Deep Purple – Machine Head

Deep Purple – Machine Head
Released March, 1972

Part of the “Unholy Trinity of British Hard Rock”, Deep Purple, along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, were responsible for solidifying Heavy Metal as a genre in 1970’s Britain. They came about after Chris Curtis, who used to play drums for The Searchers, decided he’d put together a supergroup by the name of Roundabout, where musicians would come and go from the lineup, a sort of musical roundabout. Seeking finance for the venture, Curtis took the concept to a group of London businessmen who got on board and ponied up the cash. The group leased a Hertfordshire country house where the band would write and rehearse, and decked it out full of Marshall amplifier gear.
Curtis started the recruitment drive and snagged Hammond organ player John Lord, and a young session guitarist by the name of Ritchie Blackmore. It was late 1967 when Chris Curtis was forced out of his own project due to his erratic behaviour, but Lord and Blackmore continued on recruiting for the project. John Lord’s old mate Nick Simper was drafted to play bass, and Blackmore knew Simper from the early 60s when both their respective bands were starting to become active in the scene. Bobbie Woodman was Lord and Blackmore’s first choice for drums, but when they auditioned singer Rod Evans, Evans bought his drummer along. Woodman ducked out for some cigarettes and they held a sneaky audition for Ian Paice. Paice ousted Woodman then and there, Evans took the reigns on lead vocals, and their audition process was over. Roundabout toured Denmark and Sweden in April 1968, but on return Blackmore suggested the band change it’s name to Deep Purple, after his grandma’s favourite song. It was that or Concrete God. I think they made the right decision.
Come May 1968, Purple moved to Pye Studios in London to record their first album. “Shades of Deep Purple” went to number 24 on Billboard’s pop album charts on the back of Hush, a cover of the Joe South track. As a result, they supported Cream on their Goodbye tour. Their second album, “The Book of Taliesyn” was released in the US early, to coincide with their tour there, and it reached #38 on the Billboard chart, though it wouldn’t be released until early the next year in the UK. After their self titled third album, Deep Purple’s record label went belly up, leaving the band cashless. Fortunately, Warner Bros. took over their account and the band toured the US in 69. It was here they decided to take a heavier turn and sacked both Evans and Simper. They found (current) singer Ian Gilland and bass player Roger Glover, and they released their first studio record with this lineup, “In Rock”, their first heavy metal venture. 1971 saw the band travel to a casino in Montreux, Switzerland to record our album, “Machine Head”, however, during a Frank Zappa concert some “stupid” with a flare gun caused a fire, burning the place “to the ground”. Sound familiar? Machine Head went straight to number one. And fair enough. What an awesome album. The blues rock/heavy metal fusion is fantastic to listen to. It’s easy to see why they get put in the same category as Zeppelin. Both are supremely talented groups of musicians.
“Machine Head” features timeless classics like ‘Highway Star’, ‘Lazy’, and of course, Smoke ‘On The Water’. But how about the lesser known tracks? ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ is an exceptional display of how right Deep Purple are as a band, perfectly syncing guitars and organs. It also shows off their vocal harmonies, which are quite often overlooked in their particular genre. If you had a guitarist like Ritchie Blackmore, you’d put guitar solos in everything too. But when you’ve got a drummer with the class of Ian Paice, why not start a track with a kickass drum solo? ‘Pictures of Home’ is everything you want in a Deep Purple track. Minimal vocals, blistering solos and dark imagery. If you want a bass Masterclass, have a go at ‘Space Truckin’’. A weird song lyrically, but one that Roger Glover takes by the scruff of its neck and makes it his own. It also features a lot of Paice’s amazing drumming.
I saw Deep Purple lives few weeks ago and let me tell you, for old boys, they still rock. Hard. And they are definitely still worthy of the Guiness record of Loudest Band they held in 1975. They don’t make them like these guys anymore.

