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Deep Purple Buyers Guide

From their humble beginnings as a virtual covers band – scoring their first big hit in 1968 with the Joe South tune Hush – via their lift-off in the 1970s as an album-oriented rock band to rival Zeppelin and Sabbath (both of whom would have been proud to call Smoke On The Water their own), on through their late-’70s metamorphosis into, in their own words, "a white soul band”, and even further through their spectacular 1980s reformation, right up to where they stand now, recognised as one of the most historic classic rock bands of all time, there has never been a more prolific, nor varied musical career than that of Deep Purple. While longstanding fans will have their own opinions on what constitute the band’s most remarkable albums, the following list is a guide to the Purple releases.

Machine Head (1972)

Famously recorded at the Grand Hotel in Montreux, Switzerland, using the Rolling Stones’ mobile studio, after their original choice of venue, the Casino, was burned down during a Frank Zappa show – hence the opening verse of the album’s best-known song, ‘Smoke On The Water’ – Machine Head remains Deep Purple’s most popular and successful album, reaching Number 1 in Britain and selling more than four million copies in America alone. It was also one of their very best, as evidenced by the fact that all but one of its eight original tracks remain in the band’s live set to this day. Indeed, in ‘Highway Star’, ‘Smoke On The Water’, ‘Lazy’ and ‘Space Truckin’ ’, it contained a handful of the absolute best-known rock songs of all time. And yet, according to the sleeve notes, the whole thing was ‘written and recorded between 6th and 21st December, 1971’. But then, as guitarist Ritchie Blackmore later observed, "We were at our peak then. Everything seemed possible.” Certainly Blackmore, who had almost complete control over the band’s musical direction by then, was coming up with his most memorable riffs. Vocalist Ian Gillan was also hitting a new high, not just singing better than ever but coming up with some of his cleverest lyrics yet, such as the opening verse to ‘Highway Star’ (‘Nobody gonna take my car / I’m gonna race it to the ground / Nobody gonna beat my car / It’s gonna break the speed of sound’) and, best of all, the sense of humour displayed in ‘Space Truckin’’ (We had a lot of luck on Venus / We always have a ball on Mars… We got music in our solar system / We’re space truckin’ round the stars’). Powerful, funny, clever and stuffed with head-snapping riffs, no Deep Purple collection would be complete without Machine Head.

Highway Star / Maybe I'm a Leo / Pictures of Home / Never Before / Smoke on the Water / Lazy / Space Truckin' 

Made in Japan (1972)

Recorded live over three nights in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan, in August 1972, although most of the tracks come from Machine Head, the most amazing thing about Purple’s classic live double album, Made In Japan, was that none of it sounded like anything you’d ever heard before, such was the nature of the band’s extravagant interpretations of some of their best-known tunes. Most astonishing of all, unlike almost any other famous live album you care to mention, there were no overdubs or additional performances added later in the studio, allowing those fans not lucky enough to have witnessed the band in their ’70s pomp, to really hear what a tremendous live band Deep Purple were. Arguably more so even than their studio albums, Made In Japan also helped establish Purple as one of the world’s leading heavy rock bands of the era, becoming their biggest-selling album in America, where it reached Number 6, despite being a double album, and becoming the benchmark for live rock albums throughout the rest of the decade. Already well-known as perfectionist live performers, rarely using stage gimmicks beyond their own highly volatile stage personalities, the live versions of all the rockier songs like ‘Highway Star’ and ‘Strange Kind Of Woman’ are played at a higher tempo than their studio progenitors. While longer, more "serious" tracks like ‘Child In Time’ and ‘Space Truckin’’ (the latter of which takes up the whole of Side Four on the original double-vinyl) are so stupendous as to make their studio originals seem almost lifeless by comparison.

Historical footnote: Made In Japan was originally intended as a British-only release – until tens of thousands of import copies started selling in America at ten bucks a shot, at which point the record company stepped in and released it properly in the US.

