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The debut album from this massive hard rock band, Deep Purple's 'Shades Of Deep Purple' is met with some ambivalence. Setting aside the fact that this is an album without the band's best singer Ian Gillian, 'Shades Of Deep Purple' is often overlooked for the fact that it is composed greatly of cover songs rather than original material, although there are still a few songs here that the band wrote themselves. Taken for what it is, this debut is actually quite good, and really sets the stage for more successful music in the future.Surprisingly enough, the cover songs are the real draw to this album, but as the inventive rockers that they are, the covers are really made their own, taking 'Shades' from the forgettable album that many deem it to be, to a fairly interesting place in rock history.
While the bluesy 'Mandrake Root' will attract the most attention from Deep Purple fans (due to the fact that it has met a great deal of performances in live settings), I find myself most attracted to the covers that the band has done here. 'Hush' is a fairly well known single that got the band out there, and Deep Purple does it well; a memorable track with a catchy hook or two. The cover of the Beatles song 'Help!' is likely my favourite pick from the album though; it really shows what I mean about Deep Purple making these songs their own. While the original track was fairly upbeat and catchy, Deep Purple turns the song into a drawn out psychedelic experience. This is very refreshing to hear, especially from an album that is almost half a century old by this point.
The band was certainly heavier than most at the time, but they still have ample loads of British pop in their sound, especially when it comes to the vocals. Although not as good as Gillian, Rod Evans does a good job of fronting the band.
'Shades Of Deep Purple' is a nice start for this band, and while the abundance of covers is certainly controversial, I really think that Deep PUrple goes beyond reprising the hits of the day and makes these classic tracks into something new oand original, sometimes almost to the point where they could be considered originals unto themselves. There is nothing particularly excellent here and Deep Purple would certainly go on to much better things, but this should be an interesting experience for anyone wanting a nice piece of hard rock from the late 60's.
“…vibrant flashes in my mind remind me of a foregone time…”
Most members of the Metal Archives are about two decades removed from the sixties - twenty years of proposed retrospect that, in the eyes of metal’s hardened beast, only sporadically enjoy reconsideration. A time of bell bottoms, drug culture, and 15" color TVs, so what does this epoch offer a musical style that barely existed even in the seventies, right up to its far-off cusp of the '80s? Punk never fails to realize its ‘60s roots, embracing even the most minuscule and transitional of influence like victory, bruised chin held high, from The Who and The Kinks to Les Goths, Deviants, The Ugly Ducklings, The Breakers, Richard & The Young Lions, and many more that strafed the bottom layer of radar. It truly amazes me sometimes that metal apparently doesn’t want anything to do with the decade that sprouted the universe’s most celebrated concert, fired the first shot in a revolution of sexuality, and saw us take the Moon as our own.
Commonly a victim of youthful repression nowadays, the ‘60s was a significant one-way, multi-dimensional cycle in music’s lifetime. Music’s lifetime…one-way in its surge forward that often looks back over forty five years yet has never returned and multi-dimensional in its groundbreaking musical contraption that stumbled bravely across rock’s primary colors of beat, r&b, psychedelia, and progressivism.
Time, steadfast in its livelihood, shows no mercy. Change folds and draws another unavoidable, unsympathetic hand.
Soon beat and psych dwindle as r&b and progressive flourish. Elementary rock hardens and becomes jagged and more unforgiving. And eventually dark. Alas, it’s unfortunate some musical styles are often judged not by what motivates them intrinsically, but what the lyrics are about. “All they ever sing about is love and tulips, man”. Yep, and teddy bears and picnics and ’66 Corvettes - oh so metal. Well, in a short time to come, certain attitudes toward rock will transmute, evolve with a bitter edge, and relocate to dangerous, foreboding places the endless summer of The Beach Boys would never have admitted existed, let alone tread. But this is still in the future, and I’m getting ahead of myself. Come ’68, very few bands were shroud in darkness. Hard rock itself barely eked out an existence, still crimson with the blood of new life that was (in fact) always present, conscious in a diluted state of oppression, shackled by the chart-born chains of ‘pop’ that were rattled fleetingly by the style’s brutish underbreath. But instead of concerning ourselves with how dark or ominous a style is, let’s just worry about the style’s base self.
Oh, and early ‘80s metal isn’t winning any awards with its lyrical gravity either.
