Released: April 1972
Chart Peak: #7
Weeks Charted: 118
Certified Double Platinum: 10/13/86
I just don't understand, as Ann-Margaret once sang, why an exciting band like Deep Purple, who consistently hit the top of the charts in Merrie Olde and have taken Europe by storm, remain a comparatively unknown quantity to American audiences. Especially when said audiences have wholeheartedly embraced bands with similar musical aims and not one more ampere of excitement.
It's a shame, but Deep Purple themselves are at least partially to blame. Their first two American albums on Tetragammaton were mostly uninspired, despite some good cover versions of songs like "I'm So Glad" and "Hush." The basic problem seemed to be that the group hadn't really learned to write yet, so the covers were the best way to grow without losing the audience. Except that no self-respecting late-Sixties rock band wants to put out an album with nothing but covers on it, so we were left with a bunch of boring originals, half of them instrumental. When, that is, they weren't indulging in long "improvisational" forays such as their first album's bolero rendition of "Hey Joe." Jon Lord was the main culprit here, having a background of extensive formal keyboard training which tended to make his solos at least a bit Emersonic and at most positively pompous. The pretentious side of Deep Purple found its fullest expression in their first album for Warner's, Concerto For Group and Orchestra, written by Lord land performed with the aid of Malcolm Arnold and the "Royal Philharmonic Orchestra."
It was an atrocity. A "movement" would begin with a few minutes of "symphonic" mush, then abruptly the orchestra would stop and the band wold start to play, build until you thought they were just about to really start cooking, and then -- whoosh -- drowned in string sections again. A recent Lord-Arnold collaboration on Capitol called Gemini Suite was just more of the same miscegenation.
Fortunately, the band has seemingly realized that that sort of thing can get out of hand, because their last three albums have finally found a comfortably furious groove for them to work in, making them prime contenders among the most searingly loud and heavy bands on both sides of the Atlantic. Deep Purple in Rock was a dynamic, frenzied piece of work sounding not a little like the MC5 (anybody who thinks that all heavy bands put out thudding slabs of "downer" music just hasn't gotten into Deep Purple). Fireball was more of the same, if not quite as frantically effective. Machine Head bears strong similarities to both its immediate predecessors, lying qualitatively somewhere in between the two.
"Space Truckin'" is just as good, a sci-fi boogie that's the perfect answer to all the Kantnerian pomposities and turns out to be the missing link between them and things like Wild Man Fischer's "Rocket Rock" (lyrically) and the Doors' "Hello I Love You" (musically). Once again the lyrics are ace, and never let it be said that Deep Purple don't have a sense of humor: "We had a lot of luck on Venus/We always have a ball on Mars / Meeting all the groovy people... We'd move to the Canaveral moonstop/And everynaut would dance and sway / We got music in our solar system/We're space truckin' round the stars."
In between those two Deep Purple classics lies nothing but good, hard, socking music, although some of the lyrics may leave a bit to be desired. It says on the liner that "This album was written and recorded in Montreux, Switzerland, between 6th and 21st December, 1971," and much of it sounds like it was conceived on the fly, what with deathless lines like "You're lazy you just stay in bed/You don't want no money/You don't want no bread." There's even trials getting Machine Head recorded: it seemed that some local arsonist burned down the best recording studio in town but luckily the Rolling Stones' mobile unit was on hand to get the new D. Purple out on schedule.
Frankly, I am not offended at all by the offhand nature of those songs. Rather than either condemn or apologize for their triteness, I will merely refer you to the current issue of Who Put the Bomp magazine, where Mark Shipper makes not of the fact that Sky Saxon wrote "Pushin' Too Hard" for the Seeds in ten minutes while waiting for his girl to get out of a supermarket -- and comments that he'd rather not publish a review of any album that contains a song that took longer than ten minutes to write.
Now, I can't be that much of a purist, because I'm sure that "Highway Star" and "Space Truckin'" took at least 20 minutes to compose, but I do know that this very banality is half the fun of rock'n'roll. And I am confident that I will love the next five Deep Purple albums madly so long as they sound exactly like these last three.
- Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, 5/25/72.
Deep Purple, a group ever on the brink of superstardom, may well achieve that elusive goal with this, their latest release. One of their chief drawbacks in the past has been their easy submission to excesses. This LP is a beautifully balanced effort, neither too heavily rock, or artsy-craftsy. Excitement and intensity abound on every groove culminating in such splendid efforts as "Lazy."
