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

The Venues: Beat-Club

“Cult” German TV show featured prominent music acts from Alice Cooper to Zeppelin

A YouTube clip from Beat-Club I coincidentally caught on Sunday reminded me that I hadn’t done a post in my series about popular concert halls and music programs since July 2020. So I felt the popular German TV music show, which aired monthly between September 1965 and December 1972, would be a great topic for another installment.

Beat-Club was created by music producer Gerhard Augustin, who according to Wikipedia was Germany’s first professional disc jockey, and film director and writer Mike Leckebusch. Broadcast on one of Germany’s main national public TV channels ARD, the show was hosted by German architect-turned-singer-turned-TV presenter Uschi Nerke. Until early 1969, she was joined by Augustin and afterwards by Dave Dee, of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, before Nerke started hosting alone in 1970.

Uschi Nerke kommt – blacksheep Festival
Uschi Nerke

Beat-Club began as a live program with music guests performing in front of a plain brick wall. In 1967, the program was revamped to adapt a “more professional look,” which among others included large cards in the background that displayed the names of the performers. The new format also allowed for inclusion of artists who could not appear live. In these cases, a troupe of young women called the “Go-Go-Girls” was dancing to the featured songs – ouch! On a cooler note, in its later years, Beat-Club incorporated psychedelic visual effects during many performances. These effects became much more pronounced after the program switched to color in late 1969.

German TV personality Wilhelm Wieben opened Beat-Club’s first episode with the following words: “Hello, dear beat friends. The time has finally come. In just a few seconds starts the first show on German television, which exclusively was made for you. Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you who may not enjoy beat music for your understanding. It’s a live program with young people for young people. And now, let’s go!”

Beat Club (TV) - March 27, 1969 / Bremen | Led Zeppelin Official Website
Led Zeppelin at Beat-Club, March 1969

I guess Wieben and the master minds behind the program pretty much foresaw what would happen: While Beat-Club’s target audience embraced the show right way, the older generation in Germany was horrified. This probably ensured young people liked it even more. In fact, the show quickly reached “cult” status.

Over its seven-year run, Beat-Club featured an impressive array of music artists and bands. Badfinger, Chuck Berry, Cream, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who were some among many others. Now on to the real fun part: Clips that capture some of the action. The year in parenthesis after each title marks the timing of the show episode. It’s all based on Beat-Club’s YouTube channel.

Cream/I Feel Free (1967)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Purple Haze (1967)

Canned Heat/On the Road Again (1968)

Joe Cocker/With a Little Help From My Friends (1968)

Chicago Transit Authority/I’m a Man (1969)

The Who/Sally Simpson & I’m Free (1969)

Black Sabbath/Paranoid (1970)

Muddy Waters/Honey Bee (1970)

Fleetwood Mac/Dragonfly (1971)

T. Rex/Jeepster (1971)

Ike & Tina Turner/Get Back (1972)

Manassas/Rock & Roll Crazies

Beat-Club eventually was replaced by another music program called Musikladen (music store). While I was too young to watch Beat-Club, I have some nebulous memories of Musikladen, and I’m afraid they aren’t great! Nerke co-moderated the program with main host Manfred Sexauer until September 1978. Subsequently, she hosted her own radio show Beat-Club until January 2013.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On Occasions When I’m Up For Heavy Action

A collection of favorite hard rock tunes

My recent “desert island” collection of 10 studio albums included Deep Purple’s Machine Head, which after more than 40 years of listening remains the ultimate hard rock album to me. In that post, I also noted that these days heavy rock no longer is my primary music choice. But occasionally, I still enjoy it, which triggered the idea to put together this playlist. I guess just like with many other things, when it comes to music, it’s all about moderation, except of course for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Young, live concerts, music equipment… 🙂

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, I find doing rankings nearly impossible. But since I suppose there needs to be some system to the madness, the following list is in chronological order from oldest to most recent. And, yes, I suppose in some cases you could question whether a pick is really hard, heavy or metal rock, or is it just rock? The boundaries can be pretty fluid. Plus, to some extent, it’s also a bit subjective. At the end of the day, it’s all about music I dig when the occasion is right. With all these caveats out of the way, let’s get to it.

