I love music… I’ve got lots and lots of records… so why not? How about an album review a day?
I’ll start with my #1 Desert Island Album: Machine Head by Deep Purple.
From the opening chords of “Highway Star” to the fadeout of “Space Truckin'”, this album has always been a thrill for me to listen to. I’ll always remember getting it in December 1981, back when I was in the 8th grade and had already bought all the Led Zeppelin albums. I got into Deep Purple because a girl whose taste in music I despised said she couldn’t stand Deep Purple, so I had to check them out. I had gotten a greatest hits compilation, Deepest Purple, as an introduction to the band and although three of the seven songs from the US release of Machine Head were on that disc, it was still a thrill to get them all on vinyl, along with the other monster tracks. That the album itself had been recorded in December made it all the more fun to listen to it in the chilly, wet days at the end of the year.
I’m playing “Highway Star” right now, and when I close my eyes, I can imagine the RCA headphones surrounding my ears with the virtuoso sound of the band at its peak. I don’t have dust pops in the MP3 version, but that’s OK. I remember where they were on that album, so many Decembers ago. “Maybe I’m a Leo” comes up next, with its clever lyric and adagio blues. It’s got a lovely pair of solos from Messers. Blackmore and Lord, which are so welcome to hear instead of the solo-less instrumental tracks that seem to dominate the pop scene today. It’s a real pleasure to hear musicians play off each other and really jam, instead of turning in a photoshopped version of themselves, same every time.
As a live band, Deep Purple are almost always an amazing experience and only a few lineups had a reputation for bad concerts. The reason for Deep Purple’s excellence has been in their craft and talent. While this isn’t a live album, one gets a sense of their performance style as each track progresses. In the studio, they produced sounds that were absolutely reproducible on stage because they eschewed clever gimmicks. It’s just you, the band, their instruments, and the infamous Marshall stacks, all the time, every time. Live, DP were likely as not to play the same solos on their studio releases, so each track is unique and worth comparing one to another.
“Pictures of Home” is winter as a hard rock song, no question about it. Everything about it is cold, with slow violence lurking in the wings. You don’t get this sort of thing on so-called Classic Rock radio formats because the guys in charge of programming them won’t do deep cuts like they should. You’ve got to actually go out and get this stuff for yourself and discover the thrill on your own, or you’ll simply miss out.
And this is an album not to be missed! When I see some of the product that the music industry churns out these days – and it’s been “these days” for about two decades – I want to reach for a sample of what things were like when it wasn’t an industry. It had become a business by the 1970s, true enough. But it wasn’t yet an industry: there was craftsmanship and innovation. There was risk-taking and playing so good that the singer didn’t have to go for the shock value of profanity to interest a listener.
“Never Before” warms up the ears after the chill of “Pictures of Home”, in spite of it being about a love gone wrong. Those with the UK version and the remastered CD will then get the rock-solid honest blues of “When a Blind Man Cries,” a dear favorite of many DP fans.
Side two kicks off with “the chords that conquered America” – “Smoke on the Water.” When DP recorded it, they had no idea at all how big it would be. They almost didn’t record it because they had a policy against doing drug songs, and they thought the title would be construed as a euphemism for smoking dope. But they did it, and there it is, thundering and lumbering along, an anthem that no music industry project has been able to duplicate. It’s not a complicated piece, not by half. But it’s got that riff!
The next track up is “Lazy”, the climax of the album. I love turning up the volume on the Hammond Organ intro to where I can feel the room shake. It’s always an excitement for me. Even though I’ve heard the same solo played hundreds of times in the hundreds of times I’ve listened to this since 1981, I get excited every time. That’s the power of really good music. There are songs I like, but very few that I’m passionate about. “Lazy” is one of them.
The last track is just as awesome as the rest. Where “Highway Star” took us on a tear down the road, “Space Truckin'” launches us into space with a Saturn V-worthy rhythm. It’s a song that I wish was longer than it is on the studio album, and I get my wish granted in the band’s awesome live sets from the period, where it would go on for 20 minutes or longer.
Back in 1998, I said this about Machine Head: “This is the definitive Deep Purple album. It has been my personal favorite album of all time since I first heard it. If it has any flaws, they are the most perfect flaws ever recorded.” Over ten years later, I still feel that way. The music is epic, the photos inside the album cover were loads of fun, and the thrill of putting the needle in the groove of this platter immeasurable. I’ve got several vinyl versions of this, including a picture disc, and two different CDs, the standard Warner Brothers issue and the 25th anniversary remastered edition. Yes, I’m enthusiastic about it and probably not impartial about it, but it’s because the music in it won me over so triumphantly.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 10 because every single track on it works, and works perfectly. I don’t skip over parts. I don’t want to fast-forward any of it. I want to be there, from start to finish, and catch every note of it.