- Billboard, 1972.
Machine just about sums it up on the seven tracks inluded in this album. It's their followup to Fireball which gave them national exposure and they grind out more of the ultra violence in music. For the hardest of rockers and Deep freaks.
- Hit Parader, 9/72.
"Smoke on the Water" is about a big fire in Montreux, obviously the most exciting thing to happen to these fellows since the London Symphony Orchestra. No jokes about who's getting burned, though -- I approve of their speeding, and Ritchie Blackmore has copped some self-discipline as well as a few suspicious-sounding licks from his buddies in London. Personal to Paul Kanter: Check out "Space Truckin'." B
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
The definitive '70s heavy metal album, each locomotive song ("Highway Star," "Space Truckin'") blasts off like World War III. The highlight is the AOR staple "Smoke on the Water," which has a mandatory riff for anyone owning a guitar. It still fries the ears twenty years after the fact. * * * * *
- Tom Graves, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Machine Head is Deep Purple's definitive moment, a powerful and seamless document of a band at its peak with all-time power tracks such as "Smoke on the Water," Space Truckin'" and "Highway Star." * * * * *
- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
How can you listen to "Smoke on the Water" and not play air guitar? That menacing opening riff is perhaps the most recognized in rock history. Thanks to the clash of five creative geniuses, this high-water mark of heavy-osity showed sparkling musicianship with Ian Gillan's soaring vocals and Ritchie Blackmore's searing guitar work evident on concert staples "Lazy" and "Space Truckin'" and the epic girl anthem "Highway Star" that's worth the price of admission alone. * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
In April 1972, Vietnam raged and Apollo 16 was on the moon. Even more momentously, Purple unleashed their magnificent seventh album -- a UK chart-topper and the pinnacle of their heavy rock prowess.
Part written on the road in summer 1971, Machine Head was made in Switzerland for tax purposes. During their three-week stay, Purple witnessed the theater fire during a Frank Zappa gig, which destoyed their studio and inspired "Smoke On The Water." The latter's celebrated riff is just one highlight of a set that delivers, according to Rolling Stone, "the rushing, grating crunch of the hard attack."
"Highway Star" opens, with pumping percussion and a pyrotechnic fusillade of keys, guitars, and snarls. The pace slows for "Maybe I'm A Leo," then picks up for the booming "Pictures Of Home." The funky "Never Before" is followed by a triple-whammy: "Smoke On The Water" -- an immortal guitar-led anthem that the band first dubbed "Durh! Durh! Durh!" -- then the phased-organ and percussion crescendo of "Lazy" and the breakneck "Space Truckin'," replete with vocalist Ian Gillan's howls over all-guns-blazing foundations.
Roger Glover remembers making Machine Head as the best of times. It was also the best of albums.
- Tim Jones, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" lives wherever guitars are sold. Like its obvious model, Cream's "Sunshine of You Love," it's an insanely memorable riff that boils rock and roll down to an easily mastered (and endlessly repeatable) four-bar code. It still crawls regularly from the din of amateur hour in the guitar department, an easy shortcut to cool for misfit kids.
It's also the rare rock song that describes the circumstances of its creation -- "Smoke" tells how the five-piece Deep Purple, then just beginning to attract attention, had its recording plans derailed by a fire. Under pressure to create its seventh album quickly, the band had rented the famous Casino in Montreux, Switzerland, and the Rolling Stones' mobile studio. The night before the recording was to start, an audience member ("some stupid" in the song) fired a flare gun into the ceiling during a performance by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. The resulting fire sent smoke all over the coastal area, ruined the venue, and forced Deep Purple to scramble for an alternate location. They landed in the vacant Grand Hotel, where they set up in corridors and had to walk through a mazelike series of rooms and balconies to reach the recording equipment.
Though the arena-rattling "Smoke on the Water" was the band's breakthrough (and the reason the album hit the top five in the U.S. and sold over two million copies in a year), it's perhaps the least musically substantial offering on Machine Head. The other tracks show Deep Purple differentiating itself from the heavy-rock heavyweights (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin) then ruling England: The opener, "Highway Star," scoots along, sleek and almost jazzlike, a caterwauling groove that inspires one of the most demonically intricate solos in the hard rock canon. Each track is rendered with steady-handed precision, and is spiked by head-swiveling solos that all but taunt aspiring axmen: "Sure, you can cop the riff, but let's see you do this!"
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
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