Posts Tagged ‘Stratocaster’

“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.

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“Procol Harum” by Procol Harum (1967)

Lyricist Keith Reid told author Claes Johansen about his inspiration for what stands as one of the most recognizable, respected and oft-played songs in rock history:

“Some guy looked at a chick and said to her, ‘You’ve gone a whiter shade of pale.’ That phrase stuck in my mind. It was a beautiful thing for someone to say. I wish I’d said it.”

And so it was that later, the band he wrote for, Procol Harum, combined Reid’s words with a melody reminiscent of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major.” Released as the band’s debut single, the song went to the top of the charts in most of the civilized world. And none other than John Lennon took to playing the tune constantly in his Rolls-Royce.

Suddenly the band with the odd name – the group’s manager, the late Guy Stevens, named it after a friend’s cat – was in high demand; its live debut was opening for another hot act at the time, the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

To capitalize on the success, Procol Harum entered London’s Olympic Studios for a coupe of days in June 1967 with new members Robin Trower on guitar and B.J. Wilson on drums to record on album’s worth of material.

The result is a collection of songs that display an impressive amount of diversity, melodicism and maturity for a band that had been together only a couple of months. True, several of the members had played together previously as the Paramounts (and as such had opened several shows for the Beatles), but that aggregation’s forte was rhythm and blues.

Procol Harum combined elements of the nascent psychedelic scene, particularly Reid’s often-arcane lyrics, with a sophisticated instrumental approach spearheaded by Trower, lead singer Gary Brooker’s piano and especially Matthew Fisher’s Hammond organ, the dominant instrument on “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

The debut alum opens with “Conquistador,” which became a major hit several years later via a live version recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The original studio version, though, conveys a similar theme of urgent grandiosity using only the instruments available at Olympic.

Reid remains well-known for his morbid sense of humor, as his lyrics to “She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” attest: “And though I said, ‘You don’t exist,’ she grasped me firmly by the wrist/And threw me down upon my back, and strapped me to a torture rack.”

The sense of foreboding continues with “Something Following Me,” with Trower’s guitar driving hard-edged instrumental backing for a tale about a man who keeps encountering his fate: “I went into a shop, and bought a loaf of bread/I sank my teeth into it, thought I’d bust my head/I dashed to the dentist, said, ‘I’ve got an awful pain’/The man looks inside my mouth and screams, ‘This boy’s insane!’/Imagine my surprise, thought I’d left it at home/But there’s a lump in my mouth with my own tombstone.”

“Mabel” seems to lighten the mood with a short burst of music-hall cajolery, but Reid sneaks in this line: “In the cellar lies my wife/In my wife there’s a knife.”

Ouch.

Trower really cranks up his Stratocaster on “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of),” getting a distinctively distorted sound by running one amplifier (Selmer Little Giant) into another (Fender). Lyrically, Reid creates a fantasy world complete with his own characters, such as Sousa Sam, Peep the Sot and the immortal Phallus Phil.

The LP’s second side starts with “A Christmas Camel,” which despite its title never seems to make it onto holiday compilations. That’s no wonder, with lyrics like “While some Arabian oil well/Impersonates a padded cell.”

“Kaleidoscope” always has been one of my favorite Procol Harum songs, with Fisher’s organ the dominant instrument on a catchy slice of hard rock. Reid doesn’t kill anyone off in the lyrics, but the paranoia remains: “Still out in the dark I grope/The key’s in my kaleidoscope.”

Reid returns to a favorite subject in “Salad Days (Are Here Again),” writing of a couple: “The sun seeps through the window to see if we’re still dead/To try to throw some light around the gloom upon our bed.”

OK, then.

The brief “Good Captain Clack” leads into the apogee of “Procol Harum,” if not the band’s entire career: Fisher’s epic instrumental “Repent Walpurgis,” which begins as another Bach-inspired melody before Trower steps in with his raging Fender fury. Brooker takes the foot off the accelerator with a relatively light piano arpeggio before the full band returns with a vengeance, finally wrapping up proceedings with in an extended, highly dramatic fashion.

It’s no wonder Procol Harum often played “Repent Walpurgis” as an encore, even into its 21st-century incarnation.

One knock against “Procol Harum” – and I’d have ranked it higher if this weren’t the case – is that the album exists only in monaural form. The situation was rectified somewhat by the 1999 CD release of “Pandora’s Box,” which contains true stereo versions of several songs, and also features two versions of “Repent Walpurgis,” the latter clocking in at more than seven minutes.

“Pandora’s Box” also features a stereo mix of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” that sounds infinitely superior to the single version and plays out to its natural conclusion instead of fading in the middle of Brooker’s vocal on the chorus.

Procol Harum went on to record a series of highly regarded albums – “Shine On Brightly,” “A Salty Dog,” “Home” and “Broken Barricades” – before Trower left to pursue a successful solo career. Reid and Brooker continued to write music together, and probably still do ’til this day.

But they and the rest of the band may have peaked right there at the very beginning, certainly commercially and perhaps artistically.