A ’70s Hard Rock Gem Is Turning 50

Today 50 years ago, Deep Purple released Machine Head. The British band’s sixth studio record remains my favorite hard rock album to this day, so celebrating this gem with a post was a no-brainer to me. Remarkably, Machine Head almost wasn’t meant to be.

Deep Purple had decided they wanted to record an album outside the confines of a traditional studio, hoping they could generate a sound that mirrored their live performances. After some research, the Montreux Casino on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland had been identified as a suitable venue, and the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio had been hired for the project.

The day before the recording sessions were supposed to start, Deep Purple decided to see Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention for a matinée performance at the very same venue. But some stupid with a flare gun
burned the place to the ground
, as was later captured in the lyrics of one of the most epic hard rock songs I can think of, Smoke On the Water, which is safe to assume also is the nightmare for anybody working in a guitar store selling electrics!

“We were sitting in this kind of bar/restaurant, which was overlooking the lake, Lake Geneva, and about maybe a quarter of a mile from the casino, which had really taken the flames, two, three hundred feet in the air,” Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan said during an interview with In the Studio with Redbeard, recorded in 2017 on the occasion of the album’s 45th anniversary. “…And the wind was coming off down the mountains and blowing the flames and the smoke across the lake. And the smoke was just like a stage show, it was hanging on the water. I never forget Roger [bassist Roger GloverCMM] grabbed a napkin and wrote down on this napkin ‘smoke on the water.'”

With their original recording venue destroyed, Deep Purple had to find a new location to make the album. With the help of Claude Nobbs, founder and general manager of the Montreux Jazz Festival, who had become friends with the band, they found the Pavilion, a theatre in Montreux close to the casino. Unfortunately, there was no soundproofing, and after recording just one track, the police showed up and stopped the proceedings. Deep Purple had just lost another venue.

But Nobbs was determined to help the group and found the Grand Hotel, which was closed down for the season. It was located just outside of the sleepy resort town. With The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio parked at the main entrance, Deep Purple set up at the end of one of the corridors off the main lobby – yes, one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time was actually recorded in a hotel corridor! According to Wikipedia, An assortment of equipment and sound-insulating mattresses were installed, which meant the band had to walk through bedrooms and across balconies to get to the recording van. This proved so arduous that Deep Purple stopped listening to playbacks of their recordings, instead performing until they were satisfied.

“It [the hotel] was cold, there was no heating on,” recalled Roger Glover who joined Ian Gillan for the above interview. “But it had a ground floor corridor that was made of marble, and it was high ceilings – yeah, we could do this…We got an industrial heater in, a big kind of cylinder thing, and it was the roadies’ job to get to the place a couple of hours before we would do to start and turn this thing on to heat the room up – the room, the corridor!”

“The whole thing was recorded under dire circumstances,” Glover went on. “It was very cold and we were in this corridor. It’s beyond belief, actually, the desperation with which we were trying to finish this record.” And finish they did and, boy, what a record it tuned out to be. I’d say it’s time to revisit some of the goodies!

Opening side one is Highway Star, an outright danger if you find yourself in a car behind the wheel while listening to this tune. Like all other tracks on Machine Head, it was credited to the entire band, who in addition to Gillan and Glover also included Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Jon Lord (keyboards, Hammond organ) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion) – what a killer line-up! Citing Glover, Songfacts notes the band wrote “Highway Star” on their tour bus on the way to a gig at the Portsmouth Guildhall (in the UK) on September 13, 1971, where they debuted the song. They wrote it because they were getting sick of their opening number, “Speed King;” [which I love as well, BTW – CMM]. “Highway Star” became their opener from that point on. The song evolved through live performances.

Perhaps one of the tunes that may not come to mind first when thinking about Machine Head is Pictures of Home. It’s not as famous as the opener or the above-mentioned Smoke on the Water, but it’s one hell of a tune with a great guitar riff and a cool bass solo. And that drum intro by Ian Paice is pretty neat as well. The man who remains with Deep Purple to this day as their only constant member is a true force of nature.

Closing out side one is Never Before, another deeper track I love. Interestingly, it became the album’s lead single on March 21, 1972, appearing four days ahead of the record.

And we’re on to side two. I guess any review celebrating Machine Head cannot ignore one of the most famous songs in hard rock history. And it’s based on a simple, yet brilliant guitar riff. As noted above, Smoke on the Water recalls the big fire at the Montreux Casino and the making of the album. “The riff and backing track had been recorded on the first day as a kind of soundcheck,” Gillan explained during an interview with Songfacts in August 2020. “There were no lyrics. The engineer told us on the last day, ‘Man, we’re several minutes short for an album.’ So, we dug it out, and Roger and I wrote a biographical account of the making of the record: ‘We all came out to Montreux…'”

Let’s do one more: Lazy, an incredible track that starts with one of the best Hammond intros by Jon Lord I can think of. Before Ian Gillan gets to sing the first word at around 4:20 minutes, Lord and Ritchie Blackmore are taking turns playing uptempo blues-oriented riffs on the guitar and Hammond, respectively. With its improvisational nature and groove, this brilliant track crosses over to jazz. Gillan also throws in a cool harmonica solo.

Here’s a link to the entire album in Spotify:

Machine Head became Deep Purple’s most commercially successful album. Only eight months after its release, it achieved Gold status in the U.S. (100,000 sold units, as certified by RIAA). As of October 1986, that total had exceeded two million copies and as such the album was certified 2X Multi-Platinum. The record also achieved Gold status in the UK, Italy and Japan, as well as 2X Gold status in France.

