Ultimately it was the duel between Ritchie Blackmore’s sinister guitar work and Jon Lord’s neo-classical approach to keyboards that gave the band it’s distinct sound. Ian Gillian’s screaming vocals layered over top while Roger Glover and Ian Paice held down the rhythm on bass and drums respectively. There have been a number of lineup changes over the years but this grouping is generally thought of as the original and most popular. It was this team of musicians who made Deep Purple a household name.
#10 Smoke on the Water
We just need to get this one out of the way right at the top. While it is arguably their number one hit, and arguably their most recognized recording, the 3 decades of overplay has ruined it for all of us. Let’s face it, you can’t listen to 30 minutes of any classic rock station anywhere in the country at any time of day without hearing those trudging, opening chords come through your speakers. If you’re honest you’ll even admit that you change stations before it gets to the second measure don’t you? Don’t you? It’s okay. We all do. It’s a great song but it’s virtually unlistenable at this stage of our lives. Thus it’s #10.
#9 Rat Bat Blue
Okay so what makes a good Deep Purple song? A heavy guitar melody, strange but deadly drumming, and Ian Gillian screeching about who knows what. Then you add in some organ freak-outs, a la John Lord, and you’ve got it. Rat Bat Blue is all that and it grooves so much! What does Rat Bat Blue mean? Who cares? Just get out your air guitar and go for it.
The opening and title track from their 5th album, Fireball’s title pretty much captures it. Perhaps the title of this track should have been “Ian Paice is the Greatest Rock Drummer of All Time Ever!” because he kills it from beginning to end. Listen to it once through and try to ignore everything but the kick drum. What is he doing? Melting your face that’s what. The other members are on this recording somewhere too but between Paice’s snare and kick it’s easy to lose track of any other instruments.
#7 Space Truckin’
Space Truckin’ is the final track off 1972’s Machine Head but it will not be the last song from that record you’ll see on this list. Machine Head hit number 1 in the UK within a week of its release. Songs like Space Truckin’ are why. The album cover features a blurry, warped image of the band, which is appropriate because that’s what happens to your brain when you listen to this chunky song. Pack your bags.
#6 Woman From Tokyo
This single, off the album Who Do We Think We Are, shows the band’s pop sensibilities. It couldn’t be more hooky and driving. Machine Head was released the year before which meant the band was at the top of their game when this little gem hit the airwaves. Straight up rock and roll people.
#5 Perfect Strangers
When the album Perfect Strangers was recorded in 1984 it was a revival of what is often referred to as the “Mark II” line-up. What that meant in reality is that musicians who had been all over the world with other acts somehow found the time and inclination to record together again. Blackmore and Glover from Rainbow, Ian Gillian from Black Sabbath, John Lord from Whitesnake, and Ian Paice from Gary Moore’s band. This, the title track, failed to chart in the US but received tons of airplay and that chugging guitar break in the middle is classic Blackmore.
#4 Black Night
The band’s highest charting single in the UK, Black Night was originally released as a non-album single. I guess the band thought it was just so awesome they had to get it out there fast. I think they were right. If you listen to this song loudly it starts to sound like Paice’s drums have been inserted deep inside your ear hole. They’re way up front in this recording and thank goodness because it’s awesome. Then Blackmore comes in and not only rips out a solo but also manages to make it sound so sinister you get a little nervous listening to it.
Here’s an idea. Make a song that features the two most distinct sounds from the band: Blackmore’s guitar and Lord’s organ. Let them throw down for about 4 and ½ minutes before the vocals enter over a simple groove. They should have made 30 versions of that because it completely works. Lazy is a 7-minute Deep Purple showcase.
The track that started it all but I bet you didn’t know it was a cover. Originally written by Joe South for recording artist Billy Joe Royal, Hush, was covered a number of times before being covered by Deep Purple for their first album, Shades of Deep Purple. The song hit number 4 on the US charts with it’s pop sensibilities but listen closely and you can hear the beginnings of the crunching, mind bending metal sound that would become the band’s signature.
#1 Highway Star
This song defines the sound of Deep Purple. The interplay between Blackmore’s guitar and Lord’s organ are legendary. Blackmore’s solo was named the 19th best guitar solo of all time by Guitar World magazine. It’s the fastest tempo on Machine Head and it drives you right up til the end. Supposedly written during an interview on a tour bus, Highway Star may be the ultimate song to play while speeding down the Interstate. Just be careful that you don’t black out behind the wheel when this song bashes you over the head.
Photo by Warner Bros. Records (item photo front back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons