by Bush

Album: Sixteen Stone (1994)
Charted: 48 43


  • This song was inspired by a line in the poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg: "Machine says I saw the best minds of my generation." Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale is a big fan of Ginsberg; the "Everything Zen" lyric "Rain Dogs howl for the century" is a reference to the Ginsberg poem Howl.

    When he spoke with Songfacts in 2017, he said: "I like that sort of Ginsberg-y, stream-of-consciousness approach to words, rather than, say, country songwriting where there are narratives and stories and places and names and descriptions."
  • Gavin Rossdale told Entertainment Weekly: "I've always sung it as a sense of survival and triumph. That sort of maverick spirit and energy and refusal to be compromised."
  • A machine head is a device used for tuning a guitar or other stringed instrument, but that's not what the song is about. "It's a more allegorical sort of thing," Rossdale told Songfacts regarding the title.
  • Rossdale told Fuse: "It's really funny when you break down the lyrics:

    Got a machinehead
    Better than the rest
    Green to red

    The idea of 'Machinehead' always was about freeing yourself, about losing your ego and just letting rip. I remember writing the riff, and walking around Hyde Park in England thinking, 'I've got something good, I better not screw it up with the lyric.'"
  • The video, directed by Shawn Mortensen, captures the frantic feel of the song, with quick shots of the streets around London intercut with footage shot in Portmouth, where they were starting their European tour.
  • This was used in the 1996 movie Fear. It's a fairly obscure movie with some famous people in it, including Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon, and Alyssa Milano.