The album topped the charts in the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany and The Netherlands, climbed to no. 3 in Norway and reached no. 4 in Austria, Italy and Sweden. And where does this leave the U.S.? No. 7. By comparison, the album’s four singles showed a rather lackluster chart performance. According to Wikipedia, Highway Star didn’t chart at all, which I find hard to believe. The most successful single was Smoke on the Water, which reached no. 4 in the U.S. and no. 2 in Canada. However, it missed the charts in the UK!

Eduardo Rivadavia in his review for AllMusic called Machine Head “the Holy Trinity of English hard rock and heavy metal,” together with Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV and Paranoid by Black Sabbath, “serving as the fundamental blueprints followed by virtually every heavy rock & roll band since the early ’70s.” Usually, I don’t care much about critics except when I agree with them! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; In the Studio with Redbeard; Songfacts; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

Albums Turning 50 This Year

A first look back at 1972, another outstanding year in music

With the 50-year anniversaries of 1971 gems like The Who’s Who’s Next, Carole King’s Tapestry, Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and Pink Floyd’s Meddle now behind us, it’s time to take a first look at 1972 albums that are hitting the big milestone this year. And like in the case of 1971, I think the caliber of music released in 1972 is just breathtaking!

Checking Wikipedia revealed an impressive amount of records that appeared 50 years ago. Of these albums, I picked 30 studio releases that are represented in the below Spotify playlist with one song each. Following, I’d like to briefly highlight six of them. I’m planning more in-depth posts timed to their and possibly some of the other albums’ actual 50th-anniversary dates.

Neil Young/Harvest (February 1, 1972)

Undoubtedly, Neil Young’s fourth studio album Harvest is one of his best known and most beloved. With gems like Heart of Gold, The Needle and the Damage Done, Old Man and A Man Needs a Maid, it’s no wonder. Not only did Harvest top the Billboard 200 for two weeks, but it also became the best-selling album of 1972 in the U.S. But Neil Young, who is always good for a surprise, had a different reaction. Feeling alienated by the huge success of Harvest, he decided to release what became known as the “ditch trilogy”: the live album Times Fades Away (October 1973), as well as the studio records On the Beach (July 1974) and Tonight’s the Night (June 1975). While the ditch albums didn’t perform as well as Harvest, let’s just say they didn’t exactly harm Neil’s standing with his fans!

Deep Purple/Machine Head (March 25, 1972)

Machine Head, Deep Purple’s sixth studio release, remains the ultimate ’70s hard rock album in my book. While I literally dig each of the record’s seven tracks, the band’s most commercially successful album is best-known for the classics Smoke on the Water, which is safe to assume must be a nightmare for anybody working in a store selling electric guitars, and Highway Star. Machine Head topped the charts in the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands – yes, I had to name them all, hoping Wikipedia’s account is accurate and complete! The thought of a hard rock album topping the mainstream charts is unreal, especially from today’s perspective! In the U.S., Machine Head reached no. 7 on the Billboard 200, making it their highest-charting record there.

The Rolling Stones/Exile on Main St. (May 12, 1972)

While I prefer Sticky Fingers, there’s no doubt Exile on Main St. is among the top albums by The Rolling Stones. Many Stones fans regard the double LP as their best record – hey, I won’t argue, it’s great rock & roll, and I like it! Some of the highlights include Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia, Happy and All Down the Line. Given Keith Richards’ frequent no-shows to the recording sessions since he was, well, stoned, while Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman oftentimes were absent as well, supposedly for other reasons, it’s a near-miracle to me how great this album turned out. That being said, initial reactions among critics were mixed, but as is not uncommon, opinions subsequently changed.

David Bowie/The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (June 6, 2022)

Of course, there was no way this upfront section would skip my favorite David Bowie album of all time. The British artist’s fifth studio release, revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him, is a true glam rock gem. Similar to Deep Purple’s Machine Head, I feel there’s no weak song on this record. Starman, Suffragette City, Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide and the title track are a few of the amazing tunes that come to mind. The Ziggy Stardust album climbed to no. 5 in the UK and also charted in various other European countries. In the U.S., where there was generally less of an appetite for glam rock, the record still reached a respectable no. 21 on the Billboard 200.

Curtis Mayfield/Superfly (July 11, 1972)

Curtis Mayfield is another longtime favorite artist of mine, so I’m more than happy to call out Superfly. His third studio album appeared as the soundtrack of the Blaxploitation motion picture of the same name. Rightfully, this record is widely considered a classic of ’70s soul and funk music. In addition to the title track, some of the other tunes on the album include Pusherman, Freddie’s Dead and Eddie You Should Know Better. Superfly was hugely successful in the U.S., topping both the Billboard 200 and the R&B chart. It also became Mayfield’s highest-charting album in the UK where it reached no. 26. Side note: It seems to me music listeners in the UK were into glam rock but not so much into psychedelic soul and funk.

Santana/Caravanserai (October 11, 1972)

The final album I’d like to highlight in this section of the post is a less obvious choice for me. I absolutely love the first three studio albums by Santana, which make up the band’s so-called classic period. I find the combination of Latin rhythms and rock electrifying. On Caravanserai, Carlos Santana and his band went in a very different direction. The album mostly features jazz-like, improvisational instrumentals – definitely posing a challenge for a guy like me who digs catchy hooks and great vocals, especially harmony singing. But sometimes it’s good to push beyond your comfort zone. Musically, I think there’s no question Caravanserai is an outstanding record. Given its radical departure from Santana’s first three albums, it did remarkably well in the charts. In the UK it peaked at no. 6, matching its predecessor Santana III, which previously had been the band’s highest-charting album there. It did even better in The Netherlands, climbing to no. 3, again matching Santana III. Elsewhere, Caravanserai reached no. 8 in the U.S., no. 10 in Norway and no. 16 in Australia.

