50 years after the release of Deep Purple’s breakthrough album (3 June 1970; Harvest/ Warner Bros) it is easy to see that a great storm was brewing that would change the face of music, but of course it was not so clear at the time.
The Mark I lineup of the band, with Rod Evans on vocals and Nick Simper on bass, had produced three fairly standard rock n roll albums, and the Mark II version, with talented vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, had failed to make much of an impact with their first live recording, Concerto for Group and Orchestra, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, or with their single Hallelujah. The public were still unsure of where Deep Purple were heading, and the band needed to signal a clear direction.
The release of the rock-oriented Black Night (which was not on In Rock but was included in the Anniversary edition) represented a major step forward, making number 2 in the UK charts. But it was not until the tight rhythm section of Gillan and Glover joined guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, keyboardist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice in London’s IBC studio to make a full album, with producer Martin Birch at the helm, that the ingredients really came together.
In this moment alcohol and age had not yet begun to affect Gillan’s incredible vocal range and Blackmore was writing some of his most powerful riffs on his Gibson ES-335, and then on his long-time favourite 1968 Fender Stratocaster. Blackmore had it clear, he had been heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin’s sound and "…wanted to make as much noise and play as fast and as loud as possible."
Blackmore achieves his goal in the album opener, Speed King, in which he trades heavy licks with keyboardist Lord, while Gillan whips up a storm on vocals. The track is a strong opening statement and recalls the spirit of Jimi Hendrix in its force, dexterity and purpose. This is followed by the slightly more restrained Bloodsucker, on which drummer Ian Paice shines.
Next up is what many believe is Deep Purple’s masterpiece, Child in Time. In Rock was written by all the band’s members and the musical talent of each is especially showcased on this track, from Lord’s jazzy keyboarding to Gillan’s impressive sonic range. Based on It’s a Beautiful Day’s Bombay Calling, the ten minute track begins quietly but grows into a scream, reflecting the rage of its anti-war message.
What used to be called ‘side two’ kicks off with Flight of the Rat, with more Blackmore wizzardry, especially in the middle section. The melody is maintained by Gillan’s vocals and the song finishes with an impressive Paice drum solo. Into the Fire represents a change of rhythm with its bluesy vibe, and features a slow Blackmore guitar solo; while Living Wreck opens with some driving drums and almost grating organ effects, which later contrasts with a fine melody.
The monumental ambition of both the band and this particular album is arrogantly (or wryly?) captured by the album cover, which features the five band members apparently enshrined in rock at Mount Rushmore. In 1970 the album nearly hit the top of the UK charts but its influence extended far further and in many ways opened the road for the entire ‘heavy’ sound and all its sub-genres for decades to come. Deep Purple backed up the album’s release with a 15 month world tour, which established both the musicians’ musical chemistry and the band as a global force that was set to endure. It took an enormous amount of self-belief and a certain chutzpah to bring all the necessary ingredients together to make this ‘brew’, and that can perhaps be best expressed by Blackmore’s approach to making music: “ I play for myself first, secondly the audience, and [then] for the band … and for critics not at all."