21. Deep Purple

Off the top of my head, what do I know about Deep Purple?  They're a hard rock band from the U.K. who are often held up with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath as the three bands who really laid the foundations for heavy metal.  It's likely that I've heard a few of their songs, probably many times, but I couldn't name any of them for you.  A few of the members' names are probably familiar... but I'm drawing a blank right now, aside from Ian Gillan, whose name came on my radar two weeks ago while I was looking into Black Sabbath (Gillan played with Sabbath for a bit after Deep Purple).  Last post, I also made a guess that Ritchie Blackmore is in this band.  That's probably right.  I do know that This Is Spinal Tap was famously influenced by this band (although - also reported last time - the famous Stonehenge gag from Spinal Tap came from a real event on a Black Sabbath tour; so these bands are intertwined in several ways).  Anyway, that's all I've got.

Have to pick an album to hear.  My web-search for "Best Deep Purple album" yielded the usual array of a few dozen listicles.  But first of all, this album cover is fucking hilarious:

...it makes me think of stoner girls in the 1970s with candles and incense and floaty scarves like Stevie Nicks and a boyfriend with a bitchin' Camaro who can barely grow a moustache.  Roach clips with little synthetic feathers on the end.  Bell bottoms.  Feathered hair.  Blue eye shadow.  All that shit.

Ok, but should I listen to it?  I can't take this seriously.  This cover is just so funny to me.  Also, according to a dozen listicles on the internet, this album, Burn, and a record called Fireball usually flip back and forth in the #3 and #4 positions in the Deep Purple catalog, while the records In Rock and Machine Head usually alternate in the #1 and #2 positions, with In Rock being #1 slightly more often.  The cover of In Rock shows the lads carved into Mount Rushmore.  So lame!  What a bunch of doofii.

Wait, I just remembered: "Smoke On The Water".  Yes, of course.  That's Deep Purple.  That's a huge one.  Which album is that on?  Machine Head.  Ok, Machine Head is just a tad below In Rock in the rankings, but we'll give it a go.  It's always good to have at lest one familiar song when I do these things.

As always, I'm listening to this album for the first time ever, and have not done any research at all before listening today, aside from picking a record to hear.  Going in with nothing but the meager info about this artist that has leaked into my brain over the course of life, I'm taking it at face value.  The writing is entirely my tabula rasa stream-of-consciousness first impressions, written in real-time as the album played, and was only edited for spelling and clarity.  Since I've got three decades as a sound engineer under my belt, I'll be listening equally to the merits of the music and the quality of the sound production.  For more info about the mission and background of this series, see C O N T E X T (post #00).

Deep Purple
Machine Head (1972)
Version: Warner Brothers (Japan) WPCR 12255 (1996 / 2006)

Highway Star
Driving beat with tight playing right off the bat.  Can't help comparing this record to last post's Black Sabbath experience; after just moments it is clear that Machine Head is already a better record than Sabbath's Paranoid.  The difference in base-level musical competency is clear, and the production is better too.  Good driving rock with a dirty Hammond and some grit in the singer's voice.  That's Gillan.  Lyrics about a girl and a car call back to the Springsteen post last month.  The song's bridge has some interesting effects and an organ solo (mixed a little loud, and mostly consisting of arpeggios).  Band remain tight and this take seems energetic and committed as we go into a guitar solo that's also placed a little clumsily in the mix.  It's more interesting than the Hammond solo was, in that it's at least somewhat melodic... until the second half, during which the player resorts to weedly-weedly arpeggios even more egregiously than the Hammond player did.  Yes, it's fast but it's less interesting than the earlier, less manually challenging part.  Song finishes with a concert-style ending after six minutes; not sure this song needed to endure for quite this long, but I wasn't bored.  This song could be paired up with almost anything from Springsteen's Born to Run album, plus Rush's "Red Barchetta", and Queen's "I'm In Love With My Car" (and probably a bunch of others) as a 1970s homage to the waning years of 1950s car culture.  Worshiping these machines and forming some kind of emotional bond with them seems so out of date today.

Maybe I'm A Leo
Little bit of a cocky mid-tempo groove here.  This song just kind of chugs along.  Does its thing.  Playing and recording are both competent, nothing wrong with this record, but not enough right.  Once again, the dirty Hammond solo, and interesting kind of tremolo processing on what might be a Rhodes solo.  Good to see the keyboard player getting some space to shine in music this heavy.  Heavy?  It's really not that heavy at all, by today's standards.  Just sounds like basic rock.  But I guess in 1972, this was a bit weighty.  That Hammond is really adding a lot of the weight.  It's so distorted, in a nice way, but it's taking up more space in the mix than the guitars.  Keyboards really got pushed out of metal music for a long time, but in this case, this Hammond is doing more to fill up these mixes with crunchy goodness than the guitars are, byny a wide margin.  Then, once again, we have a guitar solo that begins with some feel and some melody, and then fades.  Hm, I kinda wanted to see where it went.  A great solo should reach a peak, a conclusion.  But we just get a fade.  
Super trite, low-effort lyric:
"Acting like a fool, I had to make her cry
Maybe I'm a Leo but I ain't a lion
I'm hurtin' for her so bad
I want her now".

