Having said that though take nothing away from this album, and never underestimate its importance in the formation of progressive heavy rock music. If you like any form of rock music you owe a huge debt of gratitude to this album, and not just to Ritchie Blackmore either despite this often being referred to as Blackmore’s Purple album. Each and every one of this line up laid down the blueprint for what is expected of their instrument on this album. It is possible to argue that Machine Head was a better all round album. But what must be remembered is that “In Rock” began to take shape in late 1969 when this type of music was very new indeed and that the band had only been together for a few months.
“In Rock” or “Deep Purple In Rock”, I have never been quite sure of the correct moniker, was recorded in three seperate studios across London between August 1969 and February 1970. Opening track ‘Speed King’ began life as ‘Kneel and Pray’ and had been in the live set for over two months before it was even attempted in a studio setting. The initial idea had come from Roger Glover, as did a lot of the tracks, and was based around a riff he had similar to ‘Fire’ by Jimi Hendrix. Musically the interplay between Blackmore and Lord in the middle part of the song sets the standard for the next four or five years and Gillan’s vocal shows immediately why the band needed to replace the unfortunate Evans if this was the direction they were to go in. ‘Bloodsucker’ is a slower but in places even heavier track. Lord’s brief organ solo giving the song the light it needs before Blackmore riffs the track out.
What comes next is, for me, the greatest studio recording of all time. Yes, I know people are going to tell me the “Made In Japan” version is better, and they are probably right but that doesn’t stop this being the best thing ever laid down in a studio. Gillan displays every vocal quality he has from the gentle delivery of the lyric to the unbelievable power of the screams. The solos and musical passages are amongst the best that Blackmore or Lord ever managed and the rhythm section of Glover and Paice is truly majestic. I still get a chill every time Blackmore launches into his solo and then into the almost machine gun like frenzy that follows. When I slip from this mortal coil there are going to be some bewildered faces as that lets rip !!! Similarities to ‘Bombay Calling’ by Its A Beautiful Day have never been denied by the band and take nothing away from the songs magnificence. Strangely though Ian Gillan has never been particularly fond of the song and often refers to his contribution as “yelling over a racket” !!!
Initially the plan was to record the album in its entirety in September 1970 but this idea soon fell by the wayside due to the touring commitments and the live performance of Jon Lord’s Gemini Suite. Subsequently only one track was completed, the country and western hillbilly tinged ‘Anyone’s Daughter’.
Eventually the band returned to the studio during the last week of January 1971 for the first of several short sessions inbetween live commitments. ‘Strange Kind of Woman’ was recorded during the early sessions and released as a single during the UK tour. Rising to number 8 in the UK chart it gave the band their second and final top ten hit. It was subsequently left off the album in the UK but was included on the US release in place of ‘Demon’s Eye’.
“Fireball” kicks off with the title track. Played at a breakneck pace throughout it starts with the whooshing sound of the studio air conditioning being turned on. Paice’s drumming is particularly dynamic and the song was both released as a second single for 1971 and used in a live setting, mostly as an encore, to great effect although it was omitted from the original “Made In Japan” album. According to Blackmore who has never hidden his dislike of the album it is one of only three songs on the album that are any good. The second of those ‘No, No, No’ is a great funky song which is my personal favourite from the album. Inspired by Shuggie Otis who Blackmore was listening to quite a bit at the time it is the complete opposite to the opener. It is a ridiculously under estimated track by most and composition wise is on a par with any of the bands better known tracks. All five band members are totally at the top of their game and put in five star performances. Why it is never included in the numerous ‘best of’s’ is beyond me. The funky and infuriatingly infectious ‘Demon’s Eye’ which was left off the American release to allow the inclusion of UK only single ‘Strange Kind of Woman’ has an almost Free like groove to it in places. The aforementioned ‘Anyone’s Daughter’ recorded way back in the early session follows and continues the theme of a humerous lyric but as good as it is it is difficult to see why it was included on the album in preference to some of the rejected tracks that have since surfaced. Drum vehicle ‘The Mule’ was recorded at that early session too and is the other weak link on an otherwise fine album. Some overdubs were needed due to some parts being erased in the studio but by the time this was evident Ian Paice’s drums had been packed up and shipped abroad for a tour so a hired kit had to be used. Drum officianado’s claim this is easy to hear in the final recording but I must admit that I am not qualified in skin beating enough to be able to tell. Things pick up again, for me and Ritchie Blackmore anyway, with ‘Fools’ which is the third of the tracks to recieve the nod of approval from the man in black. A hugely atmospheric track it features Blackmore using his volume control to achieve a cello like effect. Something he had been doing during live performances for some time. The lyric and vocal from Gillan is also particularly pleasing even if a little of it was regurgitatated from an earlier Episode Six song. After a slow gentle almost acoustic start the song simply explodes into a hard hitting swipe at the foolishness of mankind before it is is taken down to an almost classical level as Blackmore delivers his brief volume control solo. Just as you are relaxing into the wistfulness of it all the band come back in at full volume providing a superb contrast. Album closer ‘No One Came’ is another funky tongue in cheek comedy narrative which is also another personal favourite. Gillan’s lyric is one of his best and both Lord and Blackmore contribute excellent solos to compliment the brilliant funky rhythm of Glover and Paice.