SteppenwolfBorn to be Wild

This classic from Steppenwolf’s eponymous debut album from January 1968 sometimes has been called the first heavy metal song – in part because of the second line of the second verse, “heavy metal thunder.”Born to be Wild was written by Canadian rock musician and songwriter Dennis Edmonton, aka Mars Bonfire. The tune also appeared separately as a single in June 1968 and became Steppenwolf’s biggest hit next to Magic Carpet Ride. It will forever be associated with the 1969 biker cult picture Easy Rider. Every time I hear that opening line Get your motor runnin’, I feel like climbing on my chopper and heading down Route 18 to the Jersey shore. Then reality sets in. I don’t own a bike, not to mention the minor detail I don’t really know how to ride one. But when I get the urge to look for adventure, there’s always my sexy family crossover SUV! 🙂

Led ZeppelinWhole Lotta Love

While Led Zeppelin IV is my favorite Zep album, Whole Lotta Love possibly is my favorite tune among their crunchy rockers. Credited to all four members, the track first appeared on Led Zeppelin’s sophomore album that came out in October 1969, ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II. The following month, Whole Lotta Love was also released as a single and became their best chart-performing song, reaching no. 1 in Australia and Germany, and peaking at no. 4 in the U.S. Notably, it didn’t chart in their home country. From today’s perspective, the fact that Whole Lotta Love became such a big hit looks unreal. You need cooling/Baby I’m not fooling/I’m gonna send ya/Back to schooling//A-way down inside/A-honey you need it/I’m gonna give you my love/I’m gonna give you my love//Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love…

Deep PurpleSpeed King

Obviously, it was only a matter of time until I would feature a Deep Purple tune in this post. But while Machine Head was their Mount Rushmore, there’s more to the British hard rockers than this 1972 gem. One great example is the opener to the band’s fourth studio album Deep Purple in Rock released in June 1970: Speed King. Credited to the entire band, the song’s lyrics are made up of titles of classic rock & roll tunes by Chuck Berry and Little Richard, which I always thought was a cool idea. Good golly, said little Miss Molly/When she was rockin’ in the house of blue light/Tutti Frutti was oh so rooty/Rockin’ to the east and west/Lucille was oh so real/When she didn’t do her daddies will/Come on baby, drive me crazy, do it, do it.. This is one kick-ass rocker!

Black SabbathParanoid

While I can’t claim to be a Black Sabbath fan, there’s just no way you can leave out these English rockers from any heavy rock collection. It would be like doing a post about the British Invasion and excluding The Beatles. And, to be clear, I’m not just featuring Sabbath because I felt I had to. I’ve always loved Paranoid, the title track of their second studio album that came out in September 1970. Credited to the entire band, Paranoid first appeared as a single in August of the same year. It became their biggest hit, topping the charts in Germany, and reaching no. 2, 3 and 4 in Switzerland, Austria and the UK, respectively. Apparently, audiences were less receptive in America, where the tune stalled at no. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a cool official clip, even though it’s all playback. Check out Tony Iommi’s cool Gibson SG. One day when I grow up I’m gonna get an ax like this – it even plays rhythm and solo at the same time! 🙂

Uriah HeepBird of Prey

Yep, Uriah Heep with their crazy high vocals can border a bit on the weird, but these guys were rockin’, especially in their early days. I seem to remember when I bought the album Salisbury as a young teenager, my six-year older sister who accompanied me to the record store was a bit embarrassed about my choice. Come on, sis’, while with Carole King’s Tapestry, CSNY’s Déjà Vu and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, to name a few, you undoubtedly introduced me to some of the best-recorded music ever, your taste also varied – let’s just leave it at that! 🙂 Credited to the band members Ken Hensley, Mick Box, Paul Newton and Keith Baker, Bird of Prey is the furious opener of Heep’s sophomore album from February 1971. That tune rumbles just like the tank on the album cover – “geil,” as was fashionable to say in Germany back in the day!

