Deep Purple, Child in Time (June 1970) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 9

If Led Zeppelin’s contribution to the developing sound of hard rock was a blues influence, then Deep Purple’s was a classical influence. More than any other of the pioneering metal bands, Deep Purple were consummate instrumentalists, with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboard player Jon Lord both classically trained and drummer Ian Paice fully their equal for technique.

Deep Purple have an interesting and complicated history. Originally conceived as a vanity project for Searchers drummer Chris Curtis, they were half-formed by the time he lost interest, and kicked off without him. (I sometimes wonder what he made of their subsequent success.) The Blackmore/Lord/Paice trio was at the heart of all three classic line-ups, with a revolving cast of vocal-and-bass pairs completing the various versions of the groups.

Their first three albums, released in 1968 and 1969, placed them as a psychedelic pop group, albeit one with heavy tendencies. The sleeve notes on their debut, Shades of Deep Purple, rather endearingly described it as “The combined talents of five young men are here extended to create realms of musical colour such as have never been heard before”. But the core trio, having become dissatisfied with a lack of apparent progress, fired singer Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper, and replaced them to form Mark II of the band — generally considered the canonical line-up. Roger Glover played bass, and Ian Gillan contributed distinctive vocals — more screaming than singing, but smooth and silvery where Robert Plant over in Led Zeppelin was rough and raw.

Even then, the band hadn’t figured out what it wanted to be: their fourth album was an all-out classical collaboration, Concerto for Group and Orchestra, recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This project was Jon Lord’s baby, and is more admired than actually liked. Their next album was to represent Ritchie Blackmore’s vision of what the band would be, and that is the version that stuck.

The 1970 album In Rock was much harder and heavier than anything the band had created before, and finally got their career up and running. They would follow this album up with Fireball, then Machine Head (including the all-time great heavy metal riff from Smoke on the Water) before the acclaimed double live album Made in Japan. Mark II fizzled out with the relatively uninspiring Who Do We Think We Are? before replacing their singer and bassist once more.

Arguably the high point of In Rock is the song Child in Time (above). In its slow steady build from the gentle organ introduction to the frantic jam at the half-way point, the band is in absolute control throughout. After the opening verse, Gillan’s wordless vocal steps effortlessly up from a whisper to a cry to a scream. Blackmore’s lead guitar entry at 3:30 is muted and fluid, and draws the band organically into the lengthy instrumental passage that crescendoes before coming to a sudden halt — and, magically, dropping back into the peaceful waters of the repeated verse. The construction is perfect. (It’s worth watching this live version to see how the band build it up and bring it down; also to marvel at the completely unresponsive crowd in their rows of chairs.)

Mark III of Deep Purple included David Coverdale as the new vocalist (we’ll be hearing more of him later) and Glenn Hughes on bass and backing vocals. For my money, the first Mark III album, Burn, is the equal of any of the Mark II albums; but their followup Stormbringer is less consistent, and suffers rather from mission creep, with a soul/funk influence changing the direction. (Numerous subsequent versions of Deep Purple have released numerous subsequent albums, but Stormbringer ends the classic run.)

Where pop groups like The Kinks, The Who and The Beatles had all flirted with hard rock, Deep Purple were among the first to make the permanent transition. Gavin Burrows has commented that “the problem wasn’t inventing hard rock but working out a way to sustain it”. Deep Purple emphatically did this with a huge repertoire of very different songs songs that all used hard-rock idioms, but deployed them in distinctive ways. I would argue that they were by some distance the most creative of the classic-era heavy metal bands, and worthy of more critical respect than they tend to get these days.

One final note: there are a lot of Deep Purple tribute bands out there. Ian Paice, even though he is still drumming with the original band 46 years on, often drops in and plays a song or two with them at their gigs. For the members of those bands, that must be the best thing ever. You’ve got to love someone who does that. What a nice guy.

21 responses to “Deep Purple, Child in Time (June 1970) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 9

  1. That’s as classic a heavy metal guitar solo as you can get. Also, a great melodic voice with a wide range that can reach the high notes, powerful drums… I think the recipe for a heavy metal song is complete.

  2. ”…but smooth and silvery where Robert Plant over in Led Zeppelin was rough and raw.”

    I guess that’s the thing for me. I’m sure there must be music I like that could be called smooth and silvery, but for me those qualities just don’t combine with hard rock. I don’t get the same sense of Deep Purple getting wild or unhinged as I do from Zeppelin or Sabbath. They just sound sane. People sometimes assume there’s some either/or choice between that kind of abandon and musical proficiency, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Zeppelin were highly musically accomplished, and Sabbath were more skilled than many imagine. It’s not the proficiency that snags it for me, it’s the smoothness.

