The third pillar of Heavy
Deep Purple had found themselves with In Rock, the first studio album by their most remembered line-up, that of ‘Mark II’; made up of Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice; but it was when they definitively set their name in stone, putting themselves on a par with their beloved Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, as one of the three bands on which the whole edifice of Heavy Metal was built, that this barbarity called Machine Head appeared.
The best proof that Purple had reached their peak was the opening song, a great song in which they put their foot on the accelerator and pushed all the way down. The song had come about by chance: while they were travelling on the bus a journalist asked Blackmore how they composed songs, and without thinking about it the guitarist picked up an acoustic and began to play the riff of Highway Star… and soon after Gillan began to improvise the melody and part of the lyrics. That same night they finished it and played it live for the first time. It is the band's strongest track and clearly shows the classical influences of their two main soloists, Jon Lord who draws inspiration from the baroque for his solo, and Blackmore who responds by mixing Johann Sebastian Bach with Hendrix.
The riff on Maybe I'm A Leo was the work of bassist Roger Glover and had an acknowledged source of inspiration - John Lennon's How Do You Sleep? It is one of the most blues rock songs of his career, including Blackmore's solo. Never Before was an odd choice as the lead single for the album, and I'm not saying that because it was a bad song, far from it, but because among the choices were what may be the two greatest songs of their career, Smoke On The Water and Highway Child. The song sees them prove that, when they want to, they can sound funky, as well as having a bridge in which they once again breathe the psychedelic airs of their beginnings.
Of course, if the first side opened with a startling opening move, the second side opened with Smoke On The Water - checkmate. It is the band's SONG, in capital letters, built on one of the three riffs on which the cathedral of heavy music was built (along with Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love and Black Sabbath's Iron Man), and with lyrics that refer to the fire at the Montreaux Casino, the place they had rented to record Machine Head, during a Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention concert. The author of the mythical riff, Ritchie Blackmore, has stated on more than one occasion that it came out of decomposing the beginning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, although we don't think Ludwig's heirs are going to ask for any royalties for it...
Lazy was another of the album's wonders, with a start to the greater glory of Jon Lord's Hammond, until the riff comes in, played by the organist and Blackmore. Then the guitarist has time to show off and demonstrate his admiration for Cream's Clapton, with more riffs and another solo, this time by Lord. Gillan is not heard until well after four minutes, and when he is the song becomes an accelerated rhythm & blues, with harmonica solo included.
Even more legendary is Space Truckin', the song that closed the album. Its conception was most serendipitous, with Blackmore creating a riff on Neil Hefti's theme for the Batman TV series, on which he asked Gillan to improvise something. Live, as seen on the legendary Made In Japan, they stretched it out to infinity and beyond, and it was the song of choice for Blackmore to smash a few Strats on stage.
Machine Head became the most successful album of Purple’s career, but its influence was far greater than its numerous sales. For once the perfectionist Blackmore was satisfied, in his own words "everything was natural and everything worked", something that, as we know, didn't last long either...