DEEP PURPLE – ” In Rock ” Released 3rd June 1970

Posted: June 3, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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There were three British rock bands, Black Sabbath, a bunch of greasy herberts from Aston, Birmingham, had somehow stumbled into a recording contract, and were laying down some anvil-heavy sounds. By combining a primitive grind with comedy-horror lyrics, the band featuring Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi were on their way to helping to define heavy metal. Also a band called Led Zeppelin had knocked out two albums in quick succession at the tail-end of the 60s, gaining a reputation for effortlessly handling folk and blues influences while adding doses of guitar heroics and histrionic screaming. Although people were calling Zeppelin heavy metal, in truth the mere mention of the phrase was enough to send the band members into a rage.

Then the third in this unholy trinity of British rock bands, and the one that really opened the gates for a new era of loud music, was Deep Purple – guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, singer Ian Gillan, bassist Roger Glover, organist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice (they became known now as the Mk II line-up).

An earlier line-up of Purple (with singer Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper, before a radical change in personnel saw the arrival of Gillan and Glover from the pop band Episode Six) had released three albums in the late 60s. The first recorded work from the new-look Purple – the single Hallelujah, followed by the Jon Lord-spearheaded album Concerto For Group & Orchestra – gave little hint of what was about to become. Everybody knows what ‘rock’ means. But it wasn’t always so.

“After satisfying all of their classical music kinks with keyboard player Jon Lord’s overblown Concerto for Group and Orchestra, Deep Purple’s soon to be classic Mark II version made its proper debut and established the sonic blueprint that would immortalize this line up of the band on 1970’s awesome “In Rock”. The cacophony of sound (with Ritchie Blackmore’s blistering guitar solo) introducing opener “Speed King” made it immediately obvious that the band was no longer fooling around, but the slightly less intense “Bloodsucker” did afford stunned listeners a chance to catch their breaths before the band launched into the album’s epic, ten-minute tour de force, “Child in Time.” In what still stands as arguably his single greatest performance, singer Ian Gillan led his bandmates on a series of hypnotizing crescendos, from the song’s gentle beginning through to its ear-shattering climax and then back again for an even more intense encore… one of heavy metal’s defining albums.

British band Deep Purple started out as classically influenced progressive rockers before finding their true calling in 1970 with Deep Purple “In Rock”. The cover art gives the quintet the Mount Rushmore treatment, and this set certainly qualifies as a national monument of heavy metal. Newly arrived singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover were experienced songwriters, inspiring the group to come up with seven originals (including opener “Speed King” and the epic “Child in Time”) to showcase the blazing riffs of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organist Jon Lord as never before. The first studio album from the classic “Mark II” lineup of the group, Deep Purple “In Rock” was released 50 years ago today and will still have you pumping your fist from start to finish.

When the first real fruits of the ‘new’ band – the Deep Purple In Rock album – emerged, it was the start of a whole new ball game in terms of guitar music. In comparison, where Purple were deft and nimble-fingered, Sabbath seemed heavy and harsh, and Zep’s juggling of traditional and roots music on their own 1970 album III was somewhat diffuse compared to the widescreen game of riffs and rests that was In Rock.

A vast army of rock fans agreed, and bought Deep Purple’s record in droves. The scene was set for a whole new type of heavy music, epitomised by Blackmore’s gutsy, controlled riffs and fluid soloing, Lord’s keyboard counterpoint, and the piercing wails of Gillan. If you’ve ever enjoyed the guitar/vocal interplay of Iron Maiden, Uriah Heep, Dream Theater, Kiss, Rainbow, Metallica and many more, you owe In Rock a huge debt of gratitude.

In 1970, popular (as opposed to pop) music was finding its feet – and its balls. “A whole lot of people were thinking the same way at the same time,” says Ian Gillan with a nostalgic cackle. “You look back at seminal moments and influences, and you’ll notice that things were getting heavier and harder, because of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. As for Deep Purple, the times were indeed a-changing. “All of a sudden the music came together,” Gillan recalls. “It was the transition from our semi-pro years, and it seemed as if the music was coming from within the band instead of outside the band.”

Simper had remained in London and formed a band called Warhorse; he later became a painter and decorator. The latter in particular has been vocal about the way he was ousted from Purple. But all this strife had a positive side. The feelings of jealousy, betrayal and anger that surrounded the coming together of the Mk II line-up of Purple were also the catalysts that spurred them on creatively. Add to that the eagerness of all the band members to achieve recognition for their own work, and the new band was primed for take-off.