RainbowLong Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

I don’t care how you feel about Rainbow, and my thoughts about them are mixed these days, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll just is an epic rocker. Co-written by former Deep Purple guitarist and Rainbow founder Ritchie Blackmore and the band’s powerhouse lead vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll was the title track of Rainbow’s third studio album released in April 1978. It also became the record’s lead single in March of the same year. To me, this is Rainbow’s best song. Apparently, audiences felt differently, at least the time, and far preferred some of their later songs, on which Blackmore adopted a more commercial sound along the lines of Foreigner.

Gary MooreVictims of the Future

Before Gary Moore fully embraced electric blues during his solo career, the Irish guitarist released heavy rock album Victims of the Future in December 1983. The big hit off that record was the power ballad Empty Rooms, which was played to death on the radio in Germany. I don’t even recall hearing the title track, which was co-written by Moore, Neil Carter (keyboards), Neil Murray (bass) and Ian Paice (drums) – and, yep, that’s the Ian Paice from Deep Purple. The song wasn’t released as a single; clocking in at more than six minutes, it wouldn’t have been radio-friendly to begin with. Admittedly, this is a pretty aggressive tune I can only tolerate occasionally, but when I’m in the mood for some heavy action, I still enjoy it. According to Wikipedia, Moore later dismissed the record as “just one of my feeble attempts at heavy rock”. It’s certainly quite different from his electric blues music he released starting in the early ’90s all the way until his premature death at age 58 in February 2011.

Guns N’ RosesSweet Child o’ Mine

My sentiments about Guns N’ Roses, in general, are similar to the previous pick. Sometimes, their music is simply too aggressive, so again, I need to be in the right mood. When I am, I actually enjoy a good number of their tunes. On these occasions, Sweet Child o’ Mine is one of my favorites. It’s a track off their debut album Appetite for Destruction from July 1987. Credited to the entire band, the tune also became the album’s third single in August of the same year. It was one of the songs that fueled the record’s massive international chart success, turning it into Guns N’ Roses’ biggest album. The guitar work on this song is just killer!

ScorpionsRaised on Rock

I suppose writing a post about heavy rock without acknowledging German veterans Scorpions would border on treason. The band from the city of Hannover first entered my radar screen with Love at First Sting, their hugely successful ninth studio album they released in March 1984, 12 years into their recording career. I seem to recall reading somewhere there were times before then when Scorpions were more famous elsewhere than in their home country. With hits, such as Rock You Like a Hurricane, Big City Nights and Still Loving You, Love at First Sting definitely changed that. Scorpions continue to rock and roll to this day. In April, they released a new tune, Sign of Hope, a classic Scorpions-style ballad, inspired by COVID-19. According to a statement on their website, they have been working on songs for a new album. The tune I decided to feature here appeared 26 years after Love at First Sting. Raised on Rock is the opener to the band’s 17th studio album Sting in the Tail from March 2010, which together with the supporting tour was positioned as their farewell. Then, they decided they simply couldn’t stop.

AC/DCPlay Ball

Let’s wrap up things with a great late-career rocker by AC/DC. Play Ball is from their 16th studio album Rock or Bust, which is the band’s most recent to date from November 2014. There have been reports about a new album for some time, largely fueled by Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, who apparently is close to AC/DC. According to this NME story from late July, the album is already in the can, but it’s release has been delayed due to COVID-19. It sounds like thanks to some technology wizardry, it will feature the classic lineup including Malcolm Young and be the band’s final album. For now, let’s focus on actually released AC/DC music. Co-written by Malcolm Young prior to his forced retirement due to dementia and his younger brother Angus Young, Play Ball was the lead single from Rock or Bust, which appeared in October 2014, preceding the album by one month – a classic AC/DC rocker!

Jeez, after listening to ten heavy rock tunes, my ears are exhausted. Yesterday, the long-awaited reissue of The Rolling Stones’ Goat Heads Soup came out. I think I’m just about ready for Angie. A-Angie, A-Angie/When will this hard rock disappear/Angie, Angie/where will it lead from here…

Sources: Wikipedia; Scorpions website; NME; YouTube