Following is a playlist featuring the above tracks, as well as tunes from 24 other albums that were released in 1972. Since Spotify, unfortunately, doesn’t have Status Quo’s Piledriver (neither does Apple Music!), I included a pretty good, more recent live version of Paper Plane. Again, I have to say 1972 was another amazing year in music!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Deep Purple Demonstrate Cover Albums Can Be Fun

Machine Head by Deep Purple remains my most favorite hard rock album of all time, and I also like some of the English rockers’ other music, especially from their early period. But when I read a couple of weeks ago Deep Purple were coming out with an all-covers album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, Turning to Crime has since appeared (November 26). Did we need renditions of great tunes like Cream’s White Room or Shapes of Things by The Yardbirds? Not really. Is it fun when Deep Purple plays them? Hell yes! In fact, I included their great cover of White Room in my last Best of What’s New installment.

Of course, I can see cynics say when a group of mostly septuagenarians releases a collection of covers or a Christmas album for that matter, they either ran out of ideas or are trying to make a quick buck or both. Well, to start with, good luck with making money these days by selling albums unless you’re perhaps Adele! Plus, in Deep Purple’s case, there are two other explanations: COVID-19 (sigh!), which didn’t allow the band to go on the road and left them idle, and the fact they always write original music together in the studio – again something they couldn’t do because of this dreadful pandemic.

“The whole idea came about during the lockdown,” long-time band member and bassist Roger Glover told music journalist and Forbes contributor Jim Ryan. “We didn’t want to twiddle our thumbs or anything…And we couldn’t write songs. Because we don’t write songs for Purple. We just jam together. That’s where the songs are born really – coming out of the jams. But we’ve got to be together to jam. So we couldn’t write. Well, we’ll let other people do the writing. We’ll cover songs. Then all we’ve got to do is perform it.”

Glover further noted each of the group’s five members came up with ideas for covers, with producer Bob Ezrin acting as “our kind of conductor.” Ezrin also worked with Deep Purple on their previous three albums. Eventually, they had a list of about 50 tunes, from which 12 were selected via vote. “But we weren’t just covering them straight,” Glover said. “We wanted to add something to them, Purpleize them if you like.”

Let’s take a closer look. Here’s Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu. How about that title! Co-written by Johnny Vincent and Huey Smith, the tune was first recorded in 1957 by Smith who was known as Huey ‘Piano’ Smith. It may not be Smoke On the Water, but damn, that boogie-woogie piano by the group’s keyboarder Don Airey surely smokes, as do the horns. Deep Purple lead vocalist Ian Gillan is in fine shape as well and is joined by Ezra on backing vocals.

How about some Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac? Oh Well. That’s actually the title of the song written by Green and first released as a non-album single in September 1969. Steve Morse, a solid guitarist and at age 67 the youngest current member of Deep Purple, does a great job. In fact, I just have to say this, the entire band kicks ass. Check it out!

Next up: Bob Dylan’s Watching the River Flow, a blues-rock tune the maestro penned and recorded in March 1971, and released as a single in June that year. Produced by Leon Russell, it was also included on the compilation Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II from November 1971.

Let the Good Times Roll sounds like a good description of Deep Purple when they were recording this album, even though they weren’t physically together. It’s also the title of a jump blues co-written by Sam Theard and Fleecie Moore, and recorded by American saxophonist Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five in 1946. Hearing a hard rock band swing like this is certainly something unusual!

Let’s do one more. How about a dose of New Orleans-flavored R&B? Here’s a great rendition of Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken. Co-written by Lowell George and Fred Martin, the tune is the title track of the band’s third studio album from January 1973 and one of their most beloved songs. Did you ever expect to hear that track from Deep Purple? An intriguing pick and another remarkable cover.

While Turning to Crime is Deep Purple first all-covers album, the concept of recording songs written by other artists actually goes back to the group’s beginnings, so to some extent, they’ve come full circle. “We’ve covered songs before of course,” Glover told Ryan. ““Hush” [written by Joe South, Purple’s first single – CMM] was a cover [so were their next three singles, Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman, Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High and The Beatles Help! – CMM]. But doing an album of covers with the intent of messing with them and having a bit of fun with them is very new to us.”

Turning to Crime, Deep Purple’s 22nd studio effort, was released just 15 months after predecessor Whoosh! from August 2020. This Ultimate Classic Rock review noted it’s the band’s fastest turnaround since the mid-’70s. That’s when they released their 10th studio album Come Taste the Band. What’s much more intriguing to me is the remarkable versatility and great musicianship Deep Purple demonstrate on the album – certainly no crime committed here! You also get a sense they had a great time putting together these covers, even though for the most part each member recorded their parts remotely.