“We’d all been recording artists before “In Rock”, but none of us had done something like this before,” Gillan offers. “Purple were more known in the States for cover songs like Hush [by Joe South], Kentucky Woman [by Neil Diamond], River Deep Mountain High [previously made famous by Ike & Tina Turner] and so on, where they were hit records.”.  Deep Purple’s three previous studio albums – Shades Of Deep Purple (68), The Book Of Taliesyn (69) and Deep Purple (69) – “had been much admired by aficionados such as myself, but the self-penned material largely went unnoticed by the media . So there was a desire in Ritchie and Jon and Ian to explore that area of their music a bit more. This was the reason for the band changing and Roger and I being invited in.”

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Gillan and Glover had become dissatisfied with their roles in Episode Six, just as Lord, Blackmore and Paice had in Purple. “Roger and I had started writing,” Gillan explains, “and we had been lucky enough to gain some understanding of rhyme and meter. We understood that a lyric was different to a poem, generally speaking, and that there were some vowel sounds you had to avoid when you were hitting a high note, and we learned about some of the percussive values of the words. All this unfulfilled angst meant that when the revitalised Purple line-up finally began playing together, the creative spark between the members was very powerful. When rehearsals began, the band immediately noticed something strange: a kind of drive that transcended the music they were striving to create.  “It was a kind of joy,” Gillan smiles. “I have absolutely fond memories of that time. All the rehearsals I’d been to before were about learning songs; these [for In Rock] were all about writing songs, from the perspective of being totally inside them and jamming them.” Attempting to define this intangible factor, he says that there’s “a joy in writing something as five people, rather than just one. That’s the great thing about a band. When you find yourself in that place, when you’re all singing off the same hymn sheet, then it’s very natural to play that music, because it comes from a rhythm and you just join in and build it up as it goes along.”

Each member of the Deep Purple line-up that recorded In Rock had an indefinable but crucial contribution to make to the songs. As bassist Roger Glover remembered: “Ritchie wasn’t just the guitar player, he was a brilliant innovator. Things he wrote defy description. Ritchie was phenomenal in what he was doing in the late 60s and early 70s. He did things that you wouldn’t even think of. He was a magnetic, dynamic writer. I don’t think he could have done it in a vacuum by himself, it did require the rest of us. But I’ll certainly give him his due. He was the motivating character in the band.”

Gillan himself, a laid-back character in person, still possesses the necessary frontman skills in abundance – which, according to Blackmore in a 1996 interview, stem from an unfortunate backstage incident: “I often blame myself. We were in a club, the Rock’n’Roll Circus, a big, pretentious place in France in 1970. Songs for possible inclusion on In Rock came thick and fast, and often without any obvious effort on the band’s behalf. It has become a cliché for songwriters to claim that they don’t actually create music, it’s simply channelled through them from some unidentified, perhaps unearthly, source. But in the case of Deep Purple and In Rock, the cliché appears to be the truth.

Asked how the band conceived the album’s classic opening track, Gillan shrugs: “I don’t know how we came up with Speed King, any more than I know how Ian Paice started playing it, or how Ritchie Blackmore started playing it. I see a lot of young stars on chat shows these days denying any knowledge of having any formative years or any influences in their early life, but I think we all did in Purple.

So what were the main influences on In Rock? After all, Gillan and Glover’s lightweight pop past was something of a contrast to the other musicians’ adventurous, less orthodox but more unfocused experience. “It’s an accumulation,” Gillan says. “Jon Lord had his classical and Jimmy Smith background. Ian was Buddy Rich personified. In my case it was Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Ella Fitzgerald and Jerry Lee Lewis. In later times Roger’s Bob Dylan influence came in. When you bring all that together, you’re gonna come up with something unique. If you took one of us away it wouldn’t be the same. “All this analysis is very difficult,” he continues, reflectively. “You’re never aware of these things at the time. It’s always an objective look back at the past, by which time you’ve forgotten half of what happened anyway.”