Comments: 53

  • Deezerfax from Arkansas, UsaI always thought the lyrics described a failed suicide attempt by car crash of two young lovers that feared growing old.
  • BobSpent years not being able to decipher this song. Originally thought it was a bunch of garble. But now it makes sense. Makes the song sound better knowing there is a coherent meaning behind it.
  • Wcta Chicago Underground Sound from ChicagoBack when this came out I had to make some long night trips into Wisconsin. This song knew my nights, perfectly, either on the highway, or dipping into the country side roads with giant midsummers bugs screaming in at me through the headlights. My machine was a 94 ford Ranger, not musclecar, but with a 5 speed, it was where my machine head felt connected to the energy and grip of it all. Tied to the wheel, like muscles and sinew to the bones of the machine is a good hard thing of blending like a foot in a stirrup and not needing to kick, the machine is already there
  • Rb from IndianaMost people won't agree but I think is song is about driving my old Mustang behind an abandoned store with a girl right before losing my v-card. Its also about hanging out in my best friend's basement playing guitar.
  • Hockeydude from Boston MaAlso if you watch the video very closely there are multiple shots of different band members playing guitars and it it seems like there are several shots which focus on the head of the guitar they are playing. Furthermore, watch Gavin when he begins singing "tied to a wheel", he's not playing the guitar but he moves it in a violent manner which draws the viewers attention to the head of the guitar. The song is about the "Machine Head" tuning keys and the guitar itself.
  • Hockeydude from Boston MaI don't believe its about physically violent relationships, Jesus or sex, it's simply about guitar string tuners. The "heads" of guitars have tuning keys which are commonly referred to as "Machine Heads". They are the little wheel type keys on the head part of a guitar which are connected to the strings which you can tighten or loosen to tune your guitar. Its very simple, (tied to a wheel fingers got to feel) refers to the "Machine Head" tuning key itself which you turn like you would turn a wheel. "I spin on a whim I slide to the right", right handed guitarist tuning with left hand then spins and slides to the right, he would have his back towards the audience if he is tuning his guitar. "I felt you like electric light" refers to electric guitar, "green to red" refers to the amp lights.
  • Cat from Toronto, OnI believe that this song is about his being physically violent towards his girlfriend. His pain is showing when he says, "tied to a wheel, fingers got to feel" is in reference to his tight grip on the steering wheel as he tries to get a grip on his fear-based anger. "Bleeding through a tourniquet smile" means that he is unsuccessful at hiding his pain although he tries hard to." "Full of love, full of fear" means that while he loves someone, he also fears that they will leave him. "Full I rise against the years and years." means that his anger fills him because of the many years of abuse that he has been through and
    this causes him to act out violently. "Got a machinehead means that he feels like his brain is hard-wired to be violent because of his past, even though he "walks from his machine" he can't walk away from the violence.
    "Deaf, dumb and thirty" means that he has been silent about the pain that he hides, and dumb to act the way he has, and now, at age 30, his consciounce is bothering him by "leaning on his conscience wall." "Blood is like wine" refers to the fact that violence is addictive. "Unconscious all the time" could mean that his girlfriend is because of his violent behavior and that he is for doing it like a pre-programmed act. "If I had it all again, I'd change it all," means that he wishes that he had a chance to make different choices because he can see the damage that he is done and he feels really bad about it.
  • Zero from Nowhere, NjI always thought Gavin Rossdale was trying to be like Kurt Cobain writing in a similar style with a lot of seemingly nonsense words that may or may not mean anything. Though their music is very catchy (also influenced by Nirvana). And by the way, Mr. Fugu, if I'm not mistaken Deep Purple's "Machine Head" came out in '72 ("In Rock" came out in '70, with "Fireball" following in '71) and I happen to love Candlebox, though everyone's entitled to their own opinions.