Sources: Wikipedia; Forbes; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s an overcast and rainy weekend in my neck of the woods (central New Jersey), but this shall not take away any of the fun to present another eclectic set of six tunes, especially given The Sunday Six is hitting a mini-milestone today with its 20th installment. Plus, if the weather is a mixed bag in your area as well, it’s a perfect opportunity to listen to some music. And in case conditions are perfect to be outdoors, just take the music with you! 🙂

Dave Holland/Grave Walker

Kicking us off today is some brand new funky jazz by an old hand: Dave Holland, an English double bassist, composer and bandleader who has been active for five decades. Holland started out teaching himself how to play the ukulele as a four-year old, followed by the guitar and the bass. At the age of 15, he quit school, initially wanting to play pop before discovering jazz. Holland subsequently received a full-time scholarship for London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. By age 20, he was a busy student and musician, who frequently performed at London’s premier jazz venue Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. In 1968, Miles Davis saw Holland and invited him to join his band to replace Ron Carter. For the next two years, he worked with Davis and appeared on the albums In a Silent Way and Bitches’ Brew. His first record as a bandleader, Conference of the Birds by Dave Holland Quartet, appeared in 1973. In addition to Davis, Holland has worked with numerous other jazz artists, such as Thelonious Monk, Anthony Braxton, Stan Getz and John Abercrombie. According to his website, Holland’s “playing can be heard on hundreds of recordings, with more than thirty as a leader under his own name.” This brings me to Grave Walker, the great funky opener of Holland’s new album Another Land, which came out on Friday (May 28), featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire. Groovy and great sound, baby!

Sam & Dave/Hold On, I’m Coming

Let’s keep on groovin’ and jump back 55 years to March 1966. That’s when Stax recording artists Sam & Dave released their new single Hold On, I’m Comin’. Co-written by the songwriting team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter, this gem became the soul duo’s first no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart. It also was the title track of Sam & Dave’s debut studio album, which was released the following month. According to Wikipedia, Steve Cropper, lead guitarist of Stax house band Booker T. and the M.G.s, said the song’s title came out of a verbal exchange between Porter who was in the restroom at the Stax studio and an impatient Hayes who yelled for Porter to return to their writing session. When Porter responded, “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” they both thought this would make for a great song title and completed the tune within an hour. It’s amazing what bathroom breaks can do!

Squeeze/Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)

Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) may be one of only a handful of Squeeze songs I’ve heard but, hey, you don’t have to be an expert about a band to recognize a great power pop tune. When I came across the song in the process of researching this post, it was an easy decision to include. Co-written by Squeeze rhythm guitarist and vocalist Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, the band’s lead guitarist and keyboarder, Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) is from their third studio album Argybargy released in February 1980. It also appeared separately as a single in April that year. To my big surprise, the tune only climbed to no. 44 in the UK and didn’t chart in the U.S. at all. BTW, Squeeze, which were initially founded by Difford and Tilbrook in March 1974, are still around, though they had some breaks in-between. The current incarnation has been active since 2007, released three new albums to date, and still includes Difford and Tilbrook.

Deep Purple/Pictures of Home

It’s time to push the pedal to the heavy metal coz why not? In this context, I couldn’t think of a better choice than Deep Purple, my all-time favorite hard rock band. The combination of Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar and Jon Lord’s roaring Hammond B3 still excites me. Pictures of Home is a track from Deep Purple’s sixth studio album Machine Head that came out in March 1972 and is their Mount Rushmore, in my view. Just about everything about this song is cool: The intro by Ian Paice, who is a beast of a drummer; the great main guitar riff by Ritchie Blackmore; Jon Lord’s sweet B3 work; Ian Gillan who was at the top of game as a lead vocalist; and let’s not forget about Roger Glover’s pumping bass and his neat short solo starting at about 3:40 minutes. Like all other tracks on the album, Pictures of Home was credited to all members of the band.

Mariah Carey featuring Trey Lorenz/I’ll Be There

Mariah Carey? Yep, you read that right! Have I lost my mind? I hope that’s not the case. Before causing too much confusion here, I generally don’t listen to Mariah Carey. However, together with Christina Aguilera, I believe she’s one of the strongest female contemporary vocalists. Then there’s I’ll Be There, a tune I loved from the moment I heard it first from The Jackson 5 as part of a Motown box set. It must have been in the early ’80s. Credited to Berry Gordy, producer Hal Davis, Bob West and Willie Hutch, I’ll Be There was released in late August 1970 as the lead single of the Jackson 5’s third studio album ingeniously titled Third Album that appeared two weeks later. Carey’s cover, which I think is even more compelling than the original, was included on her MTV Unplugged EP from June 1992. Apart from Carey’s strong rendition of Michael Jackson’s part, I’d like to call out R&B singer Trey Lorenz who does an amazing job singing Jermaine Jackson’s lines. It’s really the outstanding vocal performance that convinced me to feature this rendition.

3 Doors Down/It’s Not My Time

Just in case that previous tune shocked you, or perhaps did the opposite thing and put you in a sleepy mood, let’s finish this installment on a rock note: It’s Not My Time by 3 Doors Down. Formed in 1996 in Escatawpa, Miss., they broke through internationally with their first single Kryptonite from January 2000. Originally, that song had been recorded as a demo for a local Mississippi radio station. From there, it was picked up by other radio stations and became popular, topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and eventually reaching no. 3 on the Hot 100. Subsequently, 3 Doors Down signed with Republic Records and recorded their debut album The Better Life. Appearing in February 2000, it continued the band’s remarkable streak of success, climbing to no. 7 on the Billboard 200, charting in many other countries, and becoming their best-selling album that only the in the U.S. sold more than 5 million copies. It’s Not My Time is from 3 Doors Down’s eponymous fourth studio album from May 2008. Like all other songs on the record, the tune is credited to four of the band’s members at the time: Brad Arnold (lead vocals), Matt Roberts (lead guitar, backing vocals), Chris Henderson (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Todd Harrell (bass). Greg Upchurch (drums) completed their line-up. 3 Doors Down are still active, with Arnold, Henderson and Upchurch remaining part of the current formation.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dave Holland website; YouTube

Space, the Final Frontier

Yesterday’s successful landing of NASA’s robotic explorer Perseverance on Mars once again reminds us of humankind’s fascination with distant planets and what’s out there beyond our galaxy. Not surprisingly, many music artists have embraced the theme of space in their songs. The first who always comes to my mind in this context is David Bowie, who repeatedly wrote about the topic in tunes like Space Oddity, Starman, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. There are plenty of additional examples. This playlist features some of these songs, ordered according to their release date.

