Deep Purple album, released late 1974.
For years and years, we bowed before Burn, Machine Head and In Rock my friends and I. We worshipped in front of the speakers, sucking up Jon Lord's spaced out Hammond and Ritchie's cream Stratocaster.
Yes, I wrote cream. Make of it what you will.
We saw bands come and go, heard a lot of really stupid poodle-haired dreck, played a lot ourselves and froze our asses off hitchhiking to whatever band saw fit to visit the bloody North Pole to perform in front of 150 people. But no matter what happened, we always came back to the hard rock gospel of the long haired englishmen in Deep Purple.
My mother always meant we made too much of it and said - like mothers will - "they probably take drugs". And like sons always will, we scoffed and went back to the vinyl altar to play some more air guitar in front of it.
"You think they do drugs?", I asked my friend.
"Who cares", he said, sucking on a cigarette. A menthol, nicked from his mother's purse.
One day, I bought Stormbringer on a whim, heard it through and promptly forgot about it. I thought it sucked. About a year later, I picked up the first album David Coverdale made after splitting with Deep Purple. He had Jon Lord on keyboards, Ian Paice on drums and hadn't become Mr. Whitesnake yet. The record was called Northwinds. I forgot about that too. I didn't have all the pieces of the puzzle yet.
During my first year in what an average North American would call high school, we had an english teacher who I'll never forget. Yes, english teacher. He was not from England, but he taught us english. You think that's strange? Okay, but for us, english was a mandatory foreign language. How else would I be able to write this? But I digress.
For one of his lessons he brought in a tape recorder and a tape. "Okay", he said. "We're going to analyze some lyrics". We sighed like teens do. The girls probably rolled their eyes, but this is just a wild guess based on what I know now. Of course I didn't look. Nerds don't.
We didn't particularly like the kind of lyrics he'd dig up and throw at us, because they were always boring in a teenage sort of way. You know.
Then he simply pressed play and let us all into a secret. Or me, really. The song was The Temple of the King, and the guy singing was Ronnie James Dio. I recognized the sound of it immediately; Ritchie Blackmore was in there somewhere. He had to be, because it sounded like an outtake from Stormbringer, just like Northwinds sounded like Stormbringer's lost twin - the one who didn't become famous. What we heard that day was Blackmore's first offering after leaving Deep Purple: Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. In reality, it was just Dio's old band Elf with Blackmore on guitar. That's Ritchie Blackmore for you.
I usually call Stormbringer the last real Deep Purple album, much to the kids' amusement. They bring up the fact that the not-so-long-haired-anymore englishmen have released a lot of albums since 1984 (and roll their eyes when they think I don't look). You know, the year that Mk 2 came back together. I know that of course, because I have all the "new" albums hidden away somewhere. Stormbringer however, featured my favourite lineup (Mk 3) and you couldn't tell back then if they were only in it for the money.
Stormbringer was The Last Real Deep Purple Album. Okay?
The album was recorded in August 1974 at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany. Some bits were done at The Record Plant in Los Angeles, California, but nobody I know knows which parts. It was released in November 1974 and rose to number six in the UK charts and to number 20 in the US charts.
The Mk 3 lineup only released two studio albums (Burn and Stormbringer), but they toured like crazy. Five of Deep Purple's numerous live recordings have the Mk3 crew on it. Deep Purple's Paris concert in April 1975, for me at least, marks the end of an era and the start of another one. Around the time Blackmore's replacement Tommy Bolin left for greener pastures after some chemical problems, a lad named John Lydon started to hang out in Malcolm McLaren's kinky clothing shop in London. Mr. Lydon helped the music business turn another couple of revolutions, but that is another story.
Originally, Stormbringer was supposedly called Silence, with the cover depicting a woman in heavy make-up doing the familiar ssssshhh thing with her index finger. Later the title was changed to what it is now, but not before they had the cover rejected by the record company. It showed audience chairs in disarray after a Deep Purple concert and was deemed "too destructive". Yeah, it was 1974 allright.
With the advent of CDs, no remastered Stormbringer editions have appeared, likely because there's not much money to be made off of it. You can get decent sounding copies from everywhere though, but nothing has been done to the sound in order to make it feel at home on the little plastic discs. There was however, a quadraphonic remix released in the US in 1975 if you're into that sort of thing.
Format-wise, Stormbringer have appeared bundled with other Deep Purple albums, usually Burn and/or Who Do We Think We Are. You know, those "two/three albums on one CD" things. A practical buy for the newfound Deep Purple connoisseur.
