Rather incongruously I first heard that Jon Lord had died from my friend Will in the wonderfully plush glass-and-plants-and-chrome lobby of a rather flashy law firm, we were both really saddened by this and we both said we would play some Deep Purple that night. When we compared notes the next day it turned out that we had both reached for the same track ‘Child in Time’ from the mighty In Rock*. I’m not ashamed to say I sat in the dark and lit a candle for the man and had a wonderful, borderline spiritual, 10 minutes just listening. Okay a bit selfishly I admit that this is a great way to listen to music regardless of the occasion and it’s the sort of thing I do I get the space to, it was a great moment though and boosted In Rock right back onto my Playdar**.
Coming out in 1970, the same year as such mighty Colossi as Led Zeppelin III, Paranoid , Atomic Rooster and Argent, I always feel that Deep Purple in general and In Rock in particular simply do not get the kudos they deserve. Everyone knows that Deep Purple were one of the classic rock groups, but the problem in my eyes is that ‘Smoke on The Water’ has become so ubiquitous that so many people don’t bother to listen beyond that, let alone beyond Machine Head. I got leant the cassette of In Rock early in my metal career and it just stuck, luckily.
Like most of my favourite rock leviathans you can talk about Deep Purple in terms of eras and In Rock marked the debut of my favourite Mk II line-up, now the Coverdale/Bolin MK III era has its charms, but this is the line up for me. Every player here was an absolute master of their instrument topped off by a singer with a truly incredible voice. Sorry to have a one-track mind but just spin ‘Child in Time’ again, the soloing from Lord and Blackmore and the show-stopping turn from Gillan are just unsurpassed. As always when such extravagance abounds, unless it is built on a rock solid foundation it just sounds shallow and flashy, which is where the, comparatively seldom lauded, Paice and Glover come in. What a band! WHAT A BAND!
Listening to the first minute of this LP you get a real sense of a band just flying free on their own virtuosity and revelling in the fact that they really are making the rules up as they go along, the wild soloing that starts ‘Speed King’ is just exhilarating^. You forget that rock as a genre was new, exciting and progressive at the time, all the clichés and forms that we know and love today and that the later rockers we love, subvert or obey, or add/subtract bits to/from just hadn’t ossified yet. I get such a sense of the joy of that on In Rock. These guys were in the room when the rules of hard rock were all set down. This LP was released on the Harvest label (in the UK at least, things were a bit more complicated elsewhere) which was set up solely to promote progressive music – to push things forwards; Deep Purple duly obliged.
Jon Lord’s organ sound is every bit as prominent throughout as Ritchie Blackmore’s guitaring and I think it gives Deep Purple a different dimension to most of their contemporaries, whether he is setting a gentle backdrop ready to be shattered asunder by more violent sounds, matching Blackmore lick for lick or even sounding a little like a spacey Ray Manzarek, or all three simultaneously on ‘Speed King’. I have a genuine dilemma here because I can’t work out if I love ‘Speed King’ or ‘Child in Time’ better, I love all the lyrics ripped straight from Little Richard and belted out even faster than he did and I am a real sucker for Gillan’s laugh near the end of the song – it genuinely just sounds as though he was having that much fun.
‘Bloodsucker’ suffers from being stuck between my two favourite tracks, helpfully described by the band on the inner sleeve as ‘a particularly nasty sort of fellow, there are lots of us’, its fine but not a truly substantial offering, in this company anyway. Side 2 just rocks from start to finish, the riff on ‘Flight of the Rat, is just filthy and it sounds way punky to these ears, as though parachuted in from 6 years in the future. I interpret ‘Into the Fire’ as a nasty little revenge song, but then I’m just a nasty little man, so what do you expect? ‘Living Wreck’ and ‘Hard Lovin’ Man’ both rock out, the latter sounding like the blueprint that the band would build the mighty, mighty, mighty ‘Highway Star’ on next time out.
One of my all-time favourite Deep Purple tracks ‘Black Night’ was released as a single prior to In Rock and, as was often the custom of the day, not included on the finished LP. I can see some logic behind it, ‘Black Night’ is a far poppier proposition than anything on In Rock. It’s getting difficult to remember when bands had such riches they would just throw them out there in an explosion of creativity/attempt at regular income and then just concentrate on the proper art, the LP.
If you don’t own this one treat yourself, if you’re a ‘Smoke on The water’ kind of guy/gal/neuter then investigate further and if you do own it and maybe just haven’t spun it for a while, turn the lights off, spark up a candle, whack it on just marvel at how good it is and think nice things about Jon Lord.
Sweet child in time you’ll see the line
The line that’s drawn between good and the bad
See the blind man shooting at the world
Bullets flying, taking toll
If you’ve been bad, lord I bet you have
And you’ve not been hit by flying lead
You’d better close your eyes
Bow your head
Wait for the ricochet
*some people call it Deep Purple In Rock, I think they’re wrong.
**see what I did there? a genius walks amongst you folks!
^sorry Americans – apparently the US version just cuts out the first minute, search for the version that’s 5:50 long – that’s the baby.