“Made In Japan” by Deep Purple (1973)
Somewhere in the pantheon of great rock groups, Deep Purple has become an afterthought.
Consider that it was one of the pioneers of heavy metal, successfully making the transition from psychedelic music to a much harder style.
Consider that the band still is an active unit, albeit one with that took a hiatus at a critical time and has a sole original member in the current lineup, for 44 years.
And consider that the riff for “Smoke On the Water” is perhaps the most recognizable in the history of rock.
“Smoke On the Water” first appeared on “Machine Head,” the third album by Deep Purple’s so-called Mark II lineup, documenting what happened during recording sessions in Montreux, Switzerland, in late 1971: Yes, “some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground,” during a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. (It happens during the band’s rendition of “King Kong”; when people start yelling, “Fire!”, singer Mark Volman makes a reference to Arthur Brown, whose hit single … oh, never mind.)
Anyway, the American single version of “Smoke On the Water” was taken from the live “Made In Japan,” a two-LP set capturing the best of Deep Purple’s three-night stand at the Kosei Nenkin Kaikan in Osaka and the Budokan in Tokyo.
My initial interest in “Made In Japan” came, of course, by way of the big hit, which you couldn’t escape hearing on the radio circa 1974. But a closer examination of the album, itself, showed a mere seven songs spanning those two LPs. For a kid with an inclination toward long jams, that was just what the doctor ordered.
Four of the seven songs on the live album originally appeared on “Machine Head.” Sort of. The LP’s fourth side simply is noted as “Space Truckin’,” clocking in at around 20 minutes, but the track contains elements of several Deep Purple standards, most notable “Mandrake Root” from the debut “Shades of Deep Purple.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The “Made In Japan” opener, as on “Machine Head,” is “Highway Star,” which almost is on par with “Smoke On the Water” as far as hard-rock standards go. The song showcases what Mark II was all about: Ian Gillan’s high-octane vocals propelled by strong instrumentation from keyboard player Jon Lord, drummer Ian Paice, bassist Roger Glover and guitarist Richie Blackmore, whose Stratocaster solo is the key component to carrying the song into legendary status.
“Child In Time,” from the Mark II debut “In Rock,” is many listeners’ favorite on the album, if not in the entire Deep Purple discography. The tune starts quietly, as Gillan sings of an innocent discovering the evils of the world, before he launches into vocal-cord-shredding screaming that changes the dynamics into as heavy as music got in 1972. The song’s interlude features some of Blackmore’s most lauded guitar playing, as his diatonic-scale licks culminate in a rapid-fire delivery that leaves the audience amazed before proceedings return to a quieter mood.
“Smoke On the Water” starts with Gillan’s brief narration about the song’s genesis, and Blackmore throws in a few extra chords before the song starts in earnest, with the guitarist managing to replicate his classic studio solo with impressive accuracy.
Paice takes the reins on “The Mule,” from Mark II’s second album, “Fireball.” As far as drum solos go, he’s not quite Bonham or Baker, but he doesn’t overdo it.
Perhaps anyone but Gillan would be accused of doing so during an extended workout of “Strange Kind of Woman,” a hit single for the band in its native U.K. He chirps along to Blackmore’s guitar licks, showing off his near-superhuman vocal range.
Lord kicks off “Lazy,” another “Machine Head” tune, with an extended organ solo that might have drawn inspiration from Keith Emerson (or vice versa). The band shows it has the chops to play a creditable blues, including Gillan’s harp playing.
The first five minutes of “Space Truckin'” remans faithful to the “Machine Head” version before the band tears into a series of musical themes. Along the way, Blackmore manipulates his volume knob to produce a cello-like effect, as first heard on “Fools” from “Fireball.” Then comes the finale: three minutes of intense jamming, with Blackmore getting maximum mileage from his tremolo bar, until Lord wraps things up with what sounds like a dive bomb.
The audiences in Osaka and Tokyo must’ve been blown away, as listeners still are nearly 40 years later by one of rock’s great live albums, by one of rock’s great bands. And one, incidentally, that still is outside looking in when it comes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.