  • Ty from Bryn Mawr, Belizeits about being in the spirit of jesus, because when you breathe in breath out in the spirit of christ, you really get drunk then he refers to green to red which means from the world to christs blood which is truth, and then blood like wine is being the spirit of christ because you can get REALLY drunk from jesus, thanks to his blood, and walking from his machines refers to walking from the things of this world. which is better than the rest
  • Or from Ny, Nythe song is about a girl giving oral sex. Breathe in breathe out refers to deepthroating. Machinehead references the way she moves her head. Got a machine head better then the rest green to red machine head. Refers to stop and go. This song is purely sexual.
  • Michael from Deridder, Laanyone else play this perfectly on Guitar Hero?
  • Chad from Virginia, Vablood is like wine i think he says so maybe hes hammered too
  • Chad from Virginia, Vai was sitting in a bar and this song came on when someone asked me what does this song even mean i never thought of it till then but im pretty much convinced hes singin about bein in a bad car accident he likes to drive fast hence hes got a machine head thats better than the rest so hes got a nice car, sounds to me he ran a red light that went from green to red, if he had it all again he'd change it all i guess he wouldn't speed or run the light, he survives the crash breathes in and out and walks away from it his machine that is because hes awesome
  • Darrick from Missoula, Mtbreathe in breathe out is just simply "live" in repetition i'd say he is emphasizing to do so each moment... he is playing the guitar and that is his moment. he walks from his machine because playing guitar is not the only moment of his life. deaf dumb and thirty, he didn't live like this before; he only lived for one moment and was a machine, living as society wanted him to, the rest of the time. now he knows how to walk to the next moment. He still thinks he his a great guitarist, "got a machine head, it's better than the best," but finally he is truly living moment after moment after moment, "each moment is breathe in, breath out"... Yet you can tell his favorite moment is playing guitar.. That's his moment, now you need to find your own, so in a sense take what you want from this song; your life is your moments.
  • Joel2point0 from Nashville, TnI think that bush is awesome for making so many people think about so many different interpretations on the song. That is what a good song writer does, leaves it open for interpretation.
  • Brandon from Bainbridge, NyAnyone else get that "freedom with my Car" feel with this song? It may just be speaking of a trip in his car to ease his mind. His conscious flow of mind writing style decided to write what he saw on this trip.
  • Jeremie Legault from Ottawa, OnI gotta agreed with Jennifer Dover on this one everybody. Being a bit of a machinehead myself it certainly captures the way a machine head feels.
    See her comment about half way down
  • Brandon from Columbus, OhOkay, really think about this...machine head aka guitar tuner. "Better than the rest green to red machine head." Guitar tuners have a red and green light. It may sound silly, but most songs are written about obscure things that have many interpretation. I think this is one of them.
  • Kayla from Oklahoma City, OkI honestly don't think much thought went into these lyrics, but this is a good song. Isn't easy to see anything sensible here... plus, Gavin Rossdale isn't like that...
  • Matt from Houston, TxYeah I was thinking it was about drugs too
  • Ashley from Sandy, OrNot that I have any experience in this- but the song is about shooting up. What he means by "green to red," is that the needles used to be a greenish color, and when you inject drugs you obviously see blood. I think someone mentioned that but I wanted to back them up! If you are a big fan of Bush like I am then you have obviously listened to their music. A lot of what Gavin talks about is drugs. For an example, in the song "Comedown," he repeats "shoot up" a bunch of times...
  • Jim from Austin, TxOkay, I've heard another interpretation. At first it sounds possible, but once you start looking at the rest of the lyrics it falls apart.