The Byrds/Mr. Spaceman

While birds cannot fly in space, this didn’t prevent The Byrds from recording this happy-sounding tale about a kid who wakes up from the light of a flying saucer and cheerfully asks the ETs for a space ride. Mr. Spaceman, written by Roger McGuinn, appeared on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension from June 1966.

Pink Floyd/Astrodomine

This Syd Barrett tune, an early example of space rock, was the opener of Pink Floyd’s debut studio album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Released in August 1967, this early phase Floyd gem also featured another track in the same genre: Interstellar Overdrive. I decided to go with the shorter tune! 🙂

The Rolling Stones/2000 Light Years From Home

2000 Light Years from Home is a song from Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lovely psychedelic album by The Rolling Stones, which appeared only a few months after Floyd’s debut in December 1967. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune also became the B-side to the American single She’s a Rainbow that was released in November of the same year. Charmingly weird! 🙂

Steve Miller Band/Space Cowboy

Listening to Space Cowboy by Steve Miller Band was the tune that inspired this post, not the Mars rover, though I guess the timing worked out nicely. Co-written by Steve Miller and the band’s keyboarder at the time Ben Sidrin, the song was included on their third studio album Brave New World that came out in June 1969. The vibe of the main riff is a bit reminiscent of Peter Gunn, the theme music for the American detective TV show of the same name, composed by Henry Mancini in 1958. In 1979, Emerson, Lake & Palmer popularized that theme on their live album Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Concert.

Deep Purple/Space Truckin’

Time to go for some Space Truckin’ with Deep Purple. This track is the closer of the band’s sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972, which to me remains their Mount Rushmore to this day. Like all remaining tracks on the record, Space Truckin’ was credited to all members of the band: Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals, harmonica), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Elton John/Rocket Man

One of my all-time favorites by Elton John happens to be related to space as well: Rocket Man, from his fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May 1972. As usual, Sir Elton composed the music while Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. Honky Château became John’s first no. 1 record in the U.S. He was literally flying on top of the word – six additional no. 1 albums in America would follow in a row!

David Bowie/Starman

I guess 1972 was a year, during which space themes were particularly popular in rock and pop music. In June 1972, only one and three months after Honky Château and Machine Head, respectively, David Bowie released his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I have to say I tend to like him best during his glam rock period, and Ziggy Stardust is my favorite Bowie album. Like all except for one tune, Starman was written by Bowie.

Stevie Wonder/Saturn

Even soul great Stevie Wonder got into the “space business.” Saturn, co-written by Michael Sembello and Wonder, became a bonus track to Songs in the Key of Life, his magnum opus from September 1976.

The Police/Walking on the Moon

The year was 1979 when The Police released their sophomore album Reggatta de Blanc in October. Walking on the Moon, written by Sting, is the first track on the B-side. Yes, this was still pre-CDs, not to mention music streaming! I’ve always liked the reggae vibe of this tune.

R.E.M./Man on the Moon

Let’s wrap up this collection of space-themed songs with Man on the Moon by R.E.M. The tune, a tribute to American comedian and performer Andy Kaufman, was credited to the entire band: Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin, bass), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, keyboards, melodica, bass, backing vocals). It was recorded for R.E.M.’s eighth studio album Automatic for the People from October 1992. The album became their second major international success after Out of Time that had been released in March 1991.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: May 26

I can’t believe it’s been six weeks since my last installment in this recurring music history feature. And even though to me it feels like I’ve covered so many dates already, the reality is I have more than 300 left to go. So without further ado, let’s take a look at May 26!

1964: Lenny Kravitz was born in New York City as Leonard Albert Kravitz. He was the only child of actress Roxie Roker and Sy Kravitz, a news producer at NBC Television. Both of his parents have passed away. Kravitz was drawn to music since he was tiny. At age 3, he began using pots and pans as drums, and two years later, he apparently knew he wanted to become a professional musician. After his family had moved to Los Angeles in 1974, Kravitz started listening to rock music like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival. When he set out to get a record deal, initially, he was given a hard time, with record labels either telling him he wasn’t “black enough” or “white enough.” Fortunately, Kravitz was able to overcome this BS, and in September 1989 his debut studio album Let Love Rule appeared. He has since released 10 additional studio records, in addition to a greatest hits compilation, as well as various box sets and EPs. My introduction to Kravitz was his sophomore album Mama Said from April 1991. Here’s a great rocker from that record he co-wrote with Slash: Always On the Run.

1967: The Beatles released their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If I could only choose one of their records, a nearly impossible task, this would be it most days. On other occasions, I might go with Abbey Road or Revolver. You can read more about Sgt. Pepper and why I dig that album here. Following is the record’s grande final A Day in the Life, a tune that was mostly written by John Lennon. Paul McCartney’s main contribution is the middle section.

1969: Janis Joplin made the cover of Newsweek. The headline declared Janis Joplin: Rebirth of Blues. Seventeen months later, on October 4, 1970, Joplin was found dead in her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Los Angeles after she had not appeared for a recording session at Sunset Sound Recorders studios. An autopsy by L.A. coroner Thomas Noguchi determined she had passed away from a heroin overdose, possibly compounded by alcohol. Joplin, undoubtedly one of the most compelling female blues vocalists, was only 27 years old.