    Agree of course over the general principle that this is the point where hard rock became a workable genre in its own right. Perhaps one of the big USPs of Zeppelin was their ability to serve up unadulterated, piledriver riffs while still breaking into enough other stuff to stop it becoming one-note. We’re all now used to the mid-section of ’Whole Lotta Love’, but when people first heard that freaky theramin outbreak it must have felt like it broke in from another dimension.

    I would have to agree with Andrei Vajna on ’21st Century Schizoid Man.’ (Even if we differ over the MC5.) Yeah King Crimson were more prog, but then the Beatles or the Kinks weren’t mostly hard rock bands either. As well as being (IMHO) a great track built around a riff, I like it because of the prog associations – it vies with a rule it’s sometimes easy to slip into. You can easily conceive of the Sixties underground splitting, the more out-there side turning into prog (Pink Floyd, Soft Machine) and the more get-down, heavy riffing side turning into hard rock (Sabbath). But this track kind of embraces all three. The distortion, the attack, the semi-politicised lyrics place it with the Sixties underground, while the sheer emphasis on the riff is proto-metal. (You could even argue proto-metal rather than proto-hard rock, it’s not really a blues riff.) But the mid-section is really proto-prog, and the two exist in a virtuous combination.

    I also think Free’s ‘All Right Now’ needs to make the list too. People can imagine heavy music has to be fast, or that it divides into doomy/slow and happy/fast. But it’s the unhurried pace that makes the track such a classic. Even the guitar solo is unhurried! No pun intended, there feels more freedom to Free than there does to ‘Born to Be Wild.’ Plus it makes the stripped-down-ness feel more audacious. Hard rock was not about speed but strength.

    And please tell me that the fact the timeline’s already passed the first Sabbath album doesn’t mean you’ll be cutting them out of the picture entirely!

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  6. I just remembered that you didn’t mention this, and it’s something I’ve only recently learned, that Child in time is based on Bombay Calling from a group called It’s a beautiful day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEKg9qyEQmw , which it seems was written by Vince Wallace, who incorporated the main theme in his original song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOvBR5yJLcE . I found an article which describes the actual origins: http://www.thehighwaystar.com/thsblog/2007/10/08/its-a-beautiful-deep-purple-day/

  7. I’d heard it said before that Child in Time was based on Bombay Calling, but I’d never heard the track itself till you pointed me to this video. Wow. It’s actually a bit of shock to see how much they lifted, uncredited. How disappointing. (I also remember reading an interview with, I think, Jon Lord, where he said that the opening of Child in Time came from slowing down a riff from a Vanilla Fudge song; but perhaps he was misremembering.)

  8. I’m not sure how much it was a rip-off or not. Wikipedia says that “It’s a Beautiful Day in return borrowed Purple’s ‘Wring That Neck’ and turned it into ‘Don and Dewey’ on their second album”, so I guess it was somehow endorsed. I also heard that after Deep Purple’s success, It’s a Beautiful Day started adapting their live performances of Bombay Calling so that it sounded more like Child in Time. [citation needed, of course]

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  15. Some great comments in here. I wouldn’t actually have Free’s ‘All Right Now’ in the list, but I could make I think a far more persuasive case for ‘Mr.Big’. It’s got the huge repetitive riff and rock solid beat behind it. Particularly the live version.

  16. I’m listening to Mr. Big right now. Interesting how very sparse the opening is — sounds almost more like heavy jazz than rock. The chorus does have something more distinctive happening, but I guess the argument against including it in the timeline would be that, by 1970 when this came out, Led Zeppelin had been doing this kind of thing for some time.

  17. Yep, that’s fair, while it was of a style, it didn’t start that style. What’s interesting is on the Beat Club live clip (from YouTube), it’s very obvious Kossoff is playing the 7ths in both the E7 and B7. Tons of guitarists tend to simplify the chords and just play the 1sts and 5ths (perhaps a 3rd or two), but he really lets those 7ths ring out. Makes a huge difference. Perhaps it was his classical background.

  18. After discovering this article (and indeed this site) a few months ago, I’ve been reabsorbing the Purple albums. Completely agree about Burn, it’s actually surprised me how good it still is. I’d put it just behind In Rock, Fireball, and Machine Head, but probably better than anything else.

    Just on Blackmore, yeah, an interesting character. Utterly amazing guitar player though.

  19. I’m glad to see Fireball getting a bit of love — for my money it’s their most underrated album, and I’d place it third after only Machine Head and Burn. (My take is that In Rock has not aged as well as those three, and tracks like Flight of the Rat and Hard Lovin’ Man feel a bit like filler.)

  20. Yeah, I must admit the melodies that stick in my head from In Rock aren’t those two. I was mainly focused on Bloodsucker and Into the Fire. It was good to once more reach for the Les Paul chanting “these riffs must be conquered!”.

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