Ritchie Blackmore helped found Deep Purple in 1968, before moving on to establish the heavy metal band Rainbow, and then Blackmore’s Night together with his wife Candice Night. In that time he has innovatively fused classical music with modern guitar, and employed baroque, folk, Eastern elements, blues, hard rock, and pop in the process. His back catalogue is both huge and enormously diverse, but it is also of the highest quality: Guitar World and Rolling Stone magazines have called him one of the greatest and most influential guitar players of all time. To celebrate his birthday, Guitars Exchange selects 10 of his best solos ever.
10. Eyes Of The World - Down To Earth (1979)
When keyboardist Don Airey opens Eyes Of The World with an ominous sound that recalls Gustav Holst’s Mars, he might also have been referencing the turmoil and fire in Rainbow’s own history, because by the time this album hit the shelves singer Ronnie James Dio had been replaced by Graham Bonnet; while bassist Roger Glover was back working with Blackmore. This track is often overlooked in the guitar legend’s back catalogue but it was one of the album standouts, and represents a good example of his blending of classical music with spectacular solos. In an interview with Sounds magazine in 1979 Blackmore said “I have so much respect for classical musicians that when I listen to myself I think, oh, that’s nonsense. […] I put down my own music and say it’s rubbish. A lot of it is […] but Eyes of the World is okay.” From a hard task master like Blackmore, that is high praise indeed.
9. Mistreated - Burn (1974)
Mistreated was reportedly written by Blackmore and David Coverdale before the Machine Head album, which might have seen it originally being sung by Ian Gillan from what became known as Deep Purple’s ‘Mark II’ lineup. However the song became identified with the Mark III incarnation as Dio ended up making the song his own. This is clear from the accompanying Youtube video by Rainbow, recorded in Munich in 1977, in which Blackmore slows down the rocker around the five minute mark before soaring at 7’ 15” - and then letting rip again at the end. Spectacular.
8. Child in Time - Deep Purple In Rock (1970)
Starting with a few notes by keyboardist Jon Lord, this Mark II masterpiece builds to a mid-point at which point Blackmore stamps his mark on it by producing one of his most blistering solos ever. With a 10 minute plus run time Gillan’s lyrics deal with the senselessness and inhumanity of war. As Gillan himself said in a 2002 interview: "There are two sides to that song - the musical side and the lyrical side. On the musical side, there used to be this song 'Bombay Calling' by a band called It's A Beautiful Day. [However] I had never heard the original 'Bombay Calling.' So we created this song using the Cold War as the theme, and wrote the lines 'Sweet child in time, you'll see the line.' Then, Jon had the keyboard parts ready and Ritchie had the guitar parts ready. The song basically reflected the mood of the moment, and that's why it became so popular."
7. Highway Star - Machine Head (1972)
For good reason readers of Guitar World magazine ranked the solo on Highway Star as being in the top 20 best, by any guitarist, ever. The original cut is outstanding but the definitive version is widely considered to be from Made In Japan, recorded live on 16 August 1972. Blackmore said of the song: “I wrote that out note for note about a week before we recorded it. And that is one of the only times I have ever done that. I wanted it to sound like someone driving in a fast car, for it to be one of those songs you would listen to while speeding. And I wanted a very definite Bach sound, which is why I wrote it out—and why I played those very rigid arpeggios across that very familiar Bach progression—Dm, Gm, Cmaj, Amaj. I believe that I was the first person to do that so obviously on the guitar, and I believe that that’s why it stood out and why people have enjoyed it so much.” This high-octane blend of Bach and Hendrix is considered one of the most famous ‘driving songs’ in rock.
6. Smoke on the Water - Machine Head (1972)
We stretch the envelope here to include the riff from Smoke on the Water, as it is perhaps the song most associated with Deep Purple. The back story to the song is now the stuff of rock legend: Deep Purple booked the Montreux Casino in Switzerland to capture the feel of a live venue, but the night before their slot, Frank Zappa played. During Zappa’s show someone threw up a flare that set the ceiling of the building on fire, and burnt the whole place down. Deep Purple watched the blaze from a nearby restaurant, and when the fire was extinguishing, a layer of smoke lay over Lake Geneva, which gave Glover the idea for the song title. Blackmore later said that the main riff is an interpretation of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and that "I owe him a lot of money."
5. Lazy - Machine Head (1972)
It has been said that Blackmore’s opening solo from Lazy alone has inspired numerous people to pick up a guitar. Co-written by all five members of Mark II, Guitar World readers voted the guitar solo as the 74th greatest ever. The studio version runs to something over seven minutes, but Blackmore frequently improvised to create much-extended iterations when it was played live. “You're lazy, just stay in bed, You're lazy, just stay in bed, You don't want no money, You don't want no bread,” ran the lyrics of a song that ironically helped make the band members enormously rich.
4. Speed King - Deep Purple In Rock (1970)
A staple at their live shows, Speed King helped define Deep Purple’s Mark II sound. The track’s intention is clear from the outset with Blackmore shredding like crazy before deferring to Jon Lord’s heavenly organ piece. At 1’30” the song breaks out with Gillan’s explosive vocal and Blackmore’s dirty riff. Then, at the mid-point, Lord takes the lead again to set up a playful call-and-response section with Blackmore.
3. Stargazer - Rising (1976)
Stargazer perhaps represents the zenith of Blackmore’s collaboration with Dio, with the singer recounting the story of an arrogant wizard, while Blackmore conjures up a symphonic Eastern-infused vibe around it. Among many possible images, the guitarist’s solo stunningly evokes a night sky packed full of cosmic dust, wonder and stars.
2. Gates of Babylon - Long Live Rock n Roll (1978)
Gates of Babylon also has a strong Eastern flavour, but this time Blackmore appropriately makes the song far more ominous. This is undoubtedly among his best solos, and is one more demonstration why so many regard him as a guitar deity. On the accompanying live video of Gates of Babylon Blackmore can be seen playing his 1979 Fender Strat porsche silver.
1. Burn - Burn (1974)
This rocking title track is outstanding both in its studio and live versions, and provides the appropriate context for Blackmore to ‘set it alight’. Co-written with David Coverdale the music was reportedly inspired by the Gershwin brothers’ classic Fascinating Rhythm, while the lyrics reflected the pair’s growing interest in the Middle Ages, and witchcraft in particular. In a 2009 Kerrang! interview, Coverdale explained: "I was a complete unknown but I was involved in writing 'Burn' from the start. Ritchie was obviously the chief composer but I was given a cassette tape of the songs-in-progress and sent back to the north of England to work on the lyric."