1972: English rock band Mott the Hoople, which despite their cult status in England were on the verge of disintegration due to lack of commercial viability, recorded All the Young Dudes, a song that had been given to them by one of their fans: David Bowie, who also produced the single, played guitar, sang backing vocals and clapped. All of that happened in the middle of the night at Olympic Studios in London, where Bowie had managed to get them some time. The tune was released on July 28, 1972 and climbed all the way to no. 3 on the UK Singles Chart. In the U.S., All the Young Dudes became a top 40 hit, reaching no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. It ended up saving the band and extending their life until 1976.

1973: Deep Purple release Smoke on the Water as the third and final single from their sixth studio album Machine Head, another gem of a record, in my opinion. The tune, which must be a living nightmare of many folks working at guitar stores, was credited to all members of the band at the time: Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice. The song was inspired by a fire at the casino in Montreux, Switzerland on December 4, 1971, where Deep Purple were about to get underway with recording sessions for the Machine Head album. But some stupid with a flare gun/Burned the place to the ground – the night before after a Frank Zappa concert. Perhaps he had not liked Zappa’s performance! Whatever the case may have been, the tragic fire, which claimed all of Zappa’s equipment, led to one of the most iconic rock songs of the ’70s.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of new music I like

Lately, I’m finding myself coming across lots of new music I like. Ironically, it’s largely due to my streaming music provider. I used to complain they do a rather mediocre job of serving up music I’m supposed to dig, based on my listening habits. While some of their suggestions still look a bit odd to me, I have to give credit where credit is due: Finally, it appears their algorithms have improved, and lately, they’ve been proposing some pretty good stuff.

Hoping this is going to continue, I’m introducing a new feature to the blog ingeniously titled Best of What’s New. The idea is to highlight new songs rather than new albums. I’m already doing the latter and have no intention to change that. While I don’t see myself starting to write about electronic dance music or Neue Deutsche Haerte a la Rammstein, I’m hoping to keep these posts a bit eclectic. I realize the characterization “best” is pretty subjective. If a song speaks to me, it’s fair game. With this disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to the inaugural post.

Clarke Thorndycaft/Jumpin’ Jack Flash

‘Really,’ you might wonder, ‘a cover?’ I didn’t say these posts will only include original music! Behind Clarke Thorndycraft are guitarist Mick Clarke and singer and harmonica player Bill Thorndycraft, who both were among the founding members of Killing Floor, a British blues-rock band that initially was active between 1968 and 1972 and has been revived in 2002. More than just a cover, the tune is an homage to The Rolling Stones, which becomes obvious when they call out each member of “the world’s greatest rock & roll band” at the end of the tune. Co-written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and an uncredited Bill Wyman, the song was first released as a single in May 1968.

Emil Ingmar/Ellegatan

I betcha didn’t see a modern jazz type instrumental coming, did ya? Well, while for the most part, I anticipate not to veer off too far from my core wheelhouse, I have no problem doing so, if I like it. And I find this tune beautiful and very soothing. According to Naxos Direct, Ingmar is a jazz pianist, composer and freelance musician from Uppsala, Sweden. He also is the chairman of the Uppsala Jazz Club and organizer of the Live Jazz Bar at Uplands Nation and the Jazz Corner at UKK. Coolio, Julio! Ellegatan is from Ingmar’s new album Karlavagnen, which came out yesterday. Let’s hear it!

Deep Purple/Throw My Bones

Wait, what, haven’t these guys been on a farewell tour for the past couple of years? And now new music? Well, Deep Purple ingeniously called it “The Long Goodbye Tour.” I suppose the emphasis is on long. Just released yesterday, Throw My Bones is the lead single from the band’s upcoming new studio album Whoosh! set for release on June 12. According to a statement on Deep Purple’s website, the tune “is an invitation to take a step back and see the bigger picture, a call for action and an invitation to observe the planet and the current situation on earth” – have they turned into philosophers now? The song is co-credited to the band’s current members Don Airey (keyboards), Ian Gillan (lead vocals), Roger Glover (bass), Steve Morse (guitar) and producer Bob Ezrin. While it’s not exactly Machine Head caliber, Deep Purple remain my favorite hard rock band, and I will always have a weak spot for them. Check out Steve Morse’s guitar solo on that tune – obviously, he’s a hell of a guitarist!

Durand Jones & The Indications/Young Americans

From their website: Durand Jones & the Indications aren’t looking backwards. Helmed by foil vocalists in Durand Jones and drummer Aaron Frazer, the Indications conjure the dynamism of Jackie Wilson, Curtis Mayfield, AND the Impressions. This young band of twenty-somethings are students of soul, including guitarist Blake Rhein, who moonlights doing research for The Numero Group. Even with that background, and an aesthetic steeped in the golden, strings-infused dreaminess of early ‘70s soul, the Indications are planted firmly in the present, with the urgency of this moment in time. The website lists two albums: The eponymous debut from 2016 and the sophomore American Love Call, which came out last year. Their cover of Young Americans was released as a single on January 28. Written by David Bowie, Young Americans is the title track of Bowie’s ninth studio album from March 1975. While it’s not very different from the original, I think Durand Jones and the band give it a nice soul vibe.