    So for the sake of conversation I submit this one:
    It's about a girl with braces giving... well machinehead... ouchie!
  • Jakk from Oviedo, Fli think this song is about thinking about what your doing before you regret it...
    "green to red" green means go, red means stop
    "deaf dumb thirty, starting to deserve this" hes old and now relizes what hes done
    "if i had it all again, i'd change it all" he wishes he could go back in time and fix everything
    and "breathe in breathe out" is said a lot which is just stop, breathe and think...
  • Nina from Saint Charles, IlEveryone will take different things from a song, Wayne. They can take the simple idea of the guitar tuner, or just the vague lyrics, and find meaning in it. If someone sees a metaphor in the lyrics to this song, then it can have a deeper meaning. The artist's meaning matters, but the listener's own meaning matters as well.
  • Wayne from Oxford, MsYou guys are dumb.. If anyone has ever listened to a Bush song, rarely, if ever, do they have some deep intellectual meaning.. For this song, a machinehead is part of the tuning mechanism on a guitar.. green to red, he's talking about a guitar tuner, how it goes from red (out of tune) to green (in tune)... Gavin is known for 'stream of conscious' lyrics, so he just writes down words basically, and makes them rhyme, the song really doesn't have an overall meaning..
  • Jennifer from Dover, NhMachine Head means: someone that has a power and control issue and can shut themselves off to the bs in the world- doesn't care about anything....walks back inside the shell and hides all emotions. Someone that has had a lot of trauma and is mentally drained...controlled and not taking anymore!!
  • Justin from Columbia, MdIt's "Waltz with my machine" It's definitly about a car ride or motorcycle ride
  • Justin from Columbia, MdThis song is about an extremely fast motorcycle or car ride, down a busy city street and the rush associated with it.
  • Cj from Potomac, MdIts all in the title..."Machinehead" outcry against the mechanization of society and the American way post-WWII. (Chris from Seattle was dead-on)
    The lead singer for BUSH was hugely influenced by Allen Ginsberg, a beat poet, who wrote 'Howl' which is about the devestation of how human life and intellectualism is becoming so mechanic. "green to red..." is repeated through the song both to reinforce how it is a constant in the average life, and how the controlling factors (whether it be government, jobs, parents...always different for different individuals) make life a stop and go enviroment; we as individuals can no longer move on our own accord, this is a commentary on how sorrowful that reality is.
  • Alex from Bountiful, Utthis song is about the rush you get from writing a song. a machinehead is a guitar.
  • Chris from Danville, Vaok first of all the star wars theory DOES make sense... but then i have to ask myself "Self, why the hell would anyone want to write a song about Star Wars?" so that rules out star wars. the theory i like the best is the one about the auto/motorcycle accident. it makes sense and it is something that alot of people go through (not too far fetched) next, i seriously doubt that this song is about heroin or weed. the touniquet smile could possibly be another piece of lyric that supports the accident theory. referring to the tape used to keep the tubes in place that can sometimes make your face feel like its being pulled. and nowhere in the song does it say anything about i WANT for my machine. it says "i walk FROM my machine" and to all those who accuse bush of stealing progressions or whatever.... find something else to critisize. people dont steal them they like them and decide to use them or similar variations of them... could be a tribute or a clue to the meaning of songs. some artist go very in depth when they write a song and write lyrics that seem to make no sense at all until all the clues are pieced together. take Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam for example. nobody knows the true meaning of the song from lookin at the lyrics. but they see the name of it and put together a list of Eddie Vedder's known friends and they make a connection. they delve deeper and a conlusion is drawn that the song possibly refers to letters sent home to the family of fallen soldiers in a war. songs are written by an artist to be a portrait of their feelings and thoughts but also to be interpreted by the listener in whatever way the listener wants to interpret them. so if you want to think that this song is about star wars or drugs go ahead its your choice but think about it... we are here to discuss what we think the artist was thinking or going through or what the song means to the artist.... i dont think he was thinking about star wars!!!
  • Chris from Seattle, WaC'MON! This song is obviously a chilling statement about the mechanism of modern life. It is a snapshot of a typical working day. We're all "machineheads". When I get to work, I'm plugged into a machine - machinehead, get it? We don't show our feelings - therefore the "tourniquet smile". We go when the light is green, we stop when the light is red. We act like this because we've become automations. "Deaf dumb and thirty" - work is grinding the personality away and we become "unconscious all the time".
  • Ashley from Unknown, OkAlright. i havent seen anyone post the real meaning of this song yet, so i thought i would let you alL know. They are talking about shooting up heroin. Breathe in breathe out, i want for my machine, the machin is the needle. your veins green to red. its a disgusting drug. but this is the songs hidden meaning
  • Brian from Delray Beach, FlIn my honest opinion this song means that we need to change our "head"- the way we think. We sometimes think like machines. Machines can't think! We are "Unconcious all the time". We need to stop letting our emotions take controll & start letting our thoughts controll our emotions.
  • Devon from Westerville, Ohits a good song. the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team plays this right before they hit the ice.
  • Sara from Lincoln, Cathis song is simply about a man who has just been with a woman and cannot get her out of his mind while he is driving home. he tells himself to "breath in breath out". he uses the word machinehead in comparison with his mind because it keeps spining, like the machine head on a guitar (allways being turned).
  • Bis from Pittsburgh, PaI am intrigued by the various interpretations of this song. I had thought since I first heard it that it wasn't really about much of anything, the words being more important for what they sound like than what they "mean." I have reconsidered this a bit, though I still don't think they are well thought out or carefully crafted.

