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Deep Purple

A group that could virtually blow your ears off and described in the 70s as “the loudest band on the globe” (by the Guinness Book of World Records), DEEP PURPLE had all the traits of yer typical prog-ish hard-rock act, even though their revolving-door roll-call meant fans had problems identifying with each new phase. But names like IAN GILLAN, RITCHIE BLACKMORE, JON LORD, ROGER GLOVER, Ian Paice and DAVID COVERDALE, have all become household names during their halcyon Mk.II days when the ‘Purple people eaters were the speed kings.
However, not many would think that DEEP PURPLE had started off as a sort of session back-up for former SEARCHERS sticksman Chris Curtis (living in Hertford at the time), who, in early 1968, duly recruited classically-trained organist Jon Lord and seasoned guitar maestro Ritchie Blackmore (who was living in Germany at the time) to complement his new venture, Roundabout. While on tour in Scandinavia, having found singer Rod Evans, bassist Nicky Simper (and ultimately a new drummer! Ian Paice), the band chose to break away from Curtis to form DEEP PURPLE; Chris, meanwhile, kicked off another project, the Shakedown Sound, which would subsequently emerge as MOTT THE HOOPLE; an eccentric character wherever he appeared, Oldham-born/Scouser-be Chris was to die in February 2005.
Now based in London, DEEP PURPLE signed a three-album deal to EMI’s Parlophone Records, but even the group themselves must’ve been a tad taken aback when – on Bill Cosby’s Tetragrammaton imprint – the group went Top 5 Stateside via a version of Joe South’s `Hush’. Disappointingly, the band’s rush-released debut US Top 30 album (recorded in three days!), SHADES OF DEEP PURPLE (1968) {*7} was received with trepidation in Old Blighty, many pundits confused with their rambunctious attempts to become England’s answer to VANILLA FUDGE through further experimental covers of `Hey Joe’ (surely the procured property of HENDRIX), The BEATLES’ `Help’ and SKIP JAMES’ `I’m So Glad’; the latter medley’d alongside one of a handful of group (Blackmore, Lord and/or Evans) compositions `Prelude: Happiness’. From the opening crunchy NICE-like bars of instrumental `And The Address’ (Lord was in his element here) to the bluesy-pop of `One More Rainy Day’ and `Love Help Me’ (Evans coming across like Allan Clarke of The HOLLIES) to the prog/funk-driven `Mandrake Root’, the first throes of DEEP PURPLE had emerged.
1969’s follow-up THE BOOK OF TALIESYN {*6} continued the quintet’s formulaic fixation to bring progressive hard-rock to a psychedelic soul audience; examples stemmed from their 10-minute finale escapade of `River Deep, Mountain High’ (a hit for IKE & TINA TURNER), US Top 40 hit/UK flop 45 `Kentucky Woman’ (ditto NEIL DIAMOND) and another LENNON-McCARTNEY nugget `We Can Work It Out’, the latter tied in with the dramatic, SHADOWS-like `Exposition’. Farmed out to EMI’s Harvest Records in Britain, the band still found it difficult to find an audience in their homeland, many baffled by schizoid crooners such as `Anthem’, a song probably better served up to ELVIS PRESLEY than sitting in here.
Americans, too, were beginning to feel the group had exhausted their creativity when the eponymous third set DEEP PURPLE (1969) {*6}, failed to get them a Top 100 placing. Littered with chugging, prog-ish proto-metal classic rock (only one cover here; DONOVAN’s `Lalena), Lord’s flighty harpsichord on the likes of `Blindman’, Blackmore’s axe-grinding on `The Painter’ and the effervescent `April’ (all 12 minutes of it), were the makings of a band moving in a different direction.
Jon was taking the band deeper and deeper into neo-classical territory; his influences were of The NICE and the emerging EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER and YES. While these outfits were successful and growing in stature, DEEP PURPLE were seen to be taking a step back or even jumping on the bandwagon. Following the collapse of Cosby’s label, the new-look DEEP PURPLE (Mk.II featuring fresh vocalist Ian Gillan and his former EPISODE SIX chum Roger Glover on bass) re-grouped with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Malcolm Arnold at the Royal Albert Hall) for the ill-advised pseudo-classical nadir of CONCERTO FOR GROUP AND ORCHESTRA… (1970) {*3}. Made up of three grandiose movements (composer Lord was inspired by Sibelius, Waxman and Mahler), the long, overbearing trip had little in the shape of rock – bar the odd Blackmore solo. Thankfully, after the record failed to sell in any great quantity (although it was their first UK Top 30 entry!), common sense prevailed and Blackmore steered the group in a heavier direction.