In any case, he says, In Rock wasn’t actually developed in the studio, it was created and honed by endless days and nights on the road, when the songs were put through their paces; their finished form took shape after months of being pulled and bent in all directions. “If you’re going to write about “In Rock,” Gillan admonishes, “you’ve got to combine the making of the album with the live performances. They were so much more important than the actual making of the record.  The importance of the songs’ development in the live arena cannot be overstated. As Ian Paice told the late Tommy Vance: “There’s a lot of good physical quality in the songs we made. More so than there ever was on record. The songs on record were okay, [but] on stage they were brilliant – and it’s still that way. They’re much better to play live than they ever were on record. And when you put them in front of an audience, especially a big audience, they’re that much better again.”

“We had developed the songs in our rehearsal rooms in Hanwell [West London],” Gillan remembers, “and one by one they started creeping into the stage show. You could see the look on everyone’s face in the band – this was something which we were all excited about.”  In case you’re thinking that they had developed an inflated idea of their own importance, it wasn’t just they who thought Purple were on to something special at this point in their career. “The underground knew all about Deep Purple by this stage,” Gillan says. “All the other acts knew about this incredible band. So when we took ourselves into the studio for In Rock it was a very special thing for us.  we had a dynamic engineer in Martin Birch,” Gillan affirms, “and we were working in a studio that everyone was familiar with. We were much more on our own terms – we didn’t have a producer falling asleep over the console – so we just went in and treated it like a rehearsal room. More than anything else, we had the feeling that we were actually playing on a record.”

The fact that Purple – all in their early to mid-20s at this time – had been allocated an engineer of their own age, rather than some lab-coated authority figure, was crucial. “Everyone was of the same generation; we were all thinking along the same lines. It was just the band and Martin in the studio. He wanted to mic it up properly, so he found the brightest [in sound terms] part of the room for Ian Paice and just somehow got it sounding right. He recorded it loud, and to hell with the meters – they were going into the red all over the place.”

When he’s asked whether the band got the sound they were looking for, Gillan laughs: “Well, I didn’t know what I wanted it to sound like! But it was hugely exciting. So much so that my uncle, who was a jazz pianist, ran screaming from the room when he heard what he described as ‘a cacophony of sound’. The songs needed a bit of touching up. I think Speed King was originally called Kneel & Pray or something, and lyrically they needed tightening up. But that didn’t even matter, it was the attitude that counted. For me, the energy was the thing that came through.”

Gillan also reveals, surprisingly, that beneath all the swagger was a band with a certain lack of confidence: “We could deliver a good show live, there was no problem there, but psychologically it was a different story. We all had our areas of fragility,” he confides. But it was the very essence of Purple’s music – a preening, don’t- give-a-damn pretence of invulnerability – that carried them through. Deep Purple In Rock, released on the Harvest label in June 1970, was a revelation. Critics warmed to the confident song writing, the expansive, Birch-engineered production, and the iconic sleeve art that depicted the five Deep Purple members’ faces carved into the surface of Mount Rushmore in place of the faces of US presidents.

The delicious insolence of the image drew buyers in their thousands; the album stayed on the UK album chart for a thumping 68 weeks, peaking at No.4. After “In Rock” came the most successful period in Purple’s history, with a run of what became classic albums (Fireball, Machine Head, Made In Japan, Who Do We Think We Are!, Burn and Stormbringer) released over the next four years and making them into one of the most revered and respected rock bands in the world. By the end of that run, the band’s line-up had fractured again, and for the latter two records David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes had replaced Gillan and Glover (who both returned for 1984’s ‘reunion’ album, Perfect Strangers).

During an interview in 1971, Jon Lord, for years a quiet but significant force within Deep Purple, looked back perceptively on In Rock, pondering: “The first three [studio] albums were pleasant, but directionless. Nobody knew quite what on earth the group was doing. Then we made a conscious effort to stop and think about writing material we all understood. And the result was In Rock, which was really our stage act. That was the turning point. And the point is, we believe in what we’re doing together. We aren’t too much interested in educating our audiences, we’re more interested in entertaining. That’s what it’s all about.” He added: “We learned a terrific amount with In Rock. It took six months to make that album, and we think it paid off, really. I can honestly say that it’s the first album we’ve been 100 per cent satisfied with. It gave us a hell of a lot of confidence. During that long time we learned a lot about ourselves and our music, and our sense of direction. I suppose it’s our basis now for our whole sound and our whole way of working. We’re very extrovert, really. We like to excite an audience, get involved with them.” Some reviewers had expected the new album to be classically influenced, probably because of Lord’s interest in classical music, and also because of some song structures that had appeared on earlier albums, climaxing with Concerto For Group & Orchestra. 

