Deep Purple in Rock one of Britain's finest hard rock albums

1970 studio recording shows why Ritchie Blackmore's reputation as a guitar wizard was well deserved

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 July, 2015, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 July, 2015, 9:34pm

Queen's Brian May recently lamented in an interview that former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore seems to be slowly disappearing from rock history. In the early 1970s, the flamboyant co-leader of the British hard rock band was mentioned in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. He's now way down the list of guitar greats, but this '70 set, the first studio album to feature the band's "mark two" line-up, shows why his reputation as a guitar wizard was well deserved.

Deep Purple had already released three studio albums and the live Concerto for Group and Orchestra before changing direction for In Rock. These earlier records, with the exception of the pretentious art-rock Concerto - once described by US critic Lester Bangs as "an atrocity" - had been psychedelic-tinged outings that suffered from a lack of direction.

Blackmore and the band's co-leader, Hammond organ maestro Jon Lord, decided that a change of sound was in order, and one of Britain's finest hard-rock albums was the result.

Some of the tracks still stand as highlights in what was to become a long and productive musical career for Purple. Child in Time, a morphing 10-minute epic about the Vietnam war, is still one of their most popular songs, second only to the band's evergreen Smoke on the Water from 1972's Machine Head. The track ably demonstrates the dynamic vocal range of Ian Gillan, here in his first studio outing for the band. Gillan's voice begins introspectively, but quickly moves to an eardrum-bursting falsetto, the sound that came to define his career.

Opener Speed King also went on to become a Purple classic. The hard-driving rocker is an ode to early rockers such as Little Richard, Elvis and Chuck Berry, whose songs are quoted in the lyrics. The start - excised from the US version of the album - gets listeners in the mood with a guitar freakout that's quickly followed by a gentle organ solo. Then the band kick in and raise high heaven. Soloing by the classically trained Lord and the bluesy Blackmore is fantastic, and shows that although they couldn't stand each other personally, they were a perfect fit musically.

In the competitive British rock scene of the '70s, there was no room for slackers, and every band member had to pull their weight. Drummer Ian Paice, who gets a short solo in Flight of the Rat, and bassist Roger Glover complete the line-up, providing a rhythm section that is as adaptable as it is powerful.

The sleeve, which was originally a gatefold, features members of the band replacing the heads of the US presidents on Mount Rushmore. An idea of Purple's manager Tony Edwards, it demonstrated the band's confidence in their new sound.

Deep Purple in Rock  Deep Purple (Harvest/Warner Bros)