I came to Deep Purple: History, Hits and Highlights ’68-‘76 as an admirer of Deep Purple’s 1972 album Machine Head. I am by no means a Deep Purple super-fan, but I really think Machine Head is a good album.
Listening to it today, I am particularly impressed by the album’s B-side. The vast majority of rock albums are front-loaded, but Machine Head actually gets better as it goes along, with both “Smoke on the Water” and “Space Truckin’” on the flip-side of the record. Less than 40-minutes long and full of tight riffing and metal screaming, the album is a gold nugget of denim-y proto-metal. It used to make me wonder why Deep Purple is always left out of the Zeppelin vs. Sabbath debate.
Having watched Deep Purple: History, Hits and Highlights ’68-‘76, I no longer wonder. I have often heard Deep Purple used as an example of the bloated mainstream rock against which the punk movement rebelled. This assessment didn’t make much sense to me until I heard Deep Purple perform for a live audience. Now that I have, thanks to this DVD set, I’m glad I wasn’t around in the early ‘70s to be in the audience. Punk is maybe my least favorite genre of rock music, but Deep Purple doing a 20-minute live version of “Mandrake Root” would be enough to convince me to sniff glue, put a safety pin through my cheek, and forget how to play guitar, too.
To be fair, Deep Purple’s live show is not completely without virtue. All four Purple incarnations featured on these discs are tight, skilled ensembles. If for no other reason, Deep Purple’s live material deserves to be heard for the band’s solid, lockstep attack. Unfortunately, their endless, pointless jamming works contrary to that virtue.
At times while watching the live clips of the band featured on these DVDs, I found myself getting angry that Deep Purple would not just play something with a melody and harmony rather than indulging in lengthy psychedelic noodling. Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore are very skilled instrumentalists (on organ and guitar, respectively), but it seems that the many solos they perform live tend not to do their talents credit. They favor patience-testing atmospherics and theatrics over melodic lines and technical fireworks, and in this collection of performances they do it again and again and again.
Suffice it to say that Deep Purple: Hits, History and Highlights ’68-‘76 will probably not make devotees of any casual fans. Of course, most of those who would consider acquiring this DVD set are die-hard fans who are already familiar, and quite taken, with the aesthetics of a Deep Purple live show. Even for those in the Deep Purple fan club, though, this collection may contain some disappointments.
The first DVD begins promisingly. The “History” segment, a frenetic 20-minute summary of Deep Purple’s career from 1968 to 1976, effectively pumps up the viewer for the rest of the collection. The transition from “History” to “Hits” is smooth, as the musical clips begin with a promotional video for Deep Purple Mark I’s Vanilla Fudge-like cover of the Beatles’ “Help”. The band’s performance of “Hush” from an episode of Playboy After Dark is delightfully silly, filmed with a lot of tilted cameras à la the Adam West Batman series.
After the brief coverage of tunes from the Mark I era comes the interminable collection of Mark II material. Serious fans will find enough to like here and, even for those who find the performances insufferable, there is perverse pleasure to be found in the low-tech psychedelia of much of the photography. However, a low point comes in a performance of “Highway Star” wherein vocalist Ian Gillan forgets most of the song’s lyrics and, instead of singing with his usual metal power, screams impotently.
One might wonder how this performance made it into the “Hits” collection, but any viewer who makes it so far through the first disc will understand that this DVD set was not assembled with care. The “History” segment, it turns out, is mostly a collage of clips from the “Hits” and “Highlights” segments. The “Hits” segment seems to be composed of any and every (good and bad) Deep Purple musical video clip from their first nine years. For songs of which there are multiple recorded performances, the duplicates are included in the “Highlights” segment on the second disc of the set, alongside some fascinating and some negligible interview material.
While there are a few interesting nuggets of hard rock history here, even serious fans will have a hard time escaping the feeling that Deep Purple: History, Hits and Highlights ’68-‘76 is a repackaging attempt aimed squarely at their wallets, one conceived vaguely for fans but definitely not by fans.
For casual fan to die-hard, I recommend sticking with the records that piqued our interest in the first place. I imagine that even the live stuff on Made in Japan is more pleasurable than the rambling, misguided music on this rambling, misguided DVD collection.