Accompanied by the lumbering `Black Night’ single, which was just pipped to the UK No.1 post that summer, the 5-piece’s fifth album (yes, five in two years!), DEEP PURPLE IN ROCK (1970) {*8}, announced the arrival of a major-league contender in the heavyweight arena alongside the likes of BLACK SABBATH and LED ZEPPELIN. The pummelling rhythm section of Glover and Paice were apparent from the get-go via the explosive `Speed King’, while driving the beast of Blackmore’s razor-sharp guitar solos clawed mercilessly at Lord’s shuddering organ interplay, finding the band barking up the right tree onwards and upwards. The 10-minute `Child In Time’ was the ballad, the full range of Gillan’s talent finally given prominence as he progressed from mellow musings to his trademark glass-shattering shriek. Opening side two, `Flight Of The Rat’, was equally enthralling and dynamic, but maybe room for the aforementioned `Black Night’ (a sad omission until the CD re-issue) would’ve been better served than a few lesser-known numbers here.
Fuelled by yet another smash hit non-LP gem-of-a-45 (at least in Britain), `Strange Kind Of Woman’, the chart-topping FIREBALL (1971) {*7} – also featuring the hit title track – was competent, if lacking in the songs department; the ineffectual `Demon’s Eye’ was the chosen for the UK market, while `Anyone’s Daughter’ had a redneck, tongue-in-bum-cheek appeal. The ignition was turned back on for the 8-minute power-ballad `Fools’ and the leaden finale `No One Came’ – Gillan sparkled throughout.
Top 10 on both sides of the Big Pond, MACHINE HEAD (1972) {*9} was the DEEP PURPLE tour de force, a classic album from the classic Mk.II line-up. Cuts like opener `Highway Star’ and `Space Truckin’’ were relentless, high-octane metal riff-a-thons which became staples in the DP live set for years to come. While UK Top 40 hit `Never Before’ was good, the evergreen `Smoke On The Water’ probably stands as the band’s most famous track, its classic three-chord bludgeon and tale of disaster averted, reaching Top 5 in America upon its release as a single a year later. Inspired by the all-too-true events in Montreux, Switzerland, where the local venue/casino was burned down to the ground during a FRANK ZAPPA & The Mothers gig, the riff-tastic gem became a thing of molten-metal legend. It also further boosted the album sales into the millions, the band were now firmly established as a world class act.
DEEP PURPLE also had a stellar live reputation, the concert double set MADE IN JAPAN (1972) {*8}, testified to this as the band went on to achieve cult status among metal aficionados and earning the group as the loudest band ever!! A tad self-indulgent for their lengthier pieces of mass destruction (`Space Truckin’’ takes up a whole side, while `Lazy’ –
another monster from their previous set – is over 10 minutes), it should’ve carried health warnings to ear-shattered parents of ‘Purple pupils.
As the heavy touring and recording schedule ground on, the beast began to stumble, however, recording a further, fairly lacklustre album, “WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE” (1973) {*5} – featuring minor US hit `Woman From Tokyo’ – before disintegrating later that summer among constant in-fighting and personality clashes. The nucleus of Blackmore, Lord and Paice remained, enlisting relative newcomer David Coverdale on vocals (picked from a Melody Maker ad!) and bassist Glenn Hughes (from Trapeze) to supersede the outgoing and solo-bound (Ian) GILLAN and (Roger) GLOVER respectively.
The blues-ier and funkier DEEP PURPLE Mk.III was unleashed by way of BURN (1974) {*7}, a definite move towards the American AOR market. Blackmore and Co – all but Hughes contributing to the songs – stretched their boundaries, and the results were surprisingly refreshing and vibrant. Even hardened ‘Purple acolytes were struck by the balance to songs such as the title track, `Might Just Take Your Life’, the gritty `Lay Down, Stay Down’ and the chunky `Sail Away’ – and that was just side one. Flipped over, `Mistreated’ was the star track, as sensual and carnal as any future COVERDALE/WHITESNAKE cod-piece ballad rockers.
