As one of the most pivotal albums in hard rock history nears its 50th anniversary, Getintothis‘ Nedim Hassan reflects on its enduring impact.
1970 was a momentous and prolific year for Deep Purple.
The classic Deep Purple ‘mark two’ line-up had started life in 1969 when powerhouse vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover replaced original members Rod Evans and Nick Simper.
These new members would become synonymous with Purple’s shift away from the commercial sound that typified some of their early material (and had led them to be an instant success in the US).
This version of the band would soon veer towards a harder progressive rock repertoire, producing seminal works such as Machine Head, Fireball, the live album Made In Japan and, of course, In Rock.
Yet, while this period in Purple’s career would see them establish their status as one of the Godfathers of heavy metal (a term they and fellow Godfathers Led Zeppelin disliked), in 1970 such a status seemed a long way away.
Gillan and Glover could be forgiven for thinking they had joined a band that had a dual identity. No sooner had they joined when they were playing at the Royal Albert Hall as part of Purple keyboardist Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra, an ambitious attempt at fusing classical music with rock.
The concerto was broadcast on the BBC and was released as a live album in January 1970.
While the album made the UK Top 30 and the project garnered the band attention from those who wouldn’t normally have batted an eyelid at rock music, it did little to signal the band’s hard rock intentions.
Indeed, the media exposure Deep Purple received from Concerto actually caused some resentment among key members, with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in particular feeling that it detracted from their developing reputation as a rock band.
As Blackmore stated in his 1974 interview with Creem magazine, he had “got fed up playing with classical orchestras” and that he had said to Jon Lord “well, you’ve done that [Concerto], I’ll do the rock – whatever turns out the best we’ll carry on with.”
Whether the situation was as black and white as Blackmore portrayed it, what became clear once the line-up began to gel was that with 1970’s In Rock Purple had found the template for the sound that was to propel them to the forefront of rock culture during the early part of the decade.
Speaking to Record Mirror in 1970 Lord himself referred to this mark two line-up as enabling them to crystallise their “true potential.”
Taking a listen to stupendous album opener, Speed King, it is hard to disagree with Lord’s assertion.
Emerging in a thunderstorm of feedback and guitar histrionics from Blackmore, Lord’s organ provides a moment of reverential calm before Gillan, Glover and Paice enter the fray for rambunctious rock ‘n’ roll verses that eclipse even the raucous sound of Led Zeppelin’s debut from the previous year.
Speed King is quite simply one of the greatest heavy rock album openers ever; right up there with the likes of Van Halen’s Running with the Devil (which it undoubtedly influenced with its sheer energy).
Bloodsucker keeps the momentum going, albeit with a more laid-back groove. Gillan’s powerful vocal screams are interspersed throughout this track, building to an almost crazed crescendo.
Yet it is on next track, Child in Time, that Gillan demonstrates why he is regarded as one of the greatest rock vocalists of his (or any other) generation.
The singer’s roots in pop show through in the early verses, with a remarkably tender and soulful display.
It is, however, not long before he shifts up several octaves to unleash a mournful banshee wail that later metal maestros such as Iron Maiden‘s Bruce Dickinson would have been proud of.
Clocking in at just over ten minutes, the term ‘epic’, while overused, is the only one that springs to mind with Child in Time.
The combination of Blackmore’s pulsating solo together with a frenzied duelling session between Blackmore’s guitar and Lord’s organ serve to keep the listener enraptured, prior to another bout of vocal histrionics from Gillan as the song draws to a climax.
Flight of the Rat maintains the improvised, progressive feel apparent throughout the record as once again there are extended solo sections from Blackmore and we even get a Paice drum solo towards the end.
Into the Fire gives the listener the chance to bang their heads to a fuzz drenched riff and a driving rhythmic groove that evokes the feel of Led Zep rockers like Whole Lotta Love.
Spacey, shimmering distortion is on the menu for Living Wreck, with Lord and Blackmore conjuring sinister sounds that harness the psychedelic rock of Hendrix to create one of the album’s finest moments.
Closer Hard Lovin’ Man gives us a relentless driving riff that Canadian rockers Heart would later draw on for their seminal Barracuda.
Lord’s keyboard solo interrupts proceedings in wonderfully discordant fashion; before Blackmore unleashes a scorching solo that no doubt inspired 80s’ virtuosos like Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai.
Although it wasn’t on the original album (it was later added to the 1995 remastered version), single Black Night played a crucial part in ensuring In Rock’s impact.
Reaching number 2 on the UK singles chart, Black Night further cements Purple’s status as Godfathers of metal with its ‘darker’ lyrical content and, moreover, its stupendously catchy riff.
While 1972’s Smoke on the Water will always remain their most instantly recognisable riff, Black Night is not too far behind.
The sight of them rocking out to the song in September 1970 on Top of the Pops gave Purple (and the nascent genre of hard rock) vital exposure to the masses in the same way that Black Sabbath’s Paranoid was doing.
Although writers like Andrew O’Neill argue that later records such as 1972’s Machine Head were more important for the development of heavy metal music, In Rock’s significance to hard rock and metal cannot be overestimated.
With Led Zeppelin’s outright refusal to release singles, alongside Sabbath’s Paranoid, it was Deep Purple’s In Rock that was instrumental in popularising the emerging genre of hard rock in the UK.
Furthermore, Blackmore’s classically-influenced approach to guitar virtuosity, which blazes right across the record, would have a lasting impact on future generations of rock guitarists.
For this, for its sheer raucous energy, for its totemic cover art, In Rock remains a monumental moment for the hard rock and metal genres.