Pictures Of Home
Back to a more energetic tune.  The organ player switches from a moderately gritty tone to a ridiculously distorted one at key moments; he's threatening to drown out the singer in the second chorus, and even fights with the guitarist during the solo.  Back off the otherwise effective Hammond, guys!  Drummer is on point, and drums are recorded as well as can be expected for 1972.  We're a couple of years out from the golden age of drum recording, which coincided with 24-track tape becoming standard just a little while after this record was made.  The narrator of this song is at the top of a mountain, cold and alone, missing home.  Seems like a song about loneliness, but verse three introduces some further themes:
"Here in this prison
Of my own making
Year after day, I have grown
Into a hero
But there's no worship
Where have they hidden my throne?"
Ah, the old "it's lonely to be successful" trope.  Yes indeed, it's rough and isolating to be famous.  Well, watch what you wish for, you just might get it.  This song is another tightly performed rocker, but it throws some surprises at us toward the end.  An organ solo is overdubbed atop the original organ (and guitars) giving us several layers of distorted Hammond; we don't hear that very often.  Then: a bass solo.  No.  Ack!  It's only eight bars long, but is there a more cliched bad idea than a bass solo?  This leads into a little bridge, a build, a pause... leaves us hanging in an effective way... and then into another guitar solo to fade.  Once again, this song needed to climax, not fade. Otherwise, there are enough little changes and surprises to keep this one interesting, even if the lyric is a bit trite.

Never Before
Funky, herky-jerk intro groove gives way to a pretty straight-forward rocker with few surprises, but nothing embarrassing about it.  Once again: this lyric.  Charitably, it may be construed as simple and heartfelt, very emotionally exposed... or it can be considered super-low-effort.  How long did it take our lyricist to come up with:
"Somebody, somebody
Come to my side
I'm tired, I'm crying
I'm sick inside
My woman, that woman
Just wasn't right
Help me, now
Please, my friend
I never felt so bad before
Never, never before"
I mean, we've all felt this way, but these guys are reasonably decent musicians, so a little more ambition with the words would have gone a long way toward elevating this music.  Did Gillan improvise these live while recording a first take, and then just leave 'em as-is?  These words feel like someone's first effort at writing a song... ever.  Any fourteen-year-old with the tiniest fledgling ability for self-criticism would have taken a look at this and thought "yeah, maybe I can do better than that".

Smoke On The Water
This guitar riff.  Nothing short of iconic.  What are the top ten legendary rock guitar riffs of all time?  This one must be on that list.  The band knew it too.  At the top of the song they play it over and over with very little else going on - like a freakin' manifesto - for almost a full minute.  It comes back a few times later in the song as an instrumental refrain.  This is yet another song that's been bouncing around in the background noise of my life since I was old enough to know what music was.  It's always just sort of been there.  But like just about all of the other bands discussed in this project, I've been doing my best to ignore it for the past four-plus decades.  Until today, I never listened to the words, at all.  These lyrics?  Are they true?  It seems like it's a narrative of a memorable event during the making of this record.  It's true that the Rolling Stones had a mobile recording truck that they leased out.  Did the band really witness the burning of a lakeside casino during a Zappa concert while making this record in Switzerland with the Stones' truck?  The song is a bit longer than it needs to be.  They get a whole lot of mileage out of their riff.  Weird phase-flange on the drums at the end.  Cool.

Are we in church here?  Organ solo.  Their Hammond is clean for once; good, you have to give us the clean version in order for the grit to have impact.  And then... they fade in the grit, and some phase effects.  Then we hear it clean again.  Then dirty.  Then clean.  Someone was stoned, but it works.  In concert, this 1m 23s Hammond intro probably lasts for like ten minutes as an extended solo.  When the band finally kick in they screw around with some bluesy staccato crap for a bit, then finally move into a bluesy boogie-woogie groove.  Couple of solos, and then another super-lame lyric fails to thrill us, accompanied by a twelve-bar blues groove from the rhythm section.  This jam is 7m 21s and feels like album filler.  They didn't have enough songs.  Cranking out a generic blues thing to soak up part of side two is an all-too-common cop-out.  Can't help but to point out that the song is called "Lazy".  Yup.  The last minute picks up the tempo and shows some spark, but still, this one is a big nope.

Space Truckin'
This song is a bit more lighthearted, a fun little rocker about partying in outer space.  Hate to say it, but as goofy as the words are, they're still the most creative lyrics on this album.  
"Well we had a lot of luck on Venus
We always had a ball on Mars
We meet with all the groovy people
We rocked the Milky Way so far"
Yeah... that's as good as this band can do, lyrically.  Sorry.  Gillan goes up into a shrieky falsetto for a few lines, a sound that would define metal music for the next twenty years.  Gotta love the timbale (or just high toms?) solo out of nowhere.  This 4m 32s song wears out its welcome a full minute before it ends; it was fun for a bit but doesn't know when to stop.  


Some post-posting research: 
Of course, the "Smoke On The Water" saga actually happened.  Crazy!

Song for the IFHTB mix tape:
Tricky.  "Smoke on the Water" would be the obvious choice, but it's a bit long for a mix tape. It's tempting to go with "Pictures of Home" - trite lyric, bass solo, and all - but it's only 35 seconds shorter than "Smoke".  Maybe a quick edit of one of these?  Are there single versions out there?

Moody Blues, coming March 01, 2022

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