STORMBRINGER (1974) {*4} followed the same pattern; a record characterised by David’s melancholy, blues-fuelled vox, although the new boy and Blackmore were not exactly fond of each other, the latter shocking many by eventually quitting in 1975. The album itself, spared few lightning ballads; the opening salvo title track or the uptempo `Lady Double Dealer’ the only hard-rock challengers among the predominantly limp-fisted tracks (with the exception of possibly `Soldier Of Fortune’).
With their axeman off to create his own interpretation of arena-rock via (Ritchie Blackmore’s) RAINBOW, his replacement was semi-legendary American guitarist TOMMY BOLIN (from The JAMES GANG). COME TASTE THE BAND (1975) {*6} was arguably an improvement on their previous set, but with the new man and Coverdale taking most of the song credits it was hardly purist DEEP PURPLE. However, some decent reviews for classy songs such as the very BAD COMPANY-ish `Lady Luck’, `Getting’ Tighter’, `You Keep On Moving’ and the soulful STEVIE WONDER-esque medley `This Time Around’ segued with instrumental `Owed To “G”’, found the quintet still making inroads into the minds of the many and the charts.
Less than a year later, however, DEEP PURPLE were no more, the behemoth finally going belly up after the perils of rock’n’roll had finally taken their toll. While TOMMY BOLIN duly overdosed on heroin, of the remaining members, GLENN HUGHES re-formed Trapeze, while COVERDALE went solo before forming WHITESNAKE. The other key remaining member of DEEP PURPLE, IAN GILLAN, had also been equally prolific during the 70s, initially with his own band.
Fast forward several years, BLACKMORE, GILLAN, GLOVER, LORD and PAICE crossed once more. While the comeback cross-Atlantic Top 20 album, PERFECT STRANGERS (1984) {*5}, was welcomed by fans, it became clear that the ever-dominant RB was being as dominant as ever. Although opening in typical DP style, `Knocking At Your Back Door’ failed as much as the rest of the set to generate anything substantial in the singles market, the minor hit title track included. A B-side and extra on the re-issue, the 10-minute Blackmore-penned instrumental `Son Of Alerik’ better served the purpose of the “all-new” ‘Purple-ites.
Another relatively commercial successful studio effort, THE HOUSE OF BLUE LIGHT (1987) {*6}, kept the fireball aflame, but apart from the odd lyrical nuance in `Mitzi Dupree’, `The Spanish Archer’ and `Bad Attitude’, DEEP PURPLE had lost their way in the midst of the yuppie electro-inflicted 80s; a live double album, NOBODY’S PERFECT (1988) {*4} regurgitated songs of their heyday with a handful of newbies. And then GILLAN was given the order of the boot.
Typically incestuous, DEEP PURPLE then recruited ex-RAINBOW man Joe Lynn Turner for the awful SLAVES AND MASTERS (1990) {*3} album. Their songwriting rather pedestrian and stale, one could safely file songs like `King Of Dreams’, `Wicked Ways’ and `Fire In The Basement’ under arena-rock hair-metal for anyone stuck in a time-warp. In an increasingly absurd round of musical chairs, Gillan was then reinstated, consequently clashing once more with Blackmore who eventually stomped off to re-form RITCHIE BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW after the particularly uninspiring THE BATTLE RAGES ON… (1992) {*3}; `Anya’ or `A Twist In The Tale’ were the exceptions and included on what should’ve been Mk.II’s swansong live effort COME HELL OR HIGH WATER (1994) {*3}
DEEP PURPLE lumbered on, recruiting ex-KANSAS and Dixie Dregs’ axeman Steve Morse, who raised the bar for their 1996 album PURPENDICULAR {*6}. Adding another dimension to DEEP PURPLE’s sinking ship, the quintet had at least moved with the times on acoustic-flavoured gems such as the almost Celtic `The Aviator’, `A Touch Away’ and `Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming’, while head-bangers could remain shaking their deep dandruff by way of `Vavoom: Ted The Mechanic’ and `Soon Forgotten’; updating their stage/concert repertoire once again, at least LIVE AT THE OLYMPIA ’96 (1997) {*6} would bring something new (and of course old and golden) to the table.
ABANDON (1998) {*6} was another to slightly surprise their ever faithful support who were literally growing old and grey waiting for them to retire. But this was harder-edged than its predecessor, heavy in places and certainly creative with songs such as `Any Fule Kno That’, `Watching The Sky’ and `Jack Ruby’ (the latter their most political to-date, albeit a little late in the day).
