Deep Purple

TrackAlbum / Single
HushShades Of Deep Purple
Smoke On The WaterMachine Head
Woman From TokyoWho Do We Think We Are
FireballFireball
Soldier Of FortuneStormbringer
Black NightHarvest HAR 5020
Strange Kind Of WomanHarvest HAR 5033
Child In TimeDeep Purple In Rock
Highway StarMachine Head
Pictures Of HomeMachine Head

Deep Purple photo 1

Deep Purple (l to r): Roger Glover, Ritchie Blackmore,
Ian Gillan, Jon Lord, Ian Paice

 

 

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Purple playlist

 

 

 

Contributor: David Lewis & Andrew Shields

The history of Deep Purple is convoluted. Maybe only Fleetwood Mac has as complicated and confusing a history. Fans divide it into five main periods – Marks 1 II, III IV and V – but even then you can find further subdivisions.

The classic lineup is Mark II – which featured Ian Gillan on vocals, Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Jon Lord on keyboards, Roger Glover on bass and Ian Paice on drums. However, notable vocalists have included Rod Evans, David Coverdale and Joe Lynn Turner. Blackmore’s guitar has probably the biggest impact, but the tragic figure of Tommy Bolin was the guitarist for a brief period in the 1970s, and Steve Morse has played in Mark V for longer than Blackmore. Glenn Hughes has served on bass. Paice is the only consistent member after the untimely and tragic death of Lord.

Deep Purple poster 2

Their first big hit was Hush and it shows the start of the evolution of the band. Rod Evans is a great vocalist, but the band grew in another direction and he was to be replaced by Ian Gillan. This is a solid song, with a great chorus. Originally written by Joe South and performed by Billy Joe Royal, the Deep Purple version is notable for its less subtle approach. Evans has a rounder tone to Royal and doesn’t quite have the dynamic range of Royal. Blackmore’s aggressive guitar howls, wails, stutters, and makes the song something else. Also, Lord shows his formidable organ chops. It’s a great version of a great song.

The next song is the sound of Wagner’s Lohengrin riding off to Valhalla – if he was on a Harley Davidson and brandishing a shotgun, not a sword. Apocalyptic chords thumping out a blues scale at high volume set the scene indelibly. To call it ‘primal’ undersells it a bit. If it wasn’t for the magnificent bass line, or that otherworldly keys (to say nothing of the drums), you might almost think this is a punk song. But in fact, it’s possibly the most important guitar riff of the rock era. It was the first riff we all played – on one string, in the wrong key. As we got better, we changed the key, but still played it wrong. (For you guitar players who don’t know, it’s played on the D and G strings, without a plectrum. Give it a go, you’ll see what I mean.) You probably already know this is Smoke On The Water.

The lyrics are … not great. They tell the story of a fire at a Montreux nightclub during a Frank Zappa gig, and the ‘smoke on the water’ was pretty much a description of what Gillan saw. For all the criticism levelled (unfairly, I think) at Robert Plant, he never managed to try the linguistic trick of turning an adjective into a noun – ‘some stupid with a flare gun’. It’s light on metaphor, heavy on literal description. But that arrangement. Not only does Ritchie shine here, but Jon Lord makes his organ scream – you can nearly hear its joints creaking as it gets pushed to its limits. Paice’s drums are a masterclass in arrangement – is there a more underrated drummer this side of Ringo Starr? And that bass line – Roger Glover (who apparently came up with the title) rumbles underneath in a chromatic run leading to a pedal note. Ritchie Blackmore, never one to hide his light under a bushel, claimed that the riff was a rearrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5. Beethoven’s fifth is Death knocking at your door; stately, immutable, inscrutable, inevitable fate escorting you to what lays in store for you, either good or bad, as you reflect on your life’s work. Smoke On The Water is Fate kicking the door in, screaming incoherently, beating you up and throwing you in the boot (or trunk for you Americans) of his car. And it is glorious. Banned as a test riff in guitar shops by unfortunate salespeople having to grit their teeth through millions of substandard performances by beginners, the song itself is a glorious explosion of rock music – often copied, rarely equalled, never bettered.

Yet, when you know where the riff more than likely comes from – a whole new dimension, particularly the work of Antônio Carlos Jobim. One of his favourites was Maria Quiet by Astrud Gilberto – go on listen to it. The lyrics are sexist nonsense, but the groove is lovely, and she’s got a great voice.

