It’s December 1972, and the world has gone a deeper shade of purple—or the rock world, anyway. Having recorded three mid-August gigs that same year in Osaka and Tokyo, Deep Purple selected seven numbers to comprise their newly released first live album, Made in Japan. It’s a statement album, one that the band could have made any time they wished, but had waited until now to do so.
Cases for the likes of Cream’s Wheels on Fire (half of it, that is), the Who’s Live at Leeds, and Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies aside—because then we’d be fudging, somewhat, categorically-speaking—here was rock and roll’s first heavy metal live album that truly mattered.
Made in Japan remains a mesmerizing work of musical art. Deep Purple was a complex act in a subsection of a genre that many people equate with a form of sonic bludgeoning. Heavy metal is perhaps one of those things like fireworks or licorice; the people who like them like them a lot, and those that don’t couldn’t really like them less. But with Deep Purple, matters wouldn’t be so black and white, which also seems coloristically apt.
One wouldn’t wish to speak for everyone, but it has always seemed to me that Deep Purple people usually get started in one of two places with the band’s music. I’m sure there are many listeners out there who reflect fondly on a rite of passage with the likes of 1973’s Burn, 1970’s Deep Purple in Rock, or even early single “Hush” from 1968. Usually, though, it is the epochal Machine Head from March 1972 that initially brings someone on board the Purple train, or Made in Japan, going back to when it was first stacked in a pile of killer LPs beneath the Christmas tree, waiting to be cranked later that morning.
Clearly Deep Purple was having themselves a banner year in 1972. “Smoke on the Water” from Machine Head acquired instant radio ubiquity, thanks to featuring the riff that I’m sure many people would call to mind as the first riff they can think of. It’s likely either “Smoke” or the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” and the former seems like what you have to defer to, the way one goes with Bela Lugosi as Dracula over anyone else because it’s Bela Lugosi as Dracula and that makes things just a touch more right with the world.
Machine Head is what I think of as an impeccably “fit” album—there’s not a wasted note, nothing that needs any paring away. Deep Purple wasn’t a band in need of a further fifteen minutes on the treadmill. They simply burn, and they had the songs—for they were skilled writers—that also perfectly suited the band’s considerable instrumental prowess.
Yes, this was heavy metal, but if you didn’t ordinarily like heavy metal, that wasn’t a deal breaker. Deep Purple came across as smart the way that a classical music ensemble does. One felt as though one was in good hands, that care had gone into everything involved in the making of this music. Machine Head was fun, certainly, but it was seriously made. It brought out—and rewarded—the trust that the band naturally engendered.
Personally speaking, I was a Made in Japan guy. What I knew experientially of Deep Purple was because of the radio play of “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star,” the Machine Head opener. Live albums represented possibility and freshness to me as a concept. They were life albums, at least in part spontaneous, unpredictable, and “in the moment,” the same as our own experiences. They came with this built-in enlivened quality. I got a copy of Made in Japan, turned up the volume for this other version of “Highway Star” that gets the document going, and just like that I was in the middle of one of those listening experiences that is itself an experience beyond hearing what someone else has recorded.
There’s a higher degree of intensity to this live version of “Highway Star.” Ian Paice is a drummer that you listen to and find yourself wondering if anyone in rock and roll history has ever been better than he was and that’s what happens here. You think about contenders. Keith Moon is in there. But you definitely feel stumped to provide a viable list.
On Made in Japan, he’s more than a rock drummer. He’s also a bandleader, the driver of the sound, the percussive helmsman who plays—when it’s required—at the tempo of a bebop master, but with thunder beneath the heads of those drums.
This was what is commonly called the Mk II version of Deep Purple, the most-beloved line-up, with Paice, Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Roger Glover on bass, Jon Lord on organ, and Ian Gillan on vocals. For chops, this isn’t a band many, if any, could beat. Comparatively, Led Zeppelin—especially the in-concert version of the group—was a sieve letting everything through, whereas Deep Purple was the clenched fist that seemingly held everything—no limits—beneath those fingers.
Blackmore is a fretboard artist whose solos you can study the way one would the best of Jimi Hendrix or Wes Montgomery. “Highway Star” keeps spiking in energy, until it gets to the instrumental break, when yet another level is reached. Lord’s organ and Blackmore’s guitar thread their lines together in this imbricated ecstasy of sound, upon which Blackmore takes over and goes higher still on his own and any resistance one might have to this band or the heavy metal genre is broken down. It’s just gone. Blackmore took it.
I knew this album’s reputation, because I read all of the histories and lived to get my hands on vintage reviews. I was a teenager who could quote chapter and verse from issues of Creem that other people had thrown out. And as great as any of them said this music was, I didn’t think those sheaves of approbation had gone far enough. I was that impressed from the first. Stunned is probably the word. Blown away by ability in evidence collected and put forward as a live record.