Today’s song is in honor of birthday boy Ian Gillan, who sang lead for Deep Purple in the so-called Mack II line-up—Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice, Roger Glover, Jon Lord—from 1970-73, which included the release of their best albums, In Rock (1970), Fireball (1971), Machine Head (1972), Who Do We Think We Are (1973) from which comes today’s song, the opening track.
I loved the sound of this band when I was thirteen-fourteen. Heavy metal. All those metal head bands that would come along after ’73 meant nothing to me. In the early 70s, there was Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Steppenwolf, and Uriah Heep. Some put Led Zeppelin in that company, but Zep were different, though I guess they belong there well enough. Mainly I think of Zep as more musically adventurous than the others. For riff rock—and nothing else, often with trite lyrics—Deep Purple takes the cake. Ian Gillan had a great voice for this kind of singing though—I’ve always preferred his singing in the original cast recording of Jesus Christ Superstar to any other Jesus I’ve heard. And Blackmore’s guitar—both in riffs and in extended solos—was always a treat, never too indulgent. But I think the element of the Purple sound that mattered most was Jon Lord’s keyboards. The organ and piano on this track are what make it for me . . . ok, once we get past that great opening riff.
“Woman from Tokyo,” my favorite track of theirs, is mostly sexist and racist. These were white Brit boys who went on tour to Japan and discovered Japanese women in their natural habitat. Apparently it was quite a discovery. Geishas, y’know. All that. Whatever it is hard partying rock bands got up to in “the decadent East” where the poppy reigns, etc. The lyrics don’t have much to say—“talk about her like a queen / shining in an eastern dream,” is, I guess, not too offensive. Or imaginative. “She is what moves in the soul of a dove” is really trite, but it’s a pretty little melody they’ve devised for the bridge, when that comes in, and so I don’t mind it. And then it goes back to that stomping, swirling riff.
The main kick is how Gillan, with the band behind him, proclaims the chorus: “My woman from To-kay-o, she makes me see” [Blackmore comment] / My woman from To-kay-o, she’s so good to me.” Not going to win any prizes for lyrical subtlety, no, but he sings it like he means it. What a gal that woman must’ve been. “She is a whole new tradition / I feel it in my hea-ar-ar-art.” No doubt, probably with sake and sushi and kimonos and the shamishen.
The lead-out on the song, from about 4:15, is when Lord really takes over and comes to the fore, then Blackmore, then the chorus again, then Lord’s piano on the fade. It’s a great little boogie and it still works for me after all this time. Who Do We Think We Are is the weakest of the four Mach 2 Purple LPs, each of the others, even if uneven composition-wise, gives you plenty of what the band does best. This one seems kinda liking scraping the barrel. The band has said the label and their management wouldn’t give them any time off after that grueling Japan tour. These were the days when a contract said an album per year and meant it.
In going down memory lane with these songs of the day, I can pinpoint some to an exact period when I listened to the music. I was pretty much over Purple when Gillan and Glover (bass) left the band, in ’73. Only when I started to collect vinyl albums again, beginning in 2011, did I feel the tug to return to them, picking up some of their stuff in re-issue, some in used originals. Apparently they had regrouped that version of the band a few times and had a very successful tour in 1985. Around that time, I imagine, one of the last things I would’ve wanted to listen to was heavy metal, in any incarnation. Even prog-rock was pretty much on hold for me in those years—except for some offerings from a newly constituted King Crimson up through 1984. Still. That particular period seemed far behind me for good. And yet, today’s song has made a comeback due to some playlists I compiled around 2010-12, including a 5-disc collection of the music of 1970-74. Can’t visit that era without Deep Purple raising their hairy heads. I get hiiiiiiigh!
|Lord, Paice, Blackmore, Gillan, Glover|