Take that piano riff, put it through a Stratocaster into a Marshall Stack. Slow it down a bit. It goes from a gentle Latin lilt into a kicking in an alley. The debate has raged as to whether it’s plagiarism – I think I prefer the term repurposing. If we are to look at plagiarism, maybe Bob Dylan or Led Zeppelin should be examined first … compare Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues to Crescent City Blues … I think Purple is safe here.

 

Perhaps Mark II’s finest moment (though ‘Smoke’ looms large) is Woman From Tokyo, a superb musical performance. The riff that opens it is a magical guitar-organ melody. Gillan is in fine voice. The imagery is not too forced. It has mood shifts – Jon Lord’s piano solo might be described as being in a barrelhouse style. It reminds me of an improved Bachman Turner Overdrive – Taking Care Of Business in particular, but with much more musical, or at least hard rock cred than ‘TCOB’. Blackmore’s solo moves the rhythm back to a straight beat. But before you dismiss Blackmore – he plays rhythm superbly under the ‘barrelhouse’ section.

The scorching Fireball might just have my favourite solo – that fuzz is so distorted it pushes the signal out of tune. It’s not Blackmore (as I’ve discovered to my shock recently) but Roger Glover on bass. Glover struggles to control it, but manages. And, I’m wondering if the last phrase is a quote of, or tribute to, Cream’s SWLABR. It’s probably not though. The rest of the song is magnificent. But it is one of those Blackmore riffs that would make the career of any other band but that he seems to have in an endless supply. And a surprising chord change for the chorus. It doesn’t go where you might expect, but it works beautifully. The ‘whoosh’ sound at the beginning was described as a ‘special synthesiser’. It was actually an air conditioner being turned on. Paice excels himself here.

Gillan and Glover, sick of Blackmore – allegedly – left the band for some years. David Coverdale replaced Gillan. This iteration has its fans, and some very fine music was produced. The haunting and jaded Soldier Of Fortune is one of the better songs about the perils of the music industry. The clever thing about it, at least in my opinion, is that it keeps the intrigue of the industry. It might be hard, it might be a place where, to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, good men die in gutters; but Coverdale guesses he’ll always be a Soldier of Fortune. His jaded angst is note perfect. I do wonder about the sound of the windmills – as far as I’m aware, windmills sound like deafening grinds, which doesn’t seem to help the image Coverdale is drawing. But it somehow works. In a sense Gillan was irreplaceable. But in another sense, Coverdale was the perfect replacement.

Given 12 choices, I’d have put in Speed King, where Blackmore abuses his vibrato bar in a way that Hendrix never did, and its incessant quoting of rock and roll classics make it fantastic. So consider it a bonus track. Also the call and response between Lord and Blackmore is just something else.

David Lewis

 

 

My hard rock/ heavy metal phase was a relatively short-lived one. It was partly based on a group of people who I hung around with between the ages of about 15 and 17. They were a small contained circle whose musical interests – at the time – centred on Judas Priest, Saxon and Iron Maiden. It is probably important to note that at the time ‘heavy metal’ existed as a single category of music and had not been sub-divided to the almost farcical extent it is today. As a group they also tended to be very dismissive of any music that existed outside of that genre. In this regard, however, one band they were prepared to make an exception for was Deep Purple. Where Purple stood in the murky middle ground between hard rock and metal – as it existed then – is probably a question best left undisturbed. There is no doubt that their influence was central to metal’s eventual emergence as a distinct brand of music. To be honest, these days most examples of that genre leave me cold, but Purple remain a very different proposition. The obvious question that arises here is what distinguished Purple from those bands that followed in their wake?

One of the chief elements that separated them from many of their peers was the quality of their musicianship. In its classic line-up all the members of the group were first-class musicians, but the outstanding figure in its heyday was undoubtedly the lead guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore. Whatever his other personal qualities were, as a player he combined technical brilliance with a constant inventiveness. Not only was he one of the greatest riff-makers in British rock music (as David has shown in his discussion of ‘Smoke”), his solos also displayed he had a rare ability to bend and twist the relatively simple material used in the riffs into ever more intricate and subtle patterns. Like Rory Gallagher, he also had the rare ability to combine being melodic with being ‘heavy’.

After a series of false starts the definitive Purple line-up came together in June 1969, when Ian Gillan on lead vocals, and Roger Glover on bass, joined the band. They replaced Nick Simper and Rod Evans. Along with the remaining members of the original group – Blackmore, Jon Lord and keyboards and Ian Paice on drums – they embarked on a different musical direction from that which had characterised Purple’s earlier far more psychedelic work.