However, Lord made it clear that this wasn’t going to be the case, explaining: “I feel we’re moving away from [classical music] now, because it was never intended to be part of the direction of the group; it was merely an experiment. As you know, we did experiment with classical themes in the beginning, and with classical chord structures in the music, but it all got a bit soulless. We don’t normally use any form of classical music now – except maybe in our solos.”As for Purple’s great stage act – responsible more than anything else for the epic songs on In Rock – Lord added: “I feel that British groups at least make an effort somehow that is more concerned with projection, with putting themselves across. Sometimes it can get a bit soulless, but on the whole I think it’s preferable to the American alternative. The actual group now is trying to develop into being good at what we’re best at – which is what we call rock’n’roll.”

Unlike earlier albums, every song on “In Rock” is credited to the five Deep Purple band members. Gillan recalled the songs were initially rehearsed at Hanwell, then introduced to the live show to see how they would work. Lord said the purpose of the album was to make “a conscious effort to stop and think about writing material we all understood”.

Side one
“Speed King” developed from a bass riff written by Glover at Hanwell, in an attempt to emulate Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire”. Gillan wrote the lyrics by taking phrases of old rock ‘n’ roll songs by Little Richard. It was originally known as “Kneel and Pray” and developed as a live piece for several months before recording. The first studio take of the song featured Lord playing piano instead of organ, which was later released as a B-side in Holland. The final take used on the album was recorded in January 1970; it opens with an untitled instrumental known as “Woffle”, recorded in November 1969.

“Bloodsucker” was recorded at De Lane Lea Studios and finished at Abbey Road Studios. Paice enjoyed playing on the track. The song would be re-recorded 28 years later, with Steve Morse on guitar, and retitled “Bludsucker” for Deep Purple’s 1998 album Abandon.

“Child in Time” was written early during the Hanwell rehearsals, after Lord began playing the introduction to “Bombay Calling” by It’s a Beautiful Day. The group decided to play the song’s main theme at a slower tempo, with Gillan writing new words inspired by the Vietnam War. He later said he came up with the song’s title spontaneously. The song was regularly played live, and was well-rehearsed by the time it was recorded at IBC in November 1969. It subsequently became a de facto anthem for anti-Communist resistance groups in Eastern Europe during the period of the Iron Curtain.

Side two
“Flight of the Rat” was the last song recorded for the album, at De Lane Lea on 11 March. It evolved during rehearsals from a humorous re-arrangement by Glover of “Flight of the Bumblebee”.

“Into the Fire” was written by Glover as a warning against drugs. The main riff developed after discussing chromatic scales with Blackmore.

“Living Wreck” was recorded at the early IBC sessions in October 1969. It was almost left off the album as the group felt it was not good enough, but they listened to it again towards the end of the sessions and decided they liked it. Blackmore played the guitar solo through an octave pedal.

“Hard Lovin’ Man” was derived from a Glover bass riff and developed as a jam session by the rest of the band. It was the first track for the album recorded at De Lane Lea in January 1970 with engineer Martin Birch. The group were impressed with Birch’s skills, and he was retained as engineer for the rest of the group’s albums up to 1976. He was credited as a “catalyst” on the original LP.

Other songs
After completing the album, the group’s management were worried there was no obvious hit single, and booked De Lane Lea in early May 1970 so the band could write and record one. After struggling to come up with a commercial-sounding song, Blackmore started playing the riff to Ricky Nelson’s arrangement of “Summertime”, while the group improvised the rest of the structure. Gillan later said he tried to write “the most banal lyrics we could think of”. The result was the single “Black Night”, which became the group’s first UK hit.

“Cry Free” was recorded at IBC in January 1970. Although the group recorded over 30 takes, it did not make the final track listing, and was later released on a compilation album.

An instrumental, “Jam Stew” was recorded in late November 1969 at IBC. A version with improvised lyrics had been recorded as “John Stew” for a BBC session, while the main riff was featured on the track “Bullfrog” on the session album Green Bullfrog, released the following year.

The Band:

Ian Gillan (vocals), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass), Ian Paice (drums), Ritchie Blackmore (guitar)

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