Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Deep Purple - Deep Purple

Deep Purple

Released 1969 on Harvest
Reviewed by Fitter Stoke, 22/10/2009ce

Way back at the turn of the 70's, I was trudged by my parents to the home of some family friends whose never-present, late-teenage son had a small collection of battered LP's and 45's. With the aid of a cheapo stereo and and even cheaper pair of cans, I was left to absorb every minute of the scratched aural delights available, revelling in sounds so much more contemporary and interesting than the classical and brass band records with which my dear old Dad had began my musical indoctrination at home. And the most impressionable and vital of these new discoveries was 'Deep Purple'.

Man, did I love that record. So much about it seemed so new and exotic: the well weird, sicko Bosch painting on the glossy gatefold cover, the vivid purple inner gatefold with nothing but record company details on one side and some hip-speak liner notes on the other, and the oil lamp Harvest logo on the label that screamed coolness in comparison to the dated MFP and Columbia 'Magic Notes' graphics that had graced most of the records I had seen up to that point. And then came the music, and like WOW. 'Deep Purple' was the real beginning of my personal musical education into the bad old world of rock and roll - even though, as I now realise, there was only a limited amount of REAL rock and roll going down here. Hindsight - and 'Deep Purple In Rock' - are wonderful things, but you're not here to read about them. Back to the subject in hand, and what was coming out of those grotty headphones that evening in 1970.

For one thing, my tender young earholes had never heard anything like the primal percussive racket that is 'Chasing Shadows', the opener to the album and quite the most extraordinary and original track Purple had laid down on record up to that point. It still stands out of their forty year canon like nothing else this far west of Cologne or north of Zimbabwe: five and a half minutes of relentless multi-tracked drums and percussion overlaying Rod Evans' strange, yearning vocal line and stabbing guitar chords from Herr Blackmore. Old Jon lords it up in his inimitable fashion with an almost jokey-sounding organ solo near the end, before Purple's only ever-present member, the colossus that is Ian Paice, carries that pounding, massive beat to the song's sudden end: an end instigated by merely stopping the tape DEAD - like the contemporaneous 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)' - without fade or warning. Lordy effing BE. It knocked my socks off as a ten year old, and still does now. You've never really heard Deep Purple (the band) until you've experienced 'Chasing Shadows'. It inhabits a tribal world in the same solar system as Can's 'Monster Movie', but with a strong melodic vibe that is uniquely Purple. Download immediately!

Next up are two gorgeous slices of time-locked, late 60's baroque pop. Rod Evans is the perfect front man for 'Blind', a lovely, harpsichord-laden, minor-keyed ballad with an opening lick that sounds like a darker version of 'Stand By Me' (or The Zombies' then-recent 'Time Of The Season', come to that matter). Mk 1's vocalist shows spot-on tuning, superb dynamics and a real sense of melodrama - all very cabaret and very UN-rock and roll - further exemplified in Donovan's 'Lalena' which comes next: the album's only non-original. About as far away from 'Smoke On The Water' as you can imagine, these two songs simultaneously show (a) Rod Evans' vocal skills at their Tony Christie-esque best and (b) why he just had to go if his band were ever going to turn into real rock and roll. But, taken on their own merits, they deliver a not-dissimilar kick to early Scott Walker. I love 'em.

Things get back on the upbeat with 'The Painter' - a rockin' three chord basher with Ritchie doing what Ritchie does best over a driving beat that sounds like an early precursor to the Madchester vibe. In fact, the whole song comes across like an early version of the Roses' 'Driving South' - no kidding - only I much, much prefer this. It emerges out of one of the most intriguing and left-field items in the whole Purple catalogue in 'Fault Line' - a doom-laden instrumental splattered with backward tapes, coming somewhere between 'Tomorrow Never Knows' and the angst-ridden instrumentals that Bowie would create from Berlin eight years later. As out there as the album's opening track, this cries out to be heard.

'Why Didn't Rosemary', continuing the rhythm and blues feel of 'Painter', is perhaps the most predictable and disposable track on the album, but gives Lord and Blackmore plenty of opportunity to display their impressive wares. The real meat of Side Two starts with 'Bird Has Flown', built around a superb, Hendrix-inspired wah-wah riff and an androit, angular melody played unison between Evans and an increasingly heavy guitar and organ combination. The buds of the Mk II style are sprouting here.* Other delights include one of Blackmore's best ever solos (featuring that wah-wah pedal again) and the fabulous, slow-building crescendo that brings the song to an awe-inspiring close.

Finally, there's Jon Lord's epic 'April', at twelve minutes one of Purple's longest and most distinctive tracks. Pre-empting the (unjustifiably notorious) 'Concerto For Group & Orchestra' of the same year, this is a much less bitter pill for the uninitiated to swallow. Structured around an beautiful, lyrical melody appearing in three guises - a plaintive duet between the composer and Blackmore (with timpani), a nicely-orchestrated classical sequence for chamber ensemble (not as horrendous as it sounds, I promise - check out the oboe serenade, 'Joy Of A Toy' fans) and a welcome, electric band section at the end where the whole thing resolves itself in a most satisfying manner. It ain't rock'n'roll, but I liked it...and I still do.

Of course, I was naive then, and maybe easily pleased. Thing is though, I kept on liking Purple's third album as I continued my course through Rock and Roll High School and, indeed, well after graduation. Sure, I got more into 'Machine Head', 'Made In Japan', 'Burn' and most of the 'classic' Purple catalogue, until today I am a fully paid up - and proud - member of the DPAS to boot. But my first taste of the band (pun intended) - and of the bad old world of album-orientated rock in general - remains special to me for its myriad of often truly unique sounds and styles. It's a real jack-of-all-trades mish-mash that not only brings back the memories but brings on the thrills as well. No, it ain't 'In Rock' - but if you're interested in checking out how that particular flower was sown - and aren't averse to a bit of late sixties' post-psychedelia - check out 'Deep Purple'. Then play it to your impressionable ten year old son - through a decent stereo!

(* The version of 'Bird Has Flown' by the Gillan-era Mk II line up is an interesting comparison: find it on the excellent 'Listen, Learn, Read On' box set.)

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