I have previously referred to the afternoons on weekends when my Mum would go out and, seizing the moment, Dad would close all the doors and windows and crank the stereo. Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” was on popular rotation during those days. Not only that, but having 2 brothers who taught themselves guitar and a plethora of muso friends, I was constantly subjected to the 4 note power chords of ‘Smoke on the Water’. I got excited when I saw that the album was 7 tracks in length, but quickly realised the songs were longer than your average length! Most of the tracks are drawn out with excessive guitar or keys solos, but they are surprisingly just bearable. For me, a clear stand out was the ironically upbeat ‘Never Before’, I liked the funky intro and the gradual build to a rockin’ pace.  Of course, you can’t go past ‘Smoke on the Water’, the perfect rock anthem and a timeless classic in its own right.  It also features one of the most memorable and definitely the most played, guitar riffs ever known to man (as previously alluded to above!) I also loved ‘Lazy’, with its overdriven organ instrumental intro and gradually grows to a full-bodied and fast tempoed blues-rock track with a swing beat – it just works so well! When I was growing up, I would never have guessed that one day I would choose to listen to Deep Purple for my own enjoyment, but I was pleasantly surprised when I did, because I now can see it for it’s true context, and recognise this album’s significance in developing the heavy metal and progressive rock sound that we know today.

Opening track ‘Highway Star’ showcases everything that makes Deep Purple, and this album, so special. Ian Gillan’s voice was at its peak and his powerful high notes are used to startling effect before the first lyrics are sung. The opening chug of the song’s intro slowly reaches a state of urgency as the rhythm section of bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice tighten the reins. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore scrapes his pick down the strings and Jon Lord’s fabulous organ work completes the sound. Arguably the greatest car song ever, the solos performed by Lord and Blackmore add another dimension to the track, rather than serve as an excuse to show off their chops. Lord’s descending arpeggios are very baroque-influenced, exposing his classical training. The dual harmony guitar lines of Blackmore are fantastic, and you can almost hum/sing along to them. Although ‘Smoke On The Water’ is the record’s most famous track (and riff), it’s the weakest in my opinion. I think that’s only because I’ve heard it eleventy hundred bazillion times though. ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ has a great groove with a simple one line refrain in place of a chorus and the thunderous ‘Picture of Home’ gives Paice and Glover their moment to shine. Glover’s bass solo is one of the album’s most innovative moments. ‘Lazy’ is one of the best blues tracks ever constructed by a hard rock band and ‘Space Trucking’ ends the album with a bang. Although the chorus lyrically consists of just “Come on, come on/Come on, let’s go space truckin’…” that riff is irresistible. How this album wasn’t included on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time is beyond me.

NB: I highly recommend the 25th Anniversary double disc, which includes Roger Glover’s 1997 remixes. There are no fade outs, alternate guitar solos and the drums sound way better!

Hands up those of you that like heavy metal music? One, maybe two of you raised your hand right? That’s what we’re up against this week with Deep Purple’s album “Machine Head”. Heavy metal is really one of those genres you either love or hate. And those who love it REALLY love it, those who don’t REALLY don’t. I’m kind of ambivalent myself. I wouldn’t choose to put it on, but a brother and sister who were quite fond of it and a drummer brother-in-law has meant my exposure over the years has been more than most. I wasn’t sure how I was going to go with this album to tell you the truth. My only exposure to Deep Purple was ‘Smoke On The Water’, just like everyone else you’ve ever met. First track came out hard and was full of classic riffs that would go on to shape the genre. The second track ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ surprised me with its bluesy funk.  Third track ‘Pictures of Home’ starts out with a cracking drum solo. To be honest, the rest of the songs sort of blended into each from there for me. It’s not that they were bad, it’s the whole ambivalent thing. Which is weird because Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” is one of my favourite albums so far for the 70s. I can appreciate “Machine Head” for what it is and see how integral Deep Purple were to shaping the hard rock and heavy metal genres. I don’t think I’ll be listening again in a hurry though.

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