Ready for one more? How ’bout some more contemporary jazz? Ever heard of Pat Metheny? Yep, the American jazz guitarist and composer who has been around like forever – to be more precise since 1974, according to Wikipedia. His debut album Bright Size Life dates back to early 1976. This tune, Love May Take a While, is off Metheny’s latest album From This Place. Released on February 21, it appears to be his 10th studio record. I don’t wanna pretend that all of a sudden, I’ve turned into a jazz connoisseur. The truth is I rarely listen to jazz and know next to nothing about it. But it ain’t rocket science, baby: I simply dig the smooth and relaxing sound of this tune. The tone of Metheny’s guitar is just beautiful. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Source: Wikipedia; Clarke Thorndycraft Facebook page; Naxos Direct; Deep Purple website; Durand Jones & The Indications website; YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: April 14

I can’t believe almost three months have passed since my last installment in this long-running recurring feature. For some reason, at times, I need to convince myself to start digging through music history for a specific date yet again, though once I do so, I’m usually intrigued with what comes up. Of course, there are occasions where what I find only mildly excites me. When that happens, I tend to refrain from writing a post.  Anyway, April 14 turned out to be an interesting date.

1945: Richard Hugh Blackmore, better known as Ritchie Blackmore, was born in the southwestern English seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. This means the guitarist and songwriter is turning 73 years old today. Blackmore is best known as one of the founding members of Deep Purple, which is still my favorite hard rock band to this day. Yes, there are other great hard rock bands, first and foremost Led Zeppelin, but if I had to choose one, it would still be Deep Purple. Blackmore also founded Rainbow in 1975 and revived the band as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in 2015. In 1997, he kissed rock music goodbye and established Blackmore’s Night, a British-American traditional folk-rock band with then-girlfriend Candice Night, who became his wife in 2008 – I suppose he carefully listened to what many parents tell their kids about getting engaged or married: Don’t rush it! 🙂 In 2016, Blackmore was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Deep Purple. Here’s Blackmore in action with a cool high-speed guitar solo: Highway Star, from my favorite 1972 Deep Purple album Machine Head. Happy birthday!

1963: The Beatles saw The Rolling Stones perform for the first time at The Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, a suburban town in southwest London. “They were still on the club scene, stomping about, doing R&B tunes,” recalled George Harrison, according to The Beatles Bible. “The music they were playing was more like we’d been doing before we’d got out of our leather suits to try and get onto record labels and television.” Added Paul McCartney: “Mick tells the tale of seeing us there with long suede coats that we’d picked up in Hamburg, coats that no one could get in England. He thought, ‘Right – I want to be in the music business; I want one of those coats.'” And what did Ringo Starr have to say? “I knew then that the Stones were great. They just had presence. And, of course, we could tell – we’d had five weeks in the business; we knew all about it!” Last but not least, here’s some of John Lennon’s recollection: “They [The Stones] were run by a different guy then, Giorgio Gomelsky. When we started hanging around London, the Stones were up and coming in the clubs, and we knew Giorgio through Epstein. We went down and saw them and became good friends.”

Rolling Stones At Crawdaddy Club 1963
The Rolling Stones at the Crawdaddy Club, April 14, 1963

1966: The Spencer Davis Group was on top of the U.K. Singles Chart with Somebody Help Me, scoring their second no. 1 single in the U.K. Like their first chart-topper Keep On Running, the tune was written by Jackie Edwards, a Jamaican musician and songwriter. The song was also included on the band’s third studio album Autumn ’66 released in August 1966. If my math is correct, Steve Winwood, who sang lead and played keyboards, was all of 17 years when they recorded the single. He was still known as Stevie Winwood at the time – what an amazing talent!

1967: The Bee Gees released their debut single in the U.S., New York Mining Disaster 1941. Co-written by Barry Gibb and Robin Gibb, it became the band’s first international single release and their first song to chart in the U.S. and the U.K., peaking at no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 12 on the U.K. Singles Chart, respectively. When the tune was released, there were rumors the Bee Gees actually were The Beatles recording under a pseudonym. “If you sounded like the Beatles and also could write a hit single, then the hype of the machine would go into action, and your company would make sure people thought you sounded like the Beatles or thought you were the Beatles,” recalled Barry Gibb, according to the 2012 biography The Bee Gees – Tales of the Brothers Gibb, by Hector Cook, Melinda Bilyeu and Andrew Mon Hughes. “And that sold you, attracted attention to you. It was good for us because everyone thought it was the Beatles under a different name.” While it’s safe to assume opinions about the Bee Gees are divided among readers of the blog, I’ve actually always thought they were pretty talented vocalists and songwriters.

1972: David Bowie released Starman as a single in the U.K., which became his second major hit there since Space Oddity from July 1969, peaking at no. 10 on the singles chart. In the U.S., the single performed more moderately, reaching no. 65 on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by Bowie, the tune was a late addition to his fifth and, in my opinion, best studio album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars released in June 1972. It also happens to be one of my favorite Bowie tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, This Day In Rock, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

My Playlist: Deep Purple

Deep Purple has been my favorite hard rock band pretty much since the time I started listening to music 40-plus years ago. When this morning Apple Music served up Machine Head, one of my longtime favorite albums, I listened to it again for what must have been the one millionth time or so – it just doesn’t get boring! While undoubtedly best known for Smoke On The Water, which features one of the most iconic guitar riffs in rock, and the kick ass Highway Star, the record has much more to offer than these two tracks. It gave me the inspiration to put together this post and playlist.

The origins of Deep Purple date back to 1967 when ex-Searchers drummer Chris Curtis envisaged forming a “supergroup” he wanted to call Roundabout. Jon Lord, a classically trained organ player, Nick Simper (bass) and Carlo Little (drums), who were all performing in the backing band for The Flower Pot Men, became Roundabout’s first members. The next to join was guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, after Simper and Little had suggested him.