Following on from the conceit of 1970’s `Concerto For Group And Orchestra’, DP decided to bring the dreaded rock-meets-classical concept into the 21st Century. IN CONCERT WITH THE LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA (2000) {*5} found the granddads of rock at the Royal Albert Hall, dredging up past classics and rendering them so far out of context it was hard to ascertain exactly who this album was aimed at. Nevertheless, guest appearances by the likes of Ronnie James DIO and strangely, Sam Brown, made for at least minor diversions from the muddled ambitions of the main programme.
On a completely different note, in all senses of the term, BANANAS (2003) {*7} was a back-to-roots kind of affair, or at least it would have been if DEEP PURPLE had started out sounding this relaxed. Less bombast, self indulgence and ego made for one of the better DP sets of recent years with a really quite surprising suppleness to the blues-boogie on offer. The absence of JON LORD (now totally immersed in the classical world) wasn’t felt too badly either, with veteran Don Airey (from OZZY OSBOURNE, et al) doing a fine job and earning a couple of writing credits on the better tracks. GILLAN, GLOVER, Morse, Paice and Airey served up some of their oddest but smokiest cuts since the 70s on `House Of Pain’, `Picture Of Innocence’, `I Got Your Number’ and the demure `Never A Word’.
The same line-up remained remarkably intact on 2005’s RAPTURE OF THE DEEP {*6}, berating the ageist attitudes of corporate music media on the corrosive `MTV’; `Money Talks’ (although very Zeppelin-esque), `Girls Like That’ and `Wrong Man’ were equally on par with anything the old DP were capable of. Pity then that it’s only been the odd and sparingly concert CD/DVD releases that have made the shops. LIVE AT MONTREUX 2006 (2007) {*6} and LIVE AT MONTREUX 2011 (2011) {*5} – both delivered for “twilight” imprint Eagle Records – showed why it’s easy to be frustrated with DEEP PURPLE as well as excited.
While it was sad to hear the passing of the great JON LORD in July 2012, the band’s long-standing keyboard kingpin Don Airey and his DEEP PURPLE buddies (Gillan, Glover, Morse and Paice) paid homage by updating their studio CV for the long-awaited NOW WHAT?! (2013) {*7}. For those fans that had long since left their ‘Purple albums in the attic of their minds, this electrifying set was a partying prog-rock meister-stroke. Nearly up there with their great 70s sets, producer Bob Ezrin managed to squeeze the last ounce of funky soul from a band that many thought had swaggered off the rock’n’roll radar. Opener `A Simple Song’, the explosive `Weirdistan’, the AC/DC-esque `Hell To Pay’ and the neo-classical `Uncommon Man’, all have that indefinable DEEP PURPLE formula of finding fervidity in rock.
2017’s INFINITE {*6} was a striving rockin’n’roving studio set; recorded as it was by producer/co-scribe Bob Ezrin in Nashville, Toronto, Stockholm, Tel Aviv and Harston, England. Harder, heavier and never taking their foot off the pedal, DEEP PURPLE were back in the Top 10 for the first time in thirty years. Airey’s keyboard flashes were particular highlights as Gillan and Co reeled off several dynamic numbers, including `Hip Boots’, `The Surprizing’ and `Birds Of Prey’; a brutal addendum cover of The DOORS’ `Roadhouse Blues’ was neither necessary nor needed. Whether infinity is their aim (50 years in the biz soon approaching!), DEEP PURPLE could rest easy as the world’s longest-serving hard-rock band. ‘Sabbath R.I.P.
Despite the growing COVID-19 global pandemic that nearly put paid to their umpteenth set, DEEP PURPLE – with producer/co-songsmith Bob Ezrin again in tow – finally unveiled the mighty WHOOSH! (2020) {*8}. The delayed Top 5 record served up a smorgasbord of heavy sounds from hard rock, prog, blues, rock’n’roll, melodic metal and classical – and somehow it worked on every level. One piece in particular, the earthy `Nothing At All’ – with its killer guitar licks and organ flourishes – was the ace in the pack, whereas the ageing Gillan’s vocal soared equally on edgy opener, `Throw My Bones’ and follow-on track, `Drop The Weapon’. Recalling halcyon days of the mid-70s, `No Need To Shout’ managed to snare fans old and new; and the 5-piece could stretch even further via a funky “Shades Of” remake from ’68, one of two instrumentals, the other through the atmospheric, prog-styled `Remission Possible’ gem, sandwiched nicely between the sinister `The Power Of The Moon’ and the soaring `Man Alive’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2011-Aug2020

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