Highway Star / Child in Time / Smoke on the Water / The Mule (Drum Solo) / Strange Kind of Woman / Lazy / Space Truckin' 

Burn (1974)

The first album to feature Gillan and Glover replacements, the previously unknown singer David Coverdale and former Trapeze vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes, Burn might have been a disaster. Instead, it proved to be one of the best Deep Purple albums of them all. A tour-de-force of hard rock anthems like the scintillating title track, new directions like the more funk-oriented sound of the single from the album, ‘Might Just Take Your Life’, and, in the epic Coverdale vocal-showcase, ‘Mistreated’, one of their most masterful ballads. Although Hughes could not be credited on the sleeve as co-songwriter for contractual reasons, in reality he had a big hand in the music’s genesis. Certainly, his and Coverdale’s addition to the line-up brought a new swagger to the traditional Purple sound, as evidenced by the thumping, tail-wagging ‘Sail Away’, with the emphasis now swinging rapidly away from the hard rock template of old towards the more soulful boogie they would embrace even more fully on their subsequent ’70s albums, Stormbringer and Come Taste The Band. Mostly, though, on this album at least, it was all about the vocals. Most rock bands were happy to have one strong frontman. Purple, somewhat astonishingly, now had two. Consequently, tracks like ‘Burn’ (built around one of Blackmore’s best riffs ever) and the soaring ‘You Fool No One’ featured Coverdale and Hughes trading vocals lines to stunning effect, allowing for the sort of intricate melodic harmonies that would simply not have been possible before, and that no other major-league rock band of the era could offer. Although it was the first Purple album not to top the UK charts since Fireball (it reached Number 4), Burn was another huge commercial success worldwide, reaching Number 9 in the US where the new line-up debuted before 300,000 people at the 1974 California Jam festival.

Burn / Might Just Take Your Life / Lay Down, Stay Down / Sail Away / You Fool No One / What's Going on Here / Mistreated / "A" 200 

Deep Purple In Rock (1970)

Deep Purple In Rock was the band’s fifth album in three years but their first to feature the quintessential Purple sound as we now think of it today. Having bid farewell to both the Rod Evans-fronted line-up and sound of their first three albums – soft pop-rock based mostly on cover versions – and having made an incongruous start to the Ian Gillan-fronted MkII line-up with the windy and pretentious Concerto album recorded live with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the band finally found their musical niche with what is now regarded as one of the finest hard rock albums of all time. With all seven tracks on the original vinyl album credited to the band as a whole, originality was now the name of the game and in furiously fast, ferociously heavy opening track, ‘Speed King’, they certainly sounded like no one else on record at that time. While the 10-minute-plus length of ‘Child In Time’, with its unexpected time-changes and stunning guitar-vocal interplay, was the album’s cornerstone. It was also during the In Rock sessions that the band recorded ‘Black Night’, which they heroically declined to include on the album, releasing it as a single instead. (Though the track can now be found on the CD reissue.)

Speed King / Bloodsucker / Child in Time / Flight of the Rat / Into the Fire / Living Wreck / Hard Lovin' Man

Fireball (1971)

Recorded over several visits to the studio between September 1970 and June 1971, when touring commitments allowed, although the rest of the band did not consider it a classic, Fireball remains Ian Gillan’s favourite Deep Purple album of the period. Certainly, it was a much more adventurous collection of material than its straight-ahead, heads-down predecessor, containing not just classic Purple epics like the brilliantly pulsating title track itself, but more reflective moments such as the lengthy ‘Fools’. It also contained ‘Demon’s Eye’, destined to become Blackmore’s live guitar showcase for years to come. The fans certainly seemed convinced, making Fireball the band’s first Number 1 album in the UK, and bringing them back into the spotlight in the US for the first time since Gillan and Glover joined, and the band found its new hard rock direction. The boogie-influenced ‘Strange Kind Of Woman’ – recorded at the Fireball sessions but not included on the original British version of the album, although it was on the US and Japanese versions, and is now featured on the British CD reissue – was another hit single for them, too, going to Number 8 in the UK. Fireball is also the Deep Purple album future Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich now cites as his reason for becoming a musician.

