To know why Deep Purple matter, you just have to listen to the blistering, gonzoid opening of Speed King.
If you can, do it now. This was 1970 – when people still thought Roger Whittaker was edgy. Nearly 42 years later, it’s still as joyful an explosion of noise as you will ever hear. Released just after Led Zeppelin 2 and Black Sabbath’s debut, Purple were the third of the Great Originators of hard rock. Where Sabbath were wonderfully sludgy, and Zeppelin in thrall to the blues, Purple were flashy and turbo-charged. For my part, I was three months old, and failed to persuade my mum to buy me a copy of the classic “In Rock” album upon release.
I had to wait fourteen years, when the reforming of Deep Purple made a huge impression on the minds of about 0.5% of the UK, with the rest wondering “who are Deep Purple?” if they noticed it at all.
It was big news for me because a friend was a big fan, and had a ticket for the Concert Of The Decade at Knebworth Park.
I didn’t have a ticket. But I did know the “Black Night” song that Laser 558 played late at night. My friend was insistent that this was Big News, and lent me Purple’s comeback album “Perfect Strangers” which I agreed to give a go on the condition that:
- It was going to be better than the last album he lent me: the (in my mind) hippy warblings of Rush, and
- It had songs on it like Black Night.
When Stuart told me “Mark Two” was best and “Mark One” not worth bothering with, it took me a while to realise he was talking about the Band’s line up, and not Ford Escorts.
One-time Guinness World Record holders of “Loudest Pop Band”, the reformed Purple was the classic Mark Two line up of Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice.
Gillan, who played Jesus in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical had a Christ-like impact on the band’s popularity. Purple had been a rather lifeless prog rock band until Gillan raised it from its sick bed.
Unfortunately the role of Messiah had already been taken by The Temperamental Ritchie Blackmore, a man who could start an argument in an empty room.
Blackmore’s solution to his inability to get on with his lead singer was to sack him after four albums and get two lead singers to replace him: the mk. 3 line up of David Coverdale (later of Whitesnake) and Glenn Hughes (later of Sabbath and er, KLF).
Having two lead singers to argue with was initially enjoyable for the famously moody Blackmore, but he eventually decided you could have too much of a good thing. He left the band to form Rainbow in order to exact his revenge upon all lead singers in a Miss Havisham-esque period during which he broke the hearts of more lead singers than Paula Yates and Patsy Kensit combined.
The reformed mk. 2 line up famously wrote the song “Smoke On The Water” after Frank Zappa burned down the casino at Montreaux after
his flares caught fire a flare set the building alight. Famously easy to learn how to play, this famous riff has subsequently been played badly in more guitar shops than any other and cemented the band’s place in rock history.
In retrospect, Perfect Strangers was actually a decent comeback album. The title track was good in a Kashmir sort of way and the lead single Knocking on your Back Door had a killer introduction. The rest was certainly far better than anyone had any right to expect from a band whose best days were supposed to have passed a decade before.
Given the success and popularity of contemporaries Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath in the last few years, it is odd how the popularity of Deep Purple is roughly where that of Phil Collins would have been had he left Genesis to become a phone-hacking News of the World journalist and part-time MP.
Their 1985 comeback tour was the second highest grossing tour of the year behind Bruce Springsteen, and their influence on rock music up until grunge was palpable. Certainly more so than Black Sabbath, who were tremendously unfashionable even within rock circles until Nirvana adapted their riffs…
Deep Purple however? They don’t even garner a mention in the current Rolling Stone Album Guide and still await induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame – 18 years after they became eligible. They influenced the likes of Iron Maiden and Metallica not to mention a hundred hair metal bands – and perhaps there’s the rub. When you are held partly responsible for unleashing a hundred hair metal bands, perhaps people are not yet ready to forgive and forget.
Record #19: Deep Purple – Knocking on your Back Door
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