Shades of… is the band at their most simplistic and expected, the line-up (now known as the Mk 1 line-up) coalescing from less-than-haughty sources, the most prominent being Nick Simper and Jon Lord coming off a ’67 hit single with The Flower Pot Men while Ritchie Blackmore shortly backed Screaming Lord Sutch. Recorded in a single weekend in May ’68, this hurried album fuses rock’s four corners to the same foundation, offering minimal leadership to new styles and is steeped in cover tunes. Ordinarily a description such as this would be an album’s death knell, or at least the average and forgettable arrival of one, but somewhere within these grooves stirred a questionable chemistry that somehow got off the ground, ignored the abusive number of non-originals that was the common result of a band looking for a quick hit and/or one insecure in its own songwriting wares, and managed to survive until the vaunted Mk 2 membership. I’m not going to sit here and tell you there are ocean voyages of cognition swirling throughout Shades of…, but at a time when innovation wasn’t the day’s top order to record companies and a few catchy hooks ornamenting an original work or found premeditated in a cover could aid a group’s chart ascension (as “Hush”, the invention of Joe South, already had), songwriting may have only been as good as the ears that heard it.
Shades of… is a testimony to the cover song's widespread acceptance even then, adorned with no less than four rewrites, some more daring than others, the most prevalent being the near chart-topping (#4 in the US) “Hush”, a more keyboard-laden rendition I’m sure everyone has heard at one time or another. The cover of Skip James’s “I’m So Glad” glides smoothly over the verses and chorus, but during the instrumental phase extrapolates an already tempestuous song (for ’31), meanwhile “Hey Joe”, already recorded to the hilt by other artists that wound up a freak hit for a new-on-the-solo-scene Hendrix, is redirected at times with bolero-style keys and a Holst-like march, but much of the time travels parallel to Jimi’s blues-wrought arrangement. The best would come with the Beatles’ “Help”, depressing the original’s eager pop appeal with Rod Evans’s melancholic drawl, a wicked keyboard blur, and a more cerebral ideal more suited toward the lyrics, reminding of Vanilla Fudge‘s dreary, mood-enervating rendition of The Supremes’s “You Keep Me Hanging On” of the previous year. Word has it the band received a praising call from Paul McCartney shortly afterward, a thrill for them no doubt.
Despite some recollections, with the dreamily plush “One More Rainy Day” and up-grooved “Love Help Me” the only full-blown original pop tunes on the disk, Shades Of… isn’t the sugar snack it’s sometimes regarded as. But even these songs are well constructed if not mainstream-ly so, sounding like any one of the hundred or so songs populating a Nuggets box set.
“Mandrake Root” and “Prelude: Happiness” are epic in their holographic daze as sure-handed Jon Lord, perhaps the most toweringly-executed player on this thing, lays down the songs’ progressivism with his mazy Hammond, Ian Paice backing him up with chaotic tribal percussion while Ritchie Blackmore, not yet the renown string sorcerer, throws some fuzzy garage chops into the fray. It’s within this pair of tunes that this lp’s weight of hard rock is hatched through a creation of keyboards and drums that oddly succeed over guitars, heaviness yet blind and writhing like most newborns, somewhat realized previously by the likes of Blue Cheer, Velvet Underground, and some valiant efforts from Hendrix, and great monolithic side-starter “Mandrake Root” holds the only fleeting, pre-patented “Smoke on the Water”-like sneer on the platter. Opening instrumental “And the Address” allows Lord and Blackmore to share equal ground, spotlighting a guitar-driven element that isn’t as invasive on the lp as one would have expected nowadays, hindsight withstanding.
For what this album is, it’s quite good. For what this album isn’t, well, what can you expect from five guys that, prior to this, had only been playing with each other as a whole for about five months, rushed by two London businessmen to record not only a debut single, but a debut full-lengther (that would peak at #24 in the US, mind you). Only briefly with keyboard-urged zaniness does Shades Of… scrape itself on hard rock, let alone metal, but the brain stem for it all is here, and I don’t mind looking upon this era as not only a metal victory, but in gracious, magical retrospect that I can only consume within the confines of stories told by those who were there.
Early heavy metal albums are awesome! When I mean early, I'm talking about a couple of choice psychedelic rock records by that precede 1970; the year the Black Sabbath and In Rock albums came out to kick off true heavy metal. Of course the band that authored the latter album is the same one who did the one of topic for this review so it stands to reason that it can be one of the very few to be deemed a "retro-active" heavy metal albums.
Deep Purple was one of my gateway bands to getting into heavy metal. Growing up as a kid, I loved psychedelic rock and so it made perfect sense that I should start with an album like this. I remember seeing a television commercial for this band when I was nine years old and thought they were very "old school" heavy. It wasn't until I was around twenty that I started superficially checking them out by flipping through their albums in a giant record store in Hong Kong. If you're wondering why then I only looked and not listened, well you have to remember this was before the age of widespread use of the internet or mp3s and so I couldn't exactly afford blind purchases( very few shops allowed you to sample anything either). Anyway from what I took away looking through all those albums they put out was that they looked to be like a poor man's Led Zeppelin but heavier. I didn't get around to buying anything from them until a couple years later only to find out I was half right. Yes, they were heavier than Zeppelin (though not in this late 60's era) yet not heavier nor darker than Black Sabbath's music. What I (and still many others today) didn't realize was that for a time of about, oh, 1970 to 1972, Deep Purple was actually a much bigger concert draw and therefore bigger band than Led Zeppelin. Hell, Purple had use of and their name written on The Starship private jet before Zeppelin did. So my assumption that they were a "poor man's" version of Jimmy Page's band was not entirely accurate. One band lasted longer in their prime and had more success in the United States is all.
