Judge Victor Valdivia is deeply disappointed that "Smoke on the Water" is not about what he thought it was about.
"Smoke on the water,
Deep Purple: History, Hits & Highlights ('68-'76) is such an embarrassment of riches that it seems a bit churlish to express frustration at how it's been assembled. There's no shortage of great music and rare footage of Deep Purple in their prime, and for both newcomers and longtime fans, this package is certainly a must. It's just a couple of misguided decisions made by Eagle Rock in packaging it that make it not quite the slam-dunk it should have been.
First, however, it's important to laud what History, Hits & Highlights does do right: present a fairly comprehensive picture of what Deep Purple looked and sounded like during the years that most fans agree were their most influential and pioneering. Deep Purple has been functioning as a touring and recording band since 1968, with an eight-year break between 1976 and 1984, but it's the period between 1968 and 1976 that most people remember them for. During these years, Deep Purple would churn out a string of classic albums studded with the most famous and enduring songs of their career: "Hush," "Space Truckin'," "Burn," "Woman From Tokyo," "Child in Time," and, of course, "Smoke on the Water."
At the heart of Deep Purple for most of this era was the remarkable talent of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Certainly, keyboardist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice were skilled accompanists and collaborators. Also, the addition of bassist Roger Glover and singer Ian Gillan (who replaced original singer Rod Evans and bassist Nic Simper) in 1969 definitely changed Purple from an enjoyable Brit-pop combo into a merciless hard-rock machine. That change, however, was primarily at Blackmore's instigation. As the band's musical mainspring, he led Purple into harder and darker territory and wrote many of the band's most memorable riffs such as "Smoke on the Water" and "Highway Star." Blackmore was also the band's virtuoso, and his fusion of classical and hard rock guitar playing paved the way for a wave of '80s guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani. Blackmore's influence on Purple was so prevalent that when Gillan and Glover left in 1973 and were replaced by bassist Glenn Hughes and singer David Coverdale (who would later form Whitesnake), the band not only survived, it thrived. Deep Purple sold more records in the United States than any other artist in 1973 and the band could have easily continued under Blackmore's leadership until the end of the decade. Blackmore, however, grew dissatisfied with the direction Coverdale and Hughes took the band in and left in 1975. His replacement, Tommy Bolin, was a brilliant and underrated musician and songwriter but suffered from a debilitating heroin addiction that made him too unreliable to perform. Though Deep Purple would record one final album in 1976, Lord and Paice were simply too exhausted to keep the band together any longer and Purple limped to an end later that year. The lineup with Blackmore, Lord, Paice, Gillan, and Glover would reunite eight years later, but by then the magic was gone and Deep Purple would never again wield as much power as they had during their glory years. Today, only Gillan, Glover, and Paice remain in the band, accompanied by new members, but it's really the music from those first eight years that fans come to see.
Here are the contents of these two discs:
Disc One: History & Hits
Disc Two: Highlights
Disc One compiles all of Deep Purple's biggest hits taken from promotional clips, TV performances, and rare concert footage. The bulk of the songs come from the band's classic Gillan/Glover lineup, which is not surprising, as that lineup lasted the longest and recorded Deep Purple's most famous songs. What the live songs do is demonstrate the band's extraordinary instrumental prowess, especially when Blackmore leads them into extended jams and the other members follow along with relish. The two performances from the Bolin era, "Love Child" and "You Keep on Moving," are also intriguing. Though this period of the band is often dismissed or forgotten, these songs make a case that when Bolin was at his best Deep Purple could make music to rank with the best of the Blackmore era. Disc Two contains some outtakes and more esoteric performances that aren't as essential as the songs on Disc One but are welcome rarities for fans. There's also a smattering of TV interviews and documentaries from the era scattered throughout that are fascinating to see, especially since Deep Purple were at the time so rarely profiled in the press, even the rock 'n' roll press such as Rolling Stone. Overall, these two discs paint a pretty thorough picture of how Deep Purple looked and sounded like back then, particularly live.
So what are the nitpicks? First of all, the 20-minute segment titled History is completely redundant. It's meant to give a history of the band but consists of nothing