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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Deep Purple, "Machine Head"

Deep Purple
"Machine Head"
Purple Records (1972)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die + 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Deep Purple has found prominence in the annals of heavy metal, and it's mostly because of "Machine Head." Frankly, Deep Purple isn't the most heavy metal of bands. Although "Smoke On The Water" thuds as well as any Sabbath track, the song is a fluke. Most of Deep Purple's songs avoid Sabbath's looming and dooming, and the band looks to early Led Zeppelin for inspiration, mimicking Zep's chugging riffs. And I am loathe to describe early Led Zeppelin as heavy metal, even if the experts at VH1 disagree.

But "Smoke On The Water" is enough to place any band in the annals of heavy metal. For starters, all guitarists will tell you how simple the riff is. It's to guitar what "Chopsticks" is to piano. But unlike "Chopsticks," "Smoke" makes the player an instant badass. Ritchie Blackmore repeats the famous four-bar theme, his standard tuning as menacing as anything in Tony Iommi's drop-D repertoire, and the rumble from Roger Glover's bass amplifies the looming sound of apocalypse. Sure, the actual lyrics tell the tale of a casino burning down, but who cares? The only words that matter are in the the chorus: "smoke on the water, fire in the sky."

Blackmore has already crafted one of the greatest riffs of all time up to this point, but he takes it further, complementing the mood with a solo much darker than his acclaimed bridge from "Highway Star." He ends the movement by repeating the same note, transitioning from 3/4 notes to 1/4s for an effect that echoes like a Lovecraft beast laughing from the darkness beyond. Hyperbole? Yes, but well deserved. Tom Moon may suggest "Smoke" is overrated, but he's wrong. It's brilliant.

So yeah, other songs exist on "Machine Head." Most of the highlights involve Blackmore and organist Jon Lord, who split the spotlight through a number of solo passages. The duo share a pair of Bach-inspired movements on "Highway Star," Deep Purple's other lasting hit from this album. Lord's fingers dance on the keys and Blackmore performs a lightning-quick display of hammer-ons. Still, despite the technical prowess of "Highway Star," the best show of virtuosity might be "Lazy." Both Lord and Blackmore get two solos. Lord overdrives his Hammond for effect and Blackmore noodles like Stevie Ray Vaughn through a bluesy number.

So yeah, there are other members in Deep Purple aside from Lord and Blackmore. They just don't merit as much notice. Drummer Ian Paice isn't bad, but his bandmates already stole the show by the time he gets a drum solo in the final track "Space Truckin'." Many will disagree, but vocalist Ian Gillan isn't so good. His high-pitched squawks are what we'd come to expect from heavy metal, but Bruce Dickinson he ain't. He's best when he maintains and even keel, such as in "Smoke." Gillan just doesn't have the right register for falsetto.

There are plenty of fun songs on "Machine Head," and you should check them out. But don't be afraid to spend extra time on the song you already know best.

INTERESTING FACT: The band considered several titles for "Smoke On The Water." One honest-to-goodness option suggested was "Durh Durh Durh."

Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple on Grooveshark

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