Warner Brothers Records, 1972
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/29/1997
It's amazing how one can overlook a classic when that classic becomes one of the most overplayed records of the classic rock era.
Take Deep Purple's 1972 masterpiece Machine Head. Every half-ass guitar player starts off figuring out the opening riff to "Smoke On The Water" (no offense, Bo and the guys in Bogart), and it's almost a guarantee that you'll hear it on your local classic rock station at some point today.
But if you take the whopping 37 minutes out of your day that it will take to listen to Machine Head, you'll realize what made this record so special in the beginning.
The classic second lineup of Deep Purple (known as Mk II in the band's circles), Ian Gillan and crew are as tight a unit as they could have ever hoped to be. Jon Lord's keyboard work was the antithesis to the high-tech noodlings of other keyboard artistes like Rick Wakeman, while Ritchie Blackmore's guitar work still continues to amaze me, even if he wasn't one of the most technical guitarists out there. To this day, I hear Blackmore's riff on "Highway Star," and my jaw hits the floor. Roger Glover's bass work is no less important than his other bandmates' contributions, and Ian Paice... well, there's a reason Metallica's Lars Ulrich idolized this guy.
"Highway Star" and "Smoke On The Water" are two of the best-known works on Machine Head - in fact, they may be the best-known songs by the band, but they still are as powerful as they were 25 years ago. "Smoke On The Water," as you probably know by now, is based on the events at the Montreux Casino on December 3, 1971 -- the band was supposed to record what would become this album there, but during a concert by the Mothers Of Invention, the casino burnt down. I find it interesting to listen to this song not only as a staple of rock history, but also as a historical re-telling of the events of that night. "Highway Star," while maybe not as overplayed, is just as powerful of a tune which features Lord and Blackmore's musical artistry.
Were it only for these two songs, Machine Head would be worth the price to purchase. Ah, but there is more - let's not overlook the unsung gems on this slab o' vinyl. "Space Truckin'" is the highlight for me, complete with the syncopated drum beats of Paice (and some killer cymbal work with the snare), while "Lazy" is an interesting take on the blues by the band. Maybe one of the best forgotten tracks is "Pictures Of Home," which shows off the musical tightness of this band and is evidence of how far ahead of their time they really were. (There's a damn good reason why this band had such a successful reunion in 1984 -- listen to this album and understand why.)
Machine Head may be poo-poohed by some for being an overplayed relic of a past era. I say: spit on those critics, fire up the old Victrola, and allow yourself to be taken back with this album.