With all the delays and problems in the recording process and the success of “In Rock” it was hardly surprising that the album was considered by many a little disappointing when it eventually surfaced in September 1971. Although it sold well it never came close to emulating the 1970 album and with the classics “Machine Head” and “Made In Japan” arriving the following year it in many ways became the forgotten #2 album which is a great shame.
It is a very different album to both “In Rock” and “Machine Head” and shows a band happy to experiment with new ideas and sounds rather than just stick to a proven formula. It is a lot mellower than “In Rock” with much more of a groove. It is also far more experimental with the almost hillbilly country of Anyone’s Daughter, the Shuggy Otis inspired funky No No No, the comedy narrative of No One Came, the drum vehicle The Mule, the atmospheric Fools, the laid back groove of Demon’s Eye and the out and out rocker Fireball.
Unfairly disregarded by most “Fireball” was in its way as important to the evolution of Deep Purple as any of their more illustrious albums and it deserves far more respect than it gets.
The quality doesn’t drop as the opening track ends either as the slower but just as hard hitting ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ takes the funkiness of the “Fireball” album and marries it perfectly with the power of “In Rock”. Something that is evident throughout “Machine Head” in fact is that it is the perfect blend of the two previous albums and why for me it is marginally superior. Blackmore takes two typically classy solos during ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’. ‘Pictures of Home’ sees Blackmore on another speed trip as Gillan tells a tale of loneliness and desolation. Don’t be thinking this all about speed and Blackmore though as Lord, Glover and Paice all get in on the act with brief runs at the forefront of the song. ‘Never Before’, which was released as a single, shows that Purple were capable of coming up with a funky jazzy uptempo song long before the arrival of Glenn Hughes. The band themselves were convinced it was a sure fire hit and that it was the most commercial thing they had ever recorded. Radio stations and the record buying public disagreed and it did nothing chart wise. For many people it is also the weakest link on the album as it is far different to the lengthier numbers and lacks the trademark intstrumental interplay between the soloists. It also has a rather odd feel to it but I have grown rather fond of it over the years after initially being a little indifferent towards it.
The most dreaded sound in any guitar shop owners ears follows next. The riff that became the riff of a whole musical genre almost by accident leads into a song that is far better than most people these days tend to admit. Over exposure leads to indifference I suppose in the same way that simplicity leads to genius. Both are relevent statements about ‘Smoke on The Water’ and I intend to add no other comment other than ….. look past the riff and the lyric and there is some pretty amazing stuff going on.
‘Lazy’ had been part of the live set for some time so was pretty tight for a standard blues shuffle by the time it was recorded. Gillan throws in a bit of harmonica alongside a typically powerful vocal. Blackmore has often criticised his solo on the album version but cites the live performances of it amongst his favourites. In fact he still throws snatches of it in now and again to this day. ‘Space Truckin’ closes the album as it did the live shows but thankfully is not extended to its full half an hour here. As a song I have never enjoyed the vocal part or melody as much as on other Purple tracks and musically it lacks the finesse of some of the other tracks. For me it is clearly the weakest track on the album. Putting me out on something of a limb.