Fireball / No No No / Strange Kind of Woman / Anyone's Daughter / The Mule / Fools / No One Came  

Prefect Strangers (1984)

There had been rumours – always flatly denied by all concerned – for years before the announcement was finally made in March 1984: the original, five-man MkII line-up of Deep Purple was back together and would be releasing their first album for 11 years within a matter of months. The result: Perfect Strangers, the album Ritchie Blackmore jokingly yet aptly dubbed "At Last The 1974 Album". Indeed, from the opening stanza of the Zeppelin-esque ‘Knocking At your Backdoor’ to the swirling, vertiginous title track itself, it really did sound as though the band had never been away and that this was simply the Deep Purple album the world had been denied when Gillan and Glover first departed the band all those years before.
As a result, Perfect Strangers reached Number 5 in the UK and Number 17 in the US, where it quickly went platinum. There was also a huge world tour, culminating for British fans with a massive outdoor show before 80,000 fans at Knebworth Park in June 1985. The fact that the legendary Mk II line-up had finally managed to get it together was one thing, that they so quickly rekindled that original fiery spirit was another: a genuine cause for celebration.

Knocking at Your Back Door / Under the Gun / Nobody's Home / Mean Streak / Perfect Strangers  / A Gypsy's Kiss / Wasted Sunsets / Hungry Daze / Not Responsible / Son of Alerik

The House Of Blue Light (1987)

Characterised tongue-in-cheek by Ian Gillan as "the difficult second album,” The House Of Blue Light was to be the proof that the second coming of Deep Purple was more than just a flash-in-the-pan. As such, rather like the way Fireball followed In Rock, The House Of Blue Light was a much more musically adventurous album than Prefect Strangers, yet is remembered now as much less momentous. And yet tracks like the crunching opener ‘Bad Attitude’ (written by Gillan after an argument with Blackmore) and the wonderfully cartwheeling ‘The Spanish Archer’ would have fitted snugly onto any of Purple’s best albums from the ’70s or ’80s. While tracks like the amusing ‘Mitzi Dupree’ and the almost whimsical ‘Call Of The Wild’ showed there was much more to the band getting back together than merely cashing in on their own legend. An underrated mini-masterpiece, The House Of Blue Light also precipitated the band fracturing again when the world tour that followed ended with Gillan, once again, throwing in the towel, exasperated by, as he put it, "being Ritchie’s backing band.” Of course, he was back in Purple again for their next album but one, only for Blackmore himself to leave after that. But that’s another story…

Bad Attitude / The Unwritten Law / Call of the Wild / Mad Dog / Black and White / Hard Lovin' Woman / The Spanish Archer / Strangeways / Mitzi Dupree / Dead or Alive  

Rapture Of The Deep (2005)

After the ill-fated comings and goings of Gillan and Blackmore in the 1990s, it’s been gratifying for Purple fans to find the post-Millennium line-up of the band finally settling down to concentrate solely on the music. Blackmore’s final exit in 1994 precipitated the arrival of former Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist, Steve Morse, now a firm favourite with fans. While the departure by mutual consent of the retiring Jon Lord in 2002 saw the arrival of the dependable Don Airey on keyboards. It is this line-up that has recorded what many fans believe to be the best Purple album since their heyday: Rapture Of The Deep. Considered their most progressive-sounding album for years, tracks like ‘Money Talks’ and ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ certainly recall the band at its most dynamic. While ‘Wrong Man’ courted considerable controversy, having been penned by convicted child murderer Wayne Williams, with Gillan frequently dedicating the song to him at their shows.

Money Talks / Girls Like That / Wrong Man / Rapture of the Deep / Clearly Quite Absurd / Don't Let Go / Back to Back / Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye / MTV / Junkyard Blues / Before Time Began 


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