Deep Purple studio albums revisited – part one

I’ll open this look back across the studio output of Deep Purple with a disclaimer: I have not followed the band with any interest for the past twenty years, so I will not be discussing the most recent four albums by the band.

The live and compilation albums, too, are out of scope of this post.

Instead I will look at the relative merits and demerits of the fifteen studio albums between ‘Shades of Deep Purple’ in 1968 to ‘Purpendicular’ in 1996.

Mark One

  • Vocals – Rod Evans
  • Guitar – Ritchie Blackmore
  • Bass – Nick Simper
  • Keyboards – Jon Lord
  • Drums – Ian Paice

This line-up produced three studio albums in 1968 and 1969.  Their sound was closer to the pop and psychedelic sound of the time than anything approaching heavy metal/hard rock.  This being said, Evans was an excellent singer whose work on covers of The Beatles’ ‘Help’ and ‘We Can Work It Out’, Neil Diamond’s ‘Kentucky Woman’, Joe South’s ‘Hush’, and Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ has worn well over the years.  Original material which stands out from this period includes ‘Shield’, ‘Lalena’, ‘Blind’, ‘April’, ‘Why Didn’t Rosemary’ and ‘Mandrake Root’.

The albums

‘Shades of Deep Purple’, released July 1968 (US), September 1968 (UK)

  • And The Address (instrumental)
  • Hush
  • One More Rainy Day
  • Happiness/I’m So Glad
  • Mandrake Root
  • Help
  • Love Help Me
  • Hey Joe

High point: ‘Hush’.  This was the band’s first single and filmed footage from the time shows how full of energy they already were.

Low point: The album doesn’t hang together as a whole and often feels like a random grab-bag of material.  ‘I’m So Glad’ suffers from poor lyrics and repetitive melodies.

Marks out of five: two and a half.

‘The Book of Taliesyn’, released October 1968 (US), June 1969 (UK)

  • Listen, Learn, Read On
  • Wring That Neck (instrumental)
  • Kentucky Woman
  • Exposition/We Can Work It Out
  • Shield
  • Anthem
  • River Deep, Mountain High

High point: An accomplished album with a more assured feel, but ‘Kentucky Woman’ and ‘Shield’ are my favourite cuts.

Low point: I never quite warmed to ‘Listen, Learn, Read On’ with its constant refrain referencing the album’s title.

Marks out of five: four.

‘Deep Purple’, released June 1969 (US), November 1969 (UK)

  • Chasing Shadows
  • Blind
  • Lalena
  • Fault Line/The Painter
  • Why Didn’t Rosemary
  • Bird Has Flown
  • April

High point: ‘April’ is lengthy, and beautiful, and wonderful.  But ‘Lalena’ is a sweet ballad.

Low point: I could live without ‘Fault Line’.

Marks out of five: three and a half.

Mark Two

  • Vocals – Ian Gillan
  • Guitar – Ritchie Blackmore
  • Bass – Roger Glover
  • Keyboards – Jon Lord
  • Drums – Ian Paice

This line-up was the most commercially successful, releasing four studio albums between 1970 and 1973.  This period showcased their change of style to hard rock with the addition of their new vocalist, screamer Ian Gillan.  His chemistry with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was a high point of this line-up’s work, especially live (which is another story, another blog post).

The albums

‘Deep Purple in Rock’, released June 1970

  • Speed King
  • Bloodsucker
  • Child in Time
  • Flight of the Rat
  • Into the Fire
  • Living Wreck
  • Hard Lovin’ Man

High point: ‘Child in Time’ is an epic, glorious piece of music.  And it isn’t the heaviest track on the album.

Low point: This album has not aged well at all.  Gillan’s histrionics now seem false and fake, although I have a soft spot for ‘Speed King’ and ‘Living Wreck’.

Marks out of five: two.

‘Fireball’, released July 1971 (US), September 1971 (UK)

  • Fireball
  • No No No
  • Demon’s Eye
  • Anyone’s Daughter
  • The Mule
  • Fools
  • No One Came

High point: Gillan’s vocal work on this album is superb, especially on ‘Demon’s Eye’.

Low point: ‘No One Came’ sounds rushed these days.

Marks out of five: three.

‘Machine Head’, released March 1972

  • Highway Star
  • Maybe I’m a Leo
  • Pictures of Home
  • Never Before
  • Smoke on the Water
  • Lazy
  • Space Truckin’

High point: The first great Deep Purple album.  Wall to wall excellence.

Low point: There isn’t one.  Honestly, this is the peak.

Marks out of five: five.

‘Who Do We Think We Are’, released January 1973 (US), February 1973 (UK)

  • Woman from Tokyo
  • Mary Long
  • Super Trouper
  • Smooth Dancer
  • Rat Bat Blue
  • Place in Line
  • Our Lady

High point: This was the beginning of the end for the line-up as both Gillan and Glover would be gone from the band by the end of 1973, but the cracks just don’t show.  ‘Mary Long’ is subversive, ‘Rat Bat Blue’ sparkles, and ‘Smooth Dancer’ is delightfully playful.

Low point: ‘Our Lady’ goes on a bit, but that’s a small quibble.

Marks out of five: four and a half.

Mark Three

  • Vocals – David Coverdale
  • Guitar – Ritchie Blackmore
  • Bass – Glenn Hughes
  • Keyboards – Jon Lord
  • Drums – Ian Paice

With new blood in the shape of Redcar-born David Coverdale and Cannock-born Glenn Hughes, the band’s direction took a blues and soul feel, which reached its apex with their appearance at 1974’s ‘California Jam’.

The albums

‘Burn’, released February 1974

  • Burn
  • Might Just Take Your Life
  • Lay Down, Stay Down
  • Sail Away
  • You Fool No One
  • What’s Goin’ On Here
  • Mistreated
  • ‘A’ 200 (instrumental)

High point: ‘Lay Down, Stay Down’ and ‘Sail Away’ are the best cuts on this.

Low point: This is just a disappointing and flat album overall, despite having ‘Mistreated’ on it.  That track would just blossom live when Coverdale hit his blues stride.

Marks out of five: two and a half.

‘Stormbringer’, released November 1974

  • Stormbringer
  • Love Don’t Mean a Thing
  • Holy Man
  • Hold On
  • Lady Double Dealer
  • You Can’t Do It Right
  • High Ball Shooter
  • The Gypsy
  • Soldier of Fortune

High point: Blackmore’s guitar work throughout this, especially on ‘Hold On’.  And ‘Soldier of Fortune’, probably Coverdale’s best studio vocal performance.

Low point: ‘You Can’t Do It Right’.

Marks out of five: four.

Mark Four

  • Vocals – David Coverdale
  • Guitar – Tommy Bolin
  • Bass – Glenn Hughes
  • Keyboards – Jon Lord
  • Drums – Ian Paice

Drugs and another turn of fortune into funk makes this far from a typical Deep Purple album, and this line-up’s life was truncated by the death of Bolin in 1976.

The album

‘Come Taste The Band’, released October 1975

  • Comin’ Home
  • Lady Luck
  • Gettin’ Tighter
  • Dealer
  • I Need Love
  • Drifter
  • Love Child
  • This Time Around/Owed to G
  • You Keep On Moving

High point: ‘You Keep On Moving’ and ‘Lady Luck’.

Low point: A dull album without much life or thought.

Marks out of five: one and a half.