Although not included on the original album it wouldn’t be right to conclude this review without mentioning ‘When A Blindman Cries’ which was issued as the B-side to ‘Never Before’. One of Ian Gillan’s favourite tracks, and arguably one of his best ever ‘gentle’ vocals, it was hated by Blackmore who refused point blank to allow it to be included on the album. A truly superb gentle blues ballad it was a crime that it was consigned to the obscurity of a B-side. Let alone one that didn’t sell. Thankfully the twenty five year remaster has included it as well some unused solos and a total remix of the entire album alongside the remaster.
“Machine Head” still stands as one of the most significant solid pieces of rock history ever laid down on tape. Even surpassing 1970’s Purple offering “In Rock” it remains one of the few genuine must own albums for any serious seventies rock music lover. The studio versions of onstage classics ‘Highway Star’, ‘Lazy’, ‘Space Truckin’ and ‘Smoke On The Water’ making this album very much the foundation for “Made In Japan” which followed later that year and is arguably the finest live album ever recorded.
So turn out the lights, turn up the volume, settle down with your drink of choice and take a trip back to 1972 for a true piece of classic rock history.
By the time the second line up of Deep Purple came to record their fourth studio album they were a band in dis-array. In fact the whole thing was falling apart so badly that it is something of a miracle that they managed to record anything let alone an album as good as “Who Do We Think We Are”. Okay so its not as good as “In Rock”, “Fireball” or “Machine Head” but it still has its moments. In fact the press reviews of the day thought it was the equal of its more illustrious brothers referring to it as crafted, powerful and brilliant. Initial recording sessions in Italy during July of 1972 were abandoned due to a mixture of illness and lack of enthusiasm. Strangely the only track to come out of that session was opening track ‘Woman From Tokyo’. The one and only track on the album that most fans feel is in the same vein and of the same quality as the classic earlier recordings. The rest of the album was eventually recorded later in the year in Germany, once again using The Rolling Stones Mobile.
As mentioned earlier, opening track ‘Woman From Tokyo’ is for many, myself included, the highlight of the album and features the usually top quality musical interplay and structure you expect from a Deep Purple track. Blackmore though has always hated the track and refused to play it live. Paice’s drum intro leading into the instantly recognisable riff is classic Purple and the slower bridge part is perfect. ‘Mary Long’ sees a return to the humourous lyric and takes a nice swipe at Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse who were banging on at the time about the decline in morals in the UK. ‘Super Trouper’ is the first of the albums rarities as it clocks in at less than three minutes. Incredibly short for a Deep Purple song of the time it is in my opinion the weakest track recorded by the #2 line up despite Blackmores interesting solo. Gillan aiming his lyrics at the unsympathetic management in the music business. Continuing the autobiographical theme ‘Smooth Dancer’ is basically Ian Gillan’s attempt to tell Blackmore how he feels about their disintegrating working relationship. By this time Gillan was coming in to do his vocals after the rest of band had left in a bid to avoid confrontation. The second real highlight on the album though for me is ‘Rat Bat Blue’. Starting with a great funky riff that wouldn’t have been out of place on “Fireball’ it quickly transforms into a hard rocking track which would have sat just as comfortably on “In Rock” or “Machine Head”. Like ‘No No No’ from “Fireball” it is surely one of Deep Purple’s most under rated songs. The plodding blues of ‘Place In Line’ is nothing very special and pales into significance when compared to ‘Lazy’ from the previous album. Lyrically it was apparently inspired from a theme in a sci-fi novel that Glover and Gillan had read depicting a life of treadmill like existence. The track manages to achieve the feeling of monotony it was supposed to depict but sadly to its own detriment. Album closer ‘Our Lady’ is the second surprise on the album as it is a Deep Purple song with no solos. Relying on its lyric and melody more than the virtuoso performance of the individual members it is indeed a strange end to the #2 recording career of the seventies. Having said that though it is still one hell of a good song.
Within months of the release of “Who Do We Think We Are” Ian Gillan had resigned and Roger Glover had been forced out by a Blackmore who had demanded, “Get a new bass player and I’ll stay”, after threatening to leave himself. Quite where Purple would have gone had Gillan’s request for some time off been granted it is impossible to say but it was a sad end to something that had begun with such drive and enthusiasm remarkably only four years earlier.