Following a brief flirtation with Jon Lord’s classical music influences (with the Concerto For Group And Orchestra album) the band soon went down a heavy rock path. This was, in part at least, a result of Blackmore’s admiration for the first Led Zeppelin album. One of the first indications of this new approach was the classic early single, Black Night. The song was a clear demonstration of Blackmore’s brilliance as a riff-maker. However, it also showed how the differing strengths of the other musicians in the group complemented each other so perfectly. Paice’s drumming was rock-steady, Glover’s bass had a nicely sinister edge, Lord was one of the few 70s keyboard players who had a real sense of what not to play and Gillan gave it everything and more as always. It also goes without saying that Ritchie’s solo was typically inspired.

My next choice is another early single, Strange Kind Of Woman. Not perhaps the greatest lyric ever written, the song works because of the total musical commitment the band bring to it (see top clip). It also has another of Blackmore’s beautifully intricate and layered solos. Strangely for someone who has had a good deal of commercial success, Blackmore seems to me to be still very under-estimated as a guitarist.

In my opinion, In Rock and Machine Head are Purple’s finest achievements. Indeed, they are probably two of the finest heavy rock albums ever made. From the first of those, In Rock, I have chosen Child In Time. It is one of the songs that shows the group’s instinctive mastery of dynamics. Also, Jon Lord’s classical influences work to good effect here. Part of the reason Blackmore wanted to bring Gillan into the band was his capacity for ‘screaming’ and in this song it is used to full effect. A reminder that you need to play this one loud to really feel its full effect.

Machine Head was probably the record where everything really came together for Deep Purple. In musical terms they were all at their peak on it. This made it hard to pick individual tracks, but I had to go for Highway Star on the strength of Jon Lord’s superb parody-Bach break and Ritchie’s stunning solo. This is not only both fast and clean, but is also beautifully structured. It shows his rare blend of musical intelligence, subtlety and ferocity of attack when needed. My last choice is Pictures Of Home, which again shows Blackmore’s brilliance as a guitarist. In this case, his playing is beautifully fluid and shows how far he was from the stereotype of a ‘bludgeon’ guitarist which some people still wrongly ascribe to him. It also displays his uncanny ability to twist and turn a riff until it becomes almost unrecognisable. There is also a short and sharp bass solo from Roger in here.

To conclude then, at their peak Deep Purple were among the very best heavy rock groups of all time. As a group of musicians, they were also far more subtle and rounded than their image sometimes suggested. And I can add that playing In Rock and Machine Head loud in current circumstances is highly recommended as a form of musical therapy by all the best authorities.

Andrew Shields

 

 

 

 

POSTSCRIPT

Deep Purple is one of the most influential and important of the bands that evolved out of the British Blues Invasion. Not only did they help launch what would become known as heavy metal, they pioneered the fusion of classical and rock music.

Although Mark II inevitably fell apart, in 1975, Purple continued on. Blackmore left to form Rainbow with the late, great Ronnie James Dio. Roger Glover and Ian Paice were members for a while. But they replaced Blackmore with Tommy Bolin, considered a fitting and skilled replacement by many of the fans. Bolin, however, struggled with addiction issues, and fans at the live shows were disappointed to see a guitarist who couldn’t physically play to the standard they had been used to. The band broke up in 1976 after a gig in which Glenn Hughes apologised to the audience for them not playing well. The others (at this point Coverdale, Lord and Paice) disagreed and terminated the band. Bolin launched a solo career but died from drug misadventure while touring in support with Jeff Beck.

In 1993, Mark II was reformed – Blackmore was not keen, but eventually relented. Relationships deteriorated again, and Gillan left to be replaced by Joe Lynn Turner. Many singers, including Jimmy Barnes (from Cold Chisel – see Toppermost #320) and John Farnham (also a UK born Australian singer) were considered before Turner got the gig. Blackmore ran back to Rainbow and eventually, in 1994, Steve Morse was recruited. Lord himself admitted that 25 years of Purple were 5 of the best years one might ever have, and 20 years of misery, blaming Blackmore’s mood swings. This version of Purple toured till Lord’s retirement in 2002, though they have continued, releasing several more albums.

Blackmore himself launched a thousand guitarists, with his notable disciples being Brian May from Queen, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen.

