Greetings, Glancers! It’s finally time to listen to another one of the bands known for laying the ground work for Heavy Metal. Out of all the late 60s, early 70s bands who contributed to the genre’s foundations – Deep Purple are likely the most important alongside Led Zep. I know a few Deep Purple songs fairly well – they are a band you come to early on when branching out in rock and metal’s roots, and they’re a band whose songs you become familiar with when you first decide to play guitar. Machine Head is their most famous album, and while I’m not sure if I’ve heard all of it, I know I’ve heard most of it at various points. There was a kid who lived on the street I grew up on – his dad (who bore a striking resemblance to Gerry Adams and was therefore the brunt of much pranking around Halloween) was a big Deep Purple fan. He would blast tunes while washing his car. Just a random memory for you – you won’t get this content anywhere else folks!
But before we take a closer look at the tracklist, lets check out that album cover.
The combination of me not being as familiar with the facial features of the band members as I am with other artists, and the warped and blurred puddle marked cover mean I don’t know who’s who. The fella on the right gets the worst of it, his forehead being hoovered up into the psychedelic mire of the upper half, leaving his chin and ‘tache dangling like a swollen scrotum. Elsewhere, fake Syd Barrett is popping up looking all serious like, while on the far left a random college professor seems to have accidentally stumbled into the shoot – his faintly nervous gaze betraying his awareness of an imminent kicking by the rest of the band.
I don’t recall the album being so short – only seven songs and only one of those is over seven minutes long. The big one here is of course Smoke On The Water, but Highway Star and Space Truckin’ I know. I’m sure some of the others will come back to me when I listen. Lets see what Blackmore and co. have to say for themselves.
‘Highway Star‘ gets down to business off the bat with a series of charging beats and chords and a classic rock yell. The overall force and production is a little thin, weak which means the vocals and percussion lack bite. The drums are top notch, with lots of rattling fills at speed and the instrumental middle is zany fun. The extended solo in the second half is nifty too – more like a repeated series of different riffs up and down the neck. With more oomph in the production this would be an ideal driving song – that’s really the only thing letting it down for me.
‘Maybe I’m A Leo‘ has a fatter sound, the cymbals do still feel too tinny for my liking, but the lead riff is chunky, accompanied by a funky beat. In terms of metal – this does feel much more in the vein of ‘classic rock’ than metal, like most of the heavy rock bands of the time do. The organ shenanigans and the changes in beat also give it that 70s blues and jazz infusion which a lot of bands of the era had.
‘Pictures Of Home‘ opens with a splattering of drums before the guitar assault. The vocals still sound distant – they’re just not prominent enough in the mix, but it feels like everything is at an arm’s length rather than being in your face like this sort of music should be. I see Martin Birch was in the studio – usually his work is beefed up more than this, so maybe it’s just the copy I’m listening too. Again I can’t fault the playing – the song has a set structure but is loose enough to allow each member to off-shoot when they desire. Melodically, the song relies on those off-shoots to be interesting as the main vocal and core are plain, but I’m not getting much from it on an emotional level.
‘Never Before‘ is another slower, funk filled song. The verse raises the tempo and adds a big blues riff while the chorus brings a more notable hook. There are quite a lot of time shifts in the four minutes, including a brief pre-solo mellow phrase. It’s a simple rocker, spiced up with sprinkles of creativity lacking in chart music today.
‘Smoke On The Water‘ is the one we all know. Big, famous riff, strong chorus. Not a lot to add.
‘Lazy‘ surges into view with an electronic throng which reminds me of Money For Nothing. It then takes off into a jaunty organ jazz-fest before the rest of the band make up their minds to join in. Is it a 7 minute instrumental? It’s working well at the moment – a collection of riffs and zooming beats, but instruments rarely sustain their value for me for more than a few minutes. Like a lot of these instrumentals, this feels like a jam, except I get the impression this one was more well-practiced and performed than most – it’s tight. Ah, four minutes in we get our first vocal, interesting. Harmonicas now, followed by more vocals and screams. It’s pretty good fun.
‘Space Truckin‘ has that highly distorted electronic throng sound again – like a lightsaber swung through a brass tube. It’s a riff led song with a fair amount of groove thrown into the mix, and the chorus is one of the snappier sequences on the album. It builds to freak-out levels before the final chorus and the drums are once again the most noticeable instrument. Gillan then goes all Halford for some reason.
That was a little underwhelming, probably because the album is so short. There are no bad songs but even the best songs don’t hit any heights for me. The band sure knows how to play – drums, keyboards, and drums being the highlights while the bass and vocals didn’t have a huge impact on me. The production on the version I’m listening to gave the whole album an unfortunately thin sound – that’s not what you want to feel when you’re a hard playing rock band. While I eventually got used to this, it does still leave me at an emotional distance from much of the music. It is a consistent album – I’d say every song is around the high C, low B grade for me – but really Smoke On The Water is the only song anyone beyond the band’s fans are going to care about. I’ve added a few others to my playlist, but I can’t see me listening to them more than once or twice. While this may be seen as Deep Purple’s most famous record, I’m hoping it’s not known as their best.
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Highway Star. Smoke On The Water. Lazy. Space Truckin.