Deep Purple Mark I
Deep Purple Mark I (left to right): Back: Blackmore, Lord & Simper; front: Paice & Evans

Following Curtis’ was firing due to drug-induced erratic behavior, Blackmore and Lord took over artistically and replaced Little with Bobby Woodman on drums. An extended search for a lead vocalist led to Rod Evans in March 1968, who brought along drummer Ian Paice. This forced Woodman out and completed the band’s lineup. Roundabout soon became Deep Purple, a name suggested by Blackmore. The so-called Mark I formation of Blackmore, Lord, Paice, Simper and Evans went into the studio to record the band’s debut album Shades Of Deep Purple. It was first released in the U.S. in July 1968, followed by the UK in September that year.

The Mark I lineup released two additional records: The Book Of Taliesyn (U.S.: October 1968; UK: June 1969) and Deep Purple (U.S.: September 1969). In June 1969, Evans and Simper were fired and replaced by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, respectively. The beginning of the Mark II lineup brought a change from progressive-oriented rock to a heavier sound, and the band’s commercial breakthrough with their fourth studio album Deep Purple In Rock. Mark II, which is my favorite lineup, issued three more records: Fireball (July 1971); Machine Head (March 1972), which became the band’s most commercially successful record; and Who Do You Think We Are (January 1973).

Deep Purple_Machine Head Gatefold
Deep Purple: Machine Head (March 1972) Gatefold

Following Who Do You Think We Are, Deep Purple went through various additional lineup changes and an eight-year hiatus from 1976 to 1984. The members of the Mark II lineup reunited twice, from 1984 to 1989, and from 1992 to 1993. Deep Purple, which have been on The Long Goodbye Tour since May 2017, continue to rock to this day. Last month, they announced a 25-city North American co-headliner with heavy metal outfit Judas Priest, which will kick off August 21 in Cincinnati and wrap up on September 30 in Wheatland, Calif.

Paice remains the only founding member in Deep Purple’s present lineup (Mark VIII), which also includes Glover, Gillan, Steve Morse (guitar, since 1994) and Don Airey (keyboards, since 2001). The current formation has been in place since 2001, making it the band’s most stable lineup. To date, Deep Purple have released 20 studio albums, the most recent being Infinite from April 2017, as well as numerous live and compilation records. Time to get to the playlist!

While Shades Of Deep Purple is best known for Hush, a song I’ve always liked, I’ve decided to highlight a different track called And The Address. This cool instrumental, which was co-written by Blackmore and Lord, is the album’s opener.

Why Didn’t Rosemary is another great early Deep Purple tune from the Mark I lineup. It appeared on the band’s eponymous third studio record from June 1969 and was credited to all members. On this tune, I particularly dig Blackmore’s guitar playing and Lord’s work on the Hammond.

One of my favorite Deep Purple songs to this day is Black Night, the first single released by the Mark II lineup and the band’s second overall. It came out in June 1970 just a few days after Deep Purple In Rock had appeared. It’s puzzling to me that the tune wasn’t included on the album. Like all of the songs released by the Mark II lineup, it was credited to all members of the band. The tune became a major hit for Deep Purple, climbing to no. 2 on the UK charts – their highest peaking UK single to this day.

Speaking of Deep Purple In Rock, here is the epic Child In Time. To me Gillan’s singing and Lord’s keyboard work are the outstanding features of the tune. It gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it.

When it comes to Machine Head, I find it hard to pick a tune. Sure, Highway Star or Smoke On The Water would be obvious choices, and I certainly dig both of these songs – and tortured my poor parents playing along on the electric guitar as a teen – of course, with full distortion and the volume of my tiny home amp put to the max! But instead, I’d like to highlight Pictures Of Home. Why? Because I think Blackmore’s guitar riff is pretty cool, plus I dig Glover’s bass solo. I also like Paice’s intro. I think these are more than enough reasons.

Who Do You Think We Are was the final album of Mark II’s initial run. Here’s the great opener Woman From Tokyo – love that honky tonk piano solo starting at around 4:12 minutes.

Burn was Deep Purple’s eighth studio album and first of the Mark III formation featuring David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes on vocals and bass, respectively, replacing Gillan and Glover. Coverdale, who in 1978 became the lead singer of Whitesnake (and still is to this day after several departures and returns), is a fine rock vocalist but Gillan will always remain my favorite Deep Purple lead vocalist. Anyway, here is the album’s title track.

Perfect Strangers marked the triumphant return of Deep Purple after their 1976-1984 hiatus. It was also the first reunion of the Mark II lineup. Here’s the album’s title track. Portions of the instrumental parts are a bit reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir.

In my opinion, Perfect Strangers was the last great Deep Purple album. I still want to acknowledge some of the band’s music that followed. First up: the title track of their 14th studio record The Battle Rages On, which came out in July 1993. It was the first and only record released during the second reunion of the Mark II lineup. During the tour that followed in support of the album, Blackmore left the band for good.

For the last tune of this playlist I’d like to jump to Deep Purple’s most recent record Infinite. Here is the opener Time For Bedlam, which also became the album’s lead single. While clearly not being Machine Head caliber, it proves the band still knows how to kick ass. Airey and Morse do a fine job on keyboards and guitar, respectively.

Deep Purple have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, making them one of the most commercially successful rock bands. In 2016, the band (Blackmore, Lord, Paice, Gillan, Glover, Coverdale, Evans and Hughes) was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Among their other accolades is a listing in the 1975 Guinness Book of World Records as the “globe’s loudest band,” based on a 1972 concert at the Rainbow Theatre in London, England.

Sources: Wikipedia, Deep Purple official website, YouTube