This potted history of Purple has been contracted – the history of the band is complex – members weave in and out, and the band changes direction, often wildly and unpredictably; at least until 1994 when it settled into its legacy. All versions are highly recommended. Bolin was a terrific player, Evans, Coverdale, and Joe Lynn Turner are fantastic vocalists and each version of the band is interesting. The Classic Albums episode on Machine Head is essential viewing.

Despite the personnel changes Deep Purple are still active. 2020 saw the release of Whoosh which has had three singles released from it so far. The third, Nothing At All, is an excellent track with a very tasty Steve Morse lick. It just goes to show that Purple’s massive legacy lives on.

Half a century down the track, they are still a vital creative force; few bands have rocked as hard or as effectively.

 

 

Deep Purple poster 1

 

Jon Lord (1941–2012)

Tommy Bolin (1951–1976)

 

Deep Purple official website

Deep Purple current lineup website

The Highway Star – The Original Deep Purple Webpages

Deep Purple Appreciation Society

Ritchie Blackmore official site

Jon Lord official website

Ian Gillan official website

Roger Glover official website

Ian Paice discography

David Coverdale/Whitesnake official site

Ritchie Blackmore Session Recordings 1960-68

Deep Purple biography (AllMusic)

David Lewis is a regular contributor to Toppermost. A professional guitarist, mandolinist, banjoist and bassist, he plays everything from funk to country in several bands and duos. He is a professional historian and a public speaker on crime fiction, adventure fiction, philosophy art, history and popular culture. More of his writing can be found at his rarely updated website.

Andrew Shields is also a regular contributor to this site. He is a freelance historian who grew up in the West of Ireland and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. Along with an interest in history, politics and literature, his other principal occupations are listening to and reading about the music of Bob Dylan and, in more recent years, immersing himself in the often brilliant and unduly neglected music of Phil Ochs.

TopperPost #906

5 Comments

  1. Rob Millis
    Sep 26, 2020

    A good read. Everybody says definitively that Mk 2 is the classic lineup; personally I thought Coverdale’s bigger, more soulful voice improved the band no end, although it is a shame that Glenn Hughes did his best to ensure that the shreiking wasn’t successfully completely eradicated. Were there such a game as ‘Fantasy Deep Purple’ it’d be Blackmore/Lord/Coverdale/Glover/Paice for me.
    Ian Paice is a far better drummer than those who aren’t particularly fond of DP realise; criminally undersung. Even within the harder rock community I have never understood the universal adulation of John Bonham vs Paicey. Paicey swings like a carthorse’s dick in the wind; Bonham was a bit of a basher IMO. (Watch the death threats arriving in Twickenham after that!).

  2. Glenn Smith
    Sep 27, 2020

    I’d not thought about Deep Purple in years but when prompted by one of the authors of this fine post I could name the Lords and Glovers et al, but simply could not think of the vocalist from their golden age, says it all. Is Gillan overlooked in the pantheon of one leg up full grab of the mic stand lead vocalists due to the plethora of Purple singers? He had a better range than Paul Rodgers. We can all recall the 70’s ritual of landing in a mate’s house for the first time and flicking through their records to assess how cool their tastes were, the Purple records de jour were In Rock and Machine Head, and you never missed when you put them on. So pleased to see Child in Time in this list, the ultimate tune for lying on the floor, headphones on, blissed out on something, thinking about Susan Dey. Great list gentlemen, cheers.

    • David Scott
      Jul 17, 2021

      What can i say. The greatest band of all time in my opinion listen to them when I was 12 year old I am now 55 and still love their music to this day and hopefully next year seeing them for the 30th time live Deep Purple

  3. Alex Lifson
    Sep 27, 2020

    Thanks for writing this one guys. Always a fave. Although I didn’t listen to much of them after the departure of Gillan and Glover, I was pleased when they came out with Perfect Strangers. It was as if they had never left.

  4. David Lewis
    Sep 28, 2020

    Thank you all for your comments.
    Rob. I think Coverdale received a lot of criticism because he replaced Gillan. He is a terrific vocalist and his later work with Whitesnake etc was always interesting.
    Glenn – those ‘must have’ albums always made sure you had the tick. There’d be those two Deep Purple ones, Alice Cooper, Rumours. Linda Ronstadt. A few others.
    The striking nature of Purple is how well it has lasted. There are other bands who have not lasted. But the level of musicianship in Purple is very high. Quality lasts.
    Alex – thank you for your comments. Perfect Strangers is a good one.

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