Shades of Deep Purple is pretty small time, however. It's a bluesy, sometimes gloomy psychedelic rock debut released on Bill Cosby's record label Tetragrammaton in 1968. Hush is a noted single that has gotten much play on the classic rock air waves as well as a long time staple in their concerts. Rod Evans is a strong singer for this early period of the band that would become better known when one Ian Gillan joined. For you more modern minded metal fans, I guess Evans could be said to be Deep Purple's equivalent to Paul Di'Anno from Iron Maiden past fame. Although I doubt there is any sizeable base of fans with an affinity for Evans over Gillan or even Glenn Hughes, David Coverdale or Joe Lynne Turner for that matter. Shades is a damn good early album with it's own merits nonetheless. It doesn't sound a thing like their later era albums of course. But the album for me at least is a great showcase for the early styles of writing and playing by Ritchie Blackmore. Like Jimmy Page, he started out as a studio session player for other artists in the sixties. His solos on here have that fuzz drive typical of late psychedelic rock as heard from bands like Iron Butterfly but more proficient. Ian Paice has drumming near identical to Ginger Baker's style from Cream. But probably the one defining aspect of the band to distinguish Deep Purple from their hard rock/heavy metal contemporaries of the time is of course Jon Lord's organ work. If you've heard Machine Head and all the other classic albums, you can pretty much tell it was a useful holdover from the very heady days of 60's psychedelia as found here. It's as much a musical trademark with the band as the flute was with Jethro Tull.
And The Address has that very thing when that organ rumble revs up. It's an instrumental that contains some groovy rhythms peppered with colorful electric riffs from Ritchie. Then comes on the extremely catchy Joe South cover Hush. I've always considered this track to be the prototype of Smoke on the Water because both songs are set up almost exactly the same; length, simplicity, breaks, chorus and solo placement and of course Jon Lord's organ playing to move it along at an electrified pace. I myself like Hush better than that song's studio version however. It's faster and the bass lines are woven in better to give it a livelier spirit. Plus I like how the build up tops out.
One More Rainy Day might seem like a very poppy track with that chorus but I really like this song and it still sounds consistent with the rest of the album. Nick Simper's bass again is very loud and it gives a slight atmosphere of gloom to offset the superficial happy sound of the vocals. I also enjoy Ritchie's licks on it as they have a rich ringing out on the later part of the track. The next track is labeled as a suite but basically it's little more than an extended intro tagged with another simple pop-oriented song. There's an almost stern transition by Ritchie that sounds like something I heard from a song I liked from The Guess Who. There are really only several different lyrics with the bulk of it being 'I'm so glad' over and over. This is another good song overall mostly because of Blackmore's guitar work especially in that solo. Mandrake Root has a beginning that sounds alot like something from Cream with it's classic rockish blues electric feel but it whirls into an orgy of solos much like The Mule from the later Fireball record.
There's not many Beatles songs that I can say had covers that were anything close to good as the originals. However, DP's cover of Help is the one song that actually trumps the Lennon/McCartney one. The lyrics for the original were way too upbeat and I agree that Deep Purple's version gives them a better appropriateness with a slowed down and cloudy tone. Evans enunciates the lines with a catchy aura of longing. I was quite taken with that wistful organ passage at the end. Another "help" song follows called Love Help Me and this other song sounds more in line with the Beatles than the Help cover. Aside from that, Love Help Me sounds more in particular like Strawberry Alarm Clock. It's very upbeat and has those same type of cheerful backing wails like Incense and Peppermints had along with those buzzy guitar fills. Lyrics like 'hoping someday for good news waiting for that girl choose' sounds like something Brian Wilson would write but again, this is still a great early Purple song that I enjoy for what it is and when it came out.
I will come out and say it right now that Shades of Deep Purple is essential to have among In Rock, Fireball and Machine Head. Ritchie Blackmore is a great guitarist and his writing was something amazing even back in the band's start up days. As you can tell, this was not one of those bands that fizzled out after a catchy psychedelic album. This may only be a prelude of heavy metal to come from these guys but it should be valued for the loudness and instrumental gifts that the band had to display.