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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.