By Martin Popoff
As these Spring-sprung debates go each year, we’ve all got our favorites for who should be in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and who shouldn’t. My top trio of unjustly overlooked had for a while been: 1. KISS 2. Deep Purple 3. Rush. With two of those wrongs righted, that leaves Purple as my current No. 1, for which I humbly provide the following rant.
Chronologically speaking, Deep Purple were already a minor supergroup upon forming back in early ’68. Substance is established, and then enhanced, through the band becoming a new form of instrumentally proficient psych rock with intriguing classical tendencies. In this Mk. 1 guise, they were also an instant, albeit minor, success in the States, touring immediately there, keeping Bill Cosby’s new record label afloat.
But the achievement and accolade and mounting validity to be entered into the Rock Hall grows with the band’s Mk. 2 incarnation. First, in 1969, Purple pioneered the full-on fusion of rock with classical through an entire album of it, and then, through “In Rock,” proceeded to engineer a fast, modern, scientific strain of heavy metal beyond the imaginations of Black Sabbath (who get credit for inventing the genre through a record six months previous). As it turns out, “In Rock” and “Paranoid” stand as the two heaviest records of 1970. Furthermore, “Hard Lovin’ Man” on this record invents the heavy metal gallop, simultaneously taking the staccato “machine gun” riff far beyond what Jimmy Page had imagined through “Communication Breakdown.” Erstwhile, the title track from 1971’s “Fireball” is credited with the invention of speed metal and by extension, thrash.
Also through “In Rock” and beyond, vocalist Ian Gillan establishes himself as the first heavy metal yowler (arguably second to Robert Plant), but more importantly, Ritchie Blackmore is nascent metal’s first guitar hero, arguably rock’s only guitar hero in the ‘70s until Eddie Van Halen. Through his love and knowledge of classical music, he invents a form of gothic, European metal that would take flight through Judas Priest and the New Wave of British heavy metal, and then become prime influence for power metal and progressive metal.
And while Ritchie was creating a whole guitar vocabulary, Jon Lord was busy inventing heavy metal keyboards, through his grinding adaptations to the “Hammond sound,” a phrase that has become, in the lexicon of rock, synonymous with his good name.
Moving forward, Purple created one of the top-five most recognizable guitar riffs of all time in “Smoke on the Water,” which drove the band to gold and platinum success through the ‘70s, and more so, enormous impact the world over in terms of ticket sales. From about 1971-76, Purple were one of the biggest bands in the world.
As well, it is worth noting that “Machine Head” is considered a definitive rock classic. And then housed within this period, the band issued “Made in Japan,” which many musicians and scholars of music consider one of the greatest live albums of all time. That in itself counts, but the reasons for it are rich: Purple were, and still are, a rare example of an improvisational hard rock band, a jam band, proving the mental and technical dexterity of the guys, with their individual musicianship celebrated constantly in magazine polls through the ‘70s and beyond.
Deep Purple’s Blackmore happily leaves hard-rock days behind …
Along that line of thought, Deep Purple also gave us Ian Paice, considered one of the finest finesse-based drummers in rock, as well as the legend of Tommy Bolin, not to mention Glenn Hughes, who brought the band funk, and David Coverdale, who brought the band blues and then later gave the world the massive Whitesnake.
Which brings up another point. Not only did Purple shoot off an offshoot like Whitesnake, but because of the substantial talents at its origin, Purple also gave us the respected Rainbow and the guileless Gillan, the latter, at a stretch, cited as this writer’s favorite band of all time. Amidst this, there are also a myriad of other solo albums and collaborations, always the mark of musicians worthy for the Rock Hall (or should be), given what it says about a love of making music, even when the spotlight is turned away.
As we move into the ‘80s, Deep Purple presented additional rationale for entrance, beyond a case I feel is already locked-down for them through accomplishment in the ‘70s. Purple reformed in 1983 for what would be the critically acclaimed “Perfect Strangers” album, which goes platinum. Big band is now big again, with solid new music in tow.
And in the ensuing years, they would, as they did in the ‘70s, take their music to parts of the world other band’s dared not go — Israel, India, Indonesia, Australia and Japan more than most — Purple earning points for being one of the best examples of a pan-world band, much like Iron Maiden. This is a point that must be stressed. Although armed with a stack of gold records stateside, only “Machine Head” is double platinum. But if the Hall is a hall for world achievement and not just American, then Purple rack up points while others should necessarily trend downward.
Finally — and this is a bit of a contentious point but important — a small cadre of us truly believe the band in its modern era, with Steve Morse on guitar, is making the best music of its career, through its highly critically acclaimed five albums over the last 12 years. And inside of that music, yes, the band’s guitarist distinguishes himself as a man with his own sound, but there’s also the presence of two legendary and talented keyboardists – first in Jon Lord, who, upon retirement and then death, has passed the torch to Don Airey. As well, Ian Gillan (with help from Roger Glover), is proving himself a fine, smart, humours lyricist, offering quite uniquely a mature perspective, demonstrating the logic that a band should get better with age rather than deteriorate, especially when it comes to disseminating ideas hard-learned through longevity and experiencing life around the world many times.
This last is probably my favorite point for plumping Purple for the Hall. Despite all the very material and concrete accomplishments of the band that should be viewed as stacked high enough for entry, Deep Purple are probably the best example of a heritage act screaming with vitality. They are the adults in the room, amongst too many old bands unsure what to do with themselves, and ultimately embarrassing themselves. Surely intangibles that rich and life-affirming should be part of the induction process. GM
Martin Popoff’s latest book, “Who Invented Heavy Metal?” is currently available at www.martinpopoff.com.