we’re done.

It's not a bad album, but Rock & Roll Machine left me with hankering to hear Just a Game and Allied Forces through Thunder 7 again in their entirety, along, of course, with the phenomenal Blinding Light Show/Moonchild from their debut.

Alex Hayes: In what could potentially be an embarrassing confession for any fan of classic rock to make, this was my very first exposure to the music of Triumph.

To clarify, I don't even mean 'first time I've heard this band apart from a couple of MTV hits back in the day' either, but literally for the first time ever. They aren't very well known here in the UK.

That's plainly been my loss though, as I found Rock & Roll Machine to be a bloody terrific album. I don't feel the need to go into too much detail about specifics here, other people will undoubtedly do a fine job picking the songs apart, but this was was an album and band very much up my alley, so to speak. So enjoyable was this that the only downside for me was the cover of Rocky Mountain Way. Not because it was badly done, but because I'd rather have seen it replaced with another original track. This band are far too good to be wasting valuable album space with cover versions.

The version of Rock & Roll Machine that I listened to here was the original Canadian RCA album from 1977. I've already acquainted myself with both Progressions Of Power and Allied Forces, which, if anything, are even superior, and look forward to checking out the rest of Triumph's discography. This was quality. I'm impressed.

That's it from me and, hey, look at that, I didn't even get round to mentioning a certain other Canadian trio.

John Edgar: I was a big fan of Triumph. When they were active I bought everything they released. This album did come later for me. I was completely unaware of Rock & Roll Machine until after Just A Game was released. All at once, record stores in my area were all stocking it in silver vinyl and at a budget price, as well. Having recently discovered Triumph via Just A Game, of course I bought a copy. 

My exposure was to the international version. I'll have to say, I enjoyed all the cuts, but side two was the go to side for me. It's a worthy piece of the pie for any Triumph fan. An interesting side note; I recently listened to an interview with Rik Emmett. He said that aside form some festival shows, Triumph never opened for anyone. Early on, they set their own tour itinerary, booked the halls and played as the headliner. 

I only had the opportunity to see them live once. It was at one of the Texxas Jam Cottonbowl shows. They didn't headline that day, but they sure got the crowd on their feet. Being that this is the Album Of The Week Club, If you've never listened to Triumph give this a spin. If it doesn't particularly grab you do be sure to take the time to listen to Just A Game, Progressions Of Power and Allied Forces. All three would probably be considered better albums and are also more representative of Triumph at their best. Rock & Roll Machine is a worthy starting point.

Cameron Gillespie: I'm excited about this weeks pick, I've only heard bits and bobs about these guys, never really given them a chance. I flicked a random track on from the album moments ago while I was doing something, of course I landed upon The City: War March and just wowa weewa that was a good listen, so many styles in one song, a little confusing at first but it creates just so much more interest for me, and the atmospheric sound that song has truly powerful stuff, I love a song that takes the listener on a journey!

Phil Yates: Never listened to them and on the strength of track one I was ready give it a pass. However the two song suites pulled my attention right back and the title track was a total bruiser bringing to mind a heavier NWOBHM anticipating Speed King-era Purple. Cheers.

Christopher Chaplin: Rock & Roll Machine was released in two separate versions; the Canadian version and the UK version. The track listings were quite different with only four songs in common over the two versions. It was the UK version that I bought and was my introduction to the band. 

Both versions kick off with Takes Time which sounds like a flashy version of the Pat Travers Band being none the worse for the comparison. Next up is Bringing It On Home which is a sort of classic Triumph lighters in the air singalong moment and maintains the high standard. 

The Canadian version then takes a left turn with Little Texas Shaker which is a bit of a plodder with annoying shouty bits that make it hard to like. It was no surprise that it was left off the UK release. Closing side one of the Canadian release is two part song called New York City Streets. Pt 1 fits the mould of a mellow laid back Triumph tune with some nice blues and jazzy guitar work from Rik Emmett with vocals from drummer, Gil Moore. Pt 2 is in effect a completely different song and returns the album to a more rock orientated direction featuring Rik Emmett's more high pitched "Americanised" vocals. Not bad but in truth; a bit forgettable. 

Side Two kicks off with The City, another track missed off the UK release. Split in to three parts, we have the slightly pretentious sub-titles of War March, El Duende Agonizante and Minstrel's Lament. It starts off with a Bolero-like drum beat before breaking into a classic Rik Emmett Spanish guitar interlude. This gives way to Minstrel's Lament which starts quietly on acoustic guitar with some lovely singing and moving lyrics from Rik Emmett. As is the way with many of Triumph's classic songs, it gradually builds before a lengthy guitar solo rolls in to a full on rock-out as the song comes to a close. 

It was Triumph who introduced me to Rocky Mountain Way so it has always had a resonance with me. In truth, it follows Joe Walsh's version pretty closely with a bit more attack. Great song and a fine version; it appears on both the Canadian and UK versions of the album. Last up is Rock & Roll Machine

The title says all you need to know. It is a typical dumb and glorious rock song and just the kind of thing to get a 16 year old Kiss fan excited. It even manages to fit in a classic elongated 70s guitar solo with slight echoes of Brighton Rock. It still sounds like a great rock song and a fine way to finish of both versions of the album. Triumph sounded nothing like Rush so don't go making that mistake if you choose to check them out. They may both be Canadian trios but that's about it.

Chris Downie: Hailing from Canada in the mid-70s, a legendary power trio with consummate musical chops, polished songwriting skills, high-pitched shrieking vocals and a thrilling live show... *Stops press and checks notes* "Triumph".

Despite the uncanny resemblances to the one and only Rush, Triumph proved beyond all doubt, via a series of accomplished hard rock albums in their late 70s/early 80s heyday that, far from being clones, they were a compelling band in their own right and deserve to go down in history as more than a mere footnote in history and/or the former band of current Bon Jovi guitarist Phil X.

While both critical acclaim and commercial success rightly points to some of their later works such as Just A Game, Allied Forces and Never Surrender as their finest works, their sophomore outing Rock & Roll Machine sees a band still finding their sound, in a slightly uneven but undeniably spirited effort. The cover of Joe Walsh's Rocky Mountain Way was an early attempt at a hit, but it is during their harder rocking moments like Takes Time and New York City Streets where their early potential shines through.

While many bands of their era whom could be seen as contemporaries (i.e. Montrose and Boston) hit their stride very early on, arguably suffering for it in the longer term, as they tried to live down classic debuts, Triumph proved to be more of a slow burner, who honed their craft over a series of early albums, despite never quite achieving the mainstream breakthrough their talents merited. 7/10.

Kevin Miller: I really never understood the comparisons to Rush. I mean, three white Canadians, yes... but that’s about where it ends. I really like about 10 Triumph songs, and they were a great live band, but this early version of their sound wasn’t ready for the big time yet. Back in the early 80s I bought and loved the songs sung by Rik on Allied Forces, so I deeply regretted deciding to dive into their back catalogue and spending money on this album. 

In the 40 years I’ve owned it, I’ve probably spun it five times. I’ve also never particularly liked either version of Rocky Mountain Way, and find it an odd choice to cover. 3/10 for me.

Final Score: 7.13⁄10 (104 votes cast, with a total score of 742)

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