- Love Don't Mean A Thing
- Holy Man
- Hold On
- Lady Double Dealer
- You Can't Do It Right
- Highball Shooter
- The Gypsy
- Soldier Of Fortune
The opening proved once again that Deep Purple was indeed the masters of riffery and tightness. Coverdale's voice sounds relaxed, complementing Glenn Hughe's backing vocals (or vice versa). On top of the somewhat muted opening riff, we get an in-your-face 1974 style synthesizer (a Moog, perhaps?), colouring the tail end of the power chords while Ian Paice as per the usual goes totally nuts on the crash cymbals. Strangely enough, his tiny and dry sounding drum kit, when coupled with the almost arpeggio bass playing creates a very rich rythm section for this one. Blackmore's guitar sound and playing style have changed quite a bit from Burn, a sound he would more or less stick to throughout Rainbow's entire existence. Ritchie Blackmore is definitely one of the guys who defined how a Stratocaster should be played. This song should be played loud.
Love Don't Mean a Thing
A jazzy, funky tune with an incredibly tight rythm section. You can hear debris from this song on Whitesnake albums from the late 70's, and no wonder. It's one of those songs that sound easy to play, but aren't. Pure, unadulterated fun for all musicians. Coverdale almost moans the lyrics into the microphone, and he does it good.
Lead vocals are sung by Glenn Hughes on this slow ballad. While the low end of his vocal range isn't as good as Coverdale's, his vibrato and lung power makes up for that. Again, we're treated with Blackmore's peculiar volume pedal notes during the solos. At least I think he's working the volume pedal during the short solo breaks, snuck between some funky syncopation. I wasn't there, you know.
Under the springy rythm, Jon Lord lets the unmistakable sound of a Fender Rhodes play around the riff. A year later, the Fender Rhodes (the same one?) would make David Coverdale's Northwinds what it is. The guitar parts are more in the vein of old style Deep Purple; slight distortion, jazzy string picking, finger vibrato and all. Vocals are sung by both Hughes and Coverdale, the latter in his usual moaning style.
Lady Double Dealer
A classic Deep Purple riff-o-rama played less tight than the other songs on the album. The instantly recognizable riff made this a live favourite both among Purple and later with Whitesnake fans. Coverdale sounds slightly short on air for some reason. Maybe they didn't get the singing parts right until two in the morning? I don't know, but it was the 70's. Who knows what kind of fun they had. The guitars are just how you'd come to expect them; tremolo notes on the bass strings and lots and lots of bluesy tweaking and pulling. A Deep Purple classic. Take Smoke On The Water and shove it (but only a bit).
You Can't Do it Right (With the One You Love)
More of the Fender Rhodes piano and more of that synth. For some very strange reason, listening to this song reminds me of that old 70's band Mother's Finest. They were probably Deep Purple fans too. In any case, you can make out some very early disco stuff here, including falsetto harmony backing vocals, a frenetic Rhodes and the kind of rythm guitar all of the cheesy guys used to have. A strange song, albeit with a typical Deep Purple underpinning.
High Ball Shooter
This one almost continues where Lady Double Dealer left off. The syncopes are typical and the keyboards aren't as dominant as on the rest of the album. Vocals by Coverdale again. As with every other Deep Purple number on every album, you can't help but wonder if Ian Paice is really a drum machine. Although he had a very different playing style from his late colleague John Bonham, his place in modern music's drumming hall of fame is well deserved. It's so tight and sounds so right, up and coming drummers could do worse than lend him an ear or two.
Finally we get a Stratocaster/Hammond duet. The recurring theme and everchanging guitar/organ harmonies make it into an enjoyable four minutes. The rythm section is jumping with joy throughout the mid-tempo ballad. Blackmore's solo is eerily similar to some of the work he did a year later on his aforementioned Rainbow album. It breaks with the theme nicely though, proving that you don't have to be an 80's guitar masturbator (curls optional) to create guitar solos that'll make the hairs on your neck stand to attention. Jon Lord shows off some talent here too, but without making your ears cave in like on their live albums.
Soldier of Fortune
One of the most well known hard rock ballads out there. Everything is stacked on top of Lord's Hammond, even the acoustic guitar intro. While the song (moaned by David Coverdale) is a typical minor chord event, the final chord is a major, accentuating the accompanying lyrics line "...guess I'll always be a soldier of fortune". The lyrics are a thinly veiled description of a singer who's become somewhat tired of it all, and so it rounds out the last of the Real Deep Purple albums quite nicely.
Less than a year later, Ritchie Blackmore had left, teamed up with Ronnie James Dio and released his first Rainbow album. The other guys went to California, found a very talented guy named Tommy Bolin and tried to pick up the pieces. They didn't really succeed, to be honest. In 1976, the rather mediocre album Come Taste the Band came out, Tommy Bolin went off to do an overdose and Deep Purple was no more.
Stormbringer holds some strong clues to what the band members would go off and do later in the decade, and so stands as a sort of watershed in the hard rock universe; before and after Deep Purple. Go and have a listen to Whitesnake's 1978 album Live (in the Heart of the City) and the kind of musicians David Coverdale teamed up with. The influences are pretty clear. Okay, they are to me, but I'm a nerd.
The lyrics on The Temple of the King? I don't know. They made no sense to me. Maybe my mother was right.
Sources: 25 years of magazines, shows, playing and listening to music.
If you want to buy it, navigate to your favourite online CD pusher. They should have it. If not, find a good one.