    Still, I am teaching an informal poetry writing class for a nonprofit, and am covering song lyrics, and wanted to use this song to show the different interpretations that could be made. I also am a bit more thoughtful about interpreting Bush's lyrics myself, since Rosedale references Allen Ginsburg, David Bowie, and Tom Waits (who happens to be one of my favorite musicians).
  • Karen from Roanoke, VaI seriously doubt that this song is actually about Vader, Seth from Wales, but now that I've been given the idea, I can't listen to the song without thinking of Vader. And it was hard enough to get Star Wars out of my head anyway...
  • Jon from Langhorne, PaThis song has nothing to do with Star Wars!! Only a complete bafoon and moron would think it is. More so, in factuality the person who made that comment probably lives in his mother's basement
  • Alex from Narberth, PaThis song is the reason i discovered Bush. Thank [insert worshiped item here] it was written.
  • Shaun from Thunder Bay, CanadaI seem to remember hearing in an interview with Gavin that he was asked to write a song for the movie Fear, so he whipped this out within a matter of minutes. Aparently it has no hidden meanings, and is just as lyrically random as it sounds.
  • Nick from Arlington Heights, IlI still think this song is about being a big time reefer hound..Gavin Rossdale is a notorious heavy pot user..or at least he used to be don't know if he still is
  • Izzy from Vernon Hills, IlThere are machine heads on a guitar. They are different from tuning pegs though. Tuning pegs turn the machineheads tightening the strings.
  • Mr. Fugu from Springfield, United StatesOh c'mon guys. Anybody remember a band called Deep Purple? They had an album called Machinehead (1970) that had classic songs like "Smoke On The Water" and "Highway Star." I give props to Gavin Rossdale for marrying a hot chick despite his 15 minutes of fame expiring years ago but he writes some of the most unimaginative, nonsensical, unoriginal music/lyrics since Candlebox. And really he should consider renaming his band (if it's still around). Bush has so many nasty/stupid connotations these days. Really.
  • Randi from Linton, Mei think that this song is about a guy on life support after a car accident or something similar (tied to a wheel fingers got to feel). the breathe in, breathe out is the respirator keeping him alive. the green to red is the lights on the breathing machine signifying that the machine is exhaling and inhaling for him. the car crash in signified by the lines tied to a wheel fingers got to feel
    i spin on a whim i slide to the right
    i felt you like electric light
    for our love
    for our fear
    for our rise against the years and years and years
    this also shows the thoughts that are running through his head at the time. "machinehead" probably refers to all of the machines that are connected to his head and keeping him alive. i think "i walk from my machine" is symbolizing him dying...? the second verse is pretty self explanatory. im kinda curious as to what bush means by "i felt you like electric light." does this again refer to his very emotional way of viewing his love again?
  • Nick from Arlington Heights, IlThis song could also be about smoking pot..breathe in, breathe out, green (pot) to red (bloodstream)
  • Kevin from Buffalo, NyThis song is about a friend of Gavin's who was put on life support after a horrible motorcycle accident. There are two lights on an artificial respirator one green and one red, one is on when the machine makes you inhale and the other when you exhale. Machinehead refers to the tubes coming in and out of his mouth, looking like his head is a machine. and the part of a guitar that you are reffering to is not a Machinehead it is a tuning knob.
  • Evan from Orlando, FlMachineheads are also a name for the parts of the guitar you use to tighten the strings and tune it up. This song is awesome.
  • Joel from Manila, United StatesMachinehead is like a chracteristic of being in a routine all the time or a fast life of anything goes. In the song 'Green to Red' basically means STOP... like in a traffic light. And he is saying that he is "better than the rest" that can/was able to "walk (away) from my machine" meaning being able to change his life that, at first, was hard for him to let go. He is trying to make a change in his life... "If i had it all again, i'll change it all"... feeling of regret in his life, wanting to start a new one...
  • Seth from Caerleon, WalesThis is a song about Star Wars, Machinehead refers to Darth Vader. "Breathe in breathe out" Everyone remembers the way Vader breathed. "Green to Red" The colors of the lightsabers.
  • Ak from Reston, Vathats all well and good, but does anyone know wtf a machinehead is? i still havent figured that one out
  • Paul from Toledo, OhThis song is about how we become a prototype, or how we try to fitr in, be like everyone else. Or trying to copy the "cool kids". But then, breaking free and being yourself. "Got a machine head, but better than the rest". Is that OK Kartik?
  • Kartik from Delhi, IndiaHi!,
    If there's anyone out there who knows some meaning of this song,please let me know as I like to play the drums on this one with my friends.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Yacht Rock!Song Writing

A scholarly analysis of yacht rock favorites ("Steal Away," "Baker Street"...) with a member of the leading YR cover band.

Donald FagenSongwriter Interviews

Fagen talks about how the Steely Dan songwriting strategy has changed over the years, and explains why you don't hear many covers of their songs.

Soul Train Stories with Stephen McMillianSong Writing

A Soul Train dancer takes us through a day on the show, and explains what you had to do to get camera time.

Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear: Teddy Bears and Teddy Boys in SongsSong Writing

Elvis, Little Richard and Cheryl Cole have all sung about Teddy Bears, but there is also a terrifying Teddy song from 1932 and a touching trucker Teddy tune from 1976.

Bill Medley of The Righteous BrothersSongwriter Interviews

Medley looks back on "Unchained Melody" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" - his huge hits from the '60s that were later revived in movies.

Jon Foreman of SwitchfootSongwriter Interviews

Switchfoot's frontman and main songwriter on what inspires the songs and how he got the freedom to say exactly what he means.