Forming in 1968, Deep Purple started off as a progressive rock band, and were arguably always that, but as they drifted towards more and more hard rock in their musical palette, that is the thing they are most remembered for. One of the earliest successful bands that played what would come to be known as Heavy Metal, they are not mentioned as often as Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, despite their template being arguably the one most often followed by the majority of Metal bands and certainly the Hair Metal explosion of the 1980s. Built off the back of Ritchie Blackmore’s incendiary guitar playing, Jon Lord’s unique Hammond organ playing and Ian Gillan’s amazing voice, their influence cannot be overstated.
The original line-up split several times, the first time launching the career of David Coverdale and propelling Glenn Hughes to the mainstream, as well as Ronnie James Dio (through the launching of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow). The second split of the Mark II line-up proved permanent, with Steve Morse taking over guitar duties. Jon Lord left the band and has passed away, Don Airie is now the organ player in Deep Purple. They continue to record new music and tour.
Like Jimmy Page, Ritche Blackmore was a session guitarist, so his influences were wide because they needed to be. Beyond that, having started in 1968, their influences were bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly and Jeff Beck. Jon Lord also brought a classical influence, but Blackmore also played classically inspired lines, which explains why he’s the main guitar influence on Yngwie Malmsteen.
Machine Head – 1972
In the 80s, members of Deep Purple noted that the song ‘Smoke on the Water’ made each of them a million dollars a year. The Deep Purple song that pretty much everyone knows comes from this, their most celebrated album. The album opens with ‘Highway Star,’ a song Blackmore wrote by playing a riff to show a journalist how songs might be written. Featuring a classically influenced and highly memorable solo, it’s immediately clear this album has more than one song going for it. While the early CD masters were muddy and obscured the gems on offer here, since the remaster it’s been apparent that this album is a stone cold classic, the extended blues of ‘Lazy’ rubbing shoulders comfortably with the laid back ‘Maybe I’m a Leo’ and the almost funky ‘Never Before.’ ‘Pictures of Home’ in particular is criminally underrated and the addition of B-side ‘When a Blind Man Cries’ to later releases rounds things out to perfection.
Perfect Strangers – 1984
After the Tommy Bolin line-up imploded, Gillan’s solo band continued to have only minor success, and Rainbow became a pop band, there was a lot of excitement about a reunion of the Mark II line up. The seven-minute opening track starts with Jon Lord’s organ and builds into a track that lives up to all expectations. It’s called ‘Knocking at your Back Door’, and it’s about exactly what you think. From there, the album goes from strength to strength, with title track, ‘Perfect Strangers,’ an obvious highlight, but there’s not a bad track on this album.
Made in Japan – 1972
Having been inspired by progressive music, Deep Purple were always a live jamming band. This album was released at the height of their powers, and was a double album on release. More recent CD releases have included all three gigs that were recorded for this album. The shortest track on this album is a reasonably faithful rendering of ‘Highway Star.’ On the other hand, ‘Space Truckin” is just over four minutes on the album, and took up an entire album side and clocked in at 20 minutes on this live release. With only seven tracks, and four from Machine Head, this album is beloved because of all the musical detours it contains, including a moment where Ian Gillan reprises his role in the then-fresh musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. Deep Purple live today is nothing like this, and the world is poorer for it.
In Rock – 1970
While the casual fan would look to Machine Head as the best Deep Purple album, cooler heads would look to the first Deep Purple album that took a hard rock direction, called In Rock. ‘Speed King’ and ‘Hard Lovin’ Man’ create the blueprint for pretty much every hard rock band that followed. They even did the galloping guitar thing well before it became Iron Maiden’s 80s template. ‘Child in Time’ was Ian Gillan’s tour de force, showing of the full extent of his amazing vocal powers. ‘Bloodsucker’ and ‘Living Wreck’ provided the diversions that showed the band had depth and wasn’t a one trick pony. ‘Flight of the Rat’ is built on a driving rock riff. The first album by the Mark II line up is arguably the best in terms of creating commercial heavy rock, basically out of thin air.
Burn – 1974
Of the two studio albums with David Coverdale, the first was the best, not least for ‘Burn,’ a song whose riff is not that far from what Blackmore went on to do in Rainbow, and ‘Mistreated,’ a bluesy riff extravaganza that gave David Coverdale a signature song. Elsewhere, Deep Purple moved in a funk influenced direction, to the delight of Glenn Hughes. This might seem odd now, but at the time, they were moving in the same direction as everyone else and following a growing trend. Songs like ‘Might just take your Life’ were more laid back and commercial. Definitely a mixed bag but with some definite highlights and must-hear tracks.
Fireball – 1971
Starting with a driving rock song, Fireball is a mixed bag for heavy rock fans because it sees the influence of Blackmore waning and other influences coming to the fore. Blackmore always wanted to go for hard rock whereas the rest of the band wanted to play in a variety of styles. ‘Anyone’s Daughter’ is basically a straight up country song. ‘Demon’s Eye’ is a classic riff rocker that would not be out of place on In Rock or Machine Head. ‘No one Came’ is the other classic rock song on this album. After that, this is a good introduction in to the breadth of what Deep Purple were capable of, even if some of it may fall flat. The last song, ‘Strange Kind of Woman,’ remains a concert staple.
Now What?! – 2013
After years of average releases, Deep Purple got together with Bob Ezrin and released their best album in decades. Ian Gillan may not aim for the same high notes anymore, and Steve Morse’s playing has slowed down, due to his arthritis, but these aren’t young guys trying to make their name, they are elder statesmen, creating music that reflects their depth of experience and abilities.
The House of Blue Light – 1987
After the success of Perfect Strangers, Deep Purple were poised to continue a second golden run. The market was ripe for what they could offer, but instead they looked at what other people were doing and tried to follow. Unlike the insipid live album that followed, where Jon Lord’s mighty Hammond was replaced by generic synths, this album is not a complete loss. It was however, a step down as they followed trends instead of leading. Ultimately, where fans sat on this album was dictated by the degree to which they were into the Hair Metal of the time, and the sounds that this album was pursuing.
Concerto for Group and Orchestra – 1969
Deep Purple always aimed for something more than being a pop group and tried to stretch boundaries. Sometimes it worked very well. On the other hand, Jon Lord in particular was the guy behind this fiasco. While it has one useful purpose (which is, to mock bands who do an album with an orchestra and pretend the idea is new), the fact is, if you buy this, you’re unlikely to listen to it through once, let alone play it again.
Killer play list for your phone:
‘Child in Time’ – In Rock
‘Speed King’ – In Rock
‘Flight of the Rat’ – In Rock
‘Fireball’ – Fireball
‘No one Came’ – Fireball
‘Strange Kind of Woman’ – Fireball
‘Highway Star’ – Machine Head
‘Smoke on the Water’ – Machine Head
‘Pictures of Home’ – Machine Head
‘Lazy’ – Machine Head
‘Space Truckin’’ – Machine Head
‘Woman from Tokyo’ – Who Do We Think We Are
‘Rat Bat Blue’ – Who Do We Think We Are
‘Burn’ – Burn
‘Mistreated’ – Burn
‘Stormbringer’ – Stormbringer
‘Perfect Strangers’ – Perfect Strangers
‘Knocking at your Back Door’ – Perfect Strangers