I learned a few things today about an LP I thought I knew all about; Deep Purple Machine Head, from 1972 (like most of the best things in the world). I think there is a danger sometimes with classics like this that you’ve listened to hundreds of times as a kid that you tend to hear them when you play them, rather than properly listen to them. Well I’ve had a weekend of listening to Machine Head, well when the unreasonable people I share a house with weren’t expecting me to do dad-things and husband-things*, Pah!
When I was a teen my favourite track by far was the swaggering fist-in-the-face of ‘Highway Star’ and this is still where I get my hard rock jollies from today, especially that bit when the riff settles down after the intro – it just slays me every time. Or is my favourite bit about 3:48 in where Richie Blackmore manages to make his guitar sound like a classic twin axe attack, all by himself?! I also always loved the fact that the object sang about mutated from car to girl to brain and then back to car, yeah priorities! Funnily enough I’ve never actually looked at the lyrics until today and in the second verse (in praise of his chick) I spotted Gillan singing this tenderly romantic couplet,
I love her, I need her, I seed her
Yeah She turns me on
Ewww! Surely the first line is just those 9 words every girl wants to hear? Forty two years-ish since it was first laid down ‘Highway Star’ is still a text-book, hard rock classic just dripping with adrenalin, testosterone and a certain other oozing from the back seat.
But enough fluids, I always used to skip the next three tracks and head straight on over to Montreux, they just weren’t rock enough for me as a teenager. Today, whilst they don’t light my fire I hear a lot more in them than I did when I had longer hair – maybe it just used to clog my ears as well as look damn awful in windy conditions**. I’m better now and I think that you can really hear the 60’s in Deep Purple, more than the other nascent hard rock greats of the time; you know, your Sabs, your Zeps etc. In these three tracks you can hear that transitional influence clearer than you can even in their earlier In Rock.
‘Maybe I’m a Leo’ is my least favourite of the three, it plods a bit for my tastes although I do enjoy the keyboard and little snatches of melody lifted/borrowed directly from Beatles ‘Come Together’, I like the sheer cheek of it. I far prefer the faster-paced ‘Pictures of Home’ , with its philosophical message of the futility in looking to others/God for answers teamed with kick-ass guitar and keyboard solos. I also dig the lines Ian Gillan wrote, which clearly foreshadow the coming of 1537, I think I know you all well enough now to start talking about myself in the third-person, it’s not a sign of incipient madness (honest!),
Here in this prison of my own making
Year after day I have grown
Into a hero
But there’s no worship
Where have they hidden my throne?….
Prophetic stuff. ‘Never Before’ riffs on the old evil woman/innocent young man she-done-me-wrong theme and gives the lie to the theory that the funk only entered Deep Purple when they recruited Hughes and Coverdale in 1974; just listen to Paice and Glover’s work here. That intro is just crying out to be sampled, looped and rapped over. It’s not a great track, a bit workmanlike apart from some fabulous organ work from Jon Lord at the end.
Then we get into the bits of Machine Head that I always used to fast forward my tape to. ‘Smoke on the Water’, what can you say about that? That riff is simply the very essence of hard rock itself and you’ll either love the brontosaurus-sized stomp and pace of this track, or not depending on whether you’re a rocker or not. Simple as that. Personally I’ve just always loved the story of the song’s genesis and any track which name-checks Frank Zappa and the Mothers deserves extra 1537 bonus points.
Funnily enough I only found out today, having only ever owned a fourth generation cassette copy before I bought my, slightly beaten-up but original, 1972 Greek copy of Machine Head on vinyl in 2004 that the original LP had a gatefold cover over here. A gatefold cover which includes a picture of the casino burning down no less! Damn, another item to carve onto my wish list.
The bluesy jam of ‘Lazy’ is up next, Mrs 1537 hates it, I love it. It’s your classic bluesy excuse to show off as much instrumental virtuosity as possible in seven minutes and again centre stage after a brilliant intro, Lord and Blackmore duly oblige. Deep Purple get even more 1537 bonus points for using the term ‘bread’ for money – gotta love that. All that’s left after that is to bring the curtain down in fine barreling rock style with ‘Space Truckin’, where Ian Paice’s drumming really takes centre stage, its brilliant nonsense and ends things with a bang and a clatter.
… or so I thought. The Spotify version I’ve been listening to has ‘When a Blind Man Cries’, the B-side of ‘Never Before’ added to the end. Wow! I understand that it wasn’t used on the LP because Blackmore disliked it – How? Why? it’s an incredibly soulful, sad tune. Gillan’s vocals mesh perfectly with Blackmore’s most lyrical guitar playing. This is an absolute gem of a song and I understand gets played a lot in Deep Purple shows these days. In general terms I’m not really a bonus track kinda guy, I like to hear a classic as it was meant to be heard and I’m not one for wading through countless demo versions of tunes, my philosophy always being that bands tend to put the best versions on LPs, but ‘When a Blind Man Cries’ would have enriched Machine Head, given it a totally different dimension, an emotional depth. Personally I’d have slotted it in at the end of Side A after ‘Never Before’.
Five musicians playing brilliantly, attacking the material like their lives depended upon it, it’s only the song writing that lets them down on a couple of numbers here. This isn’t my favourite Deep Purple LP, but it does run In Rock a close second and it would have run it closer still with ‘When a Blind Man Cries’ on it. True dat.
*or owner-things when it came to the four-legged members of Chez 1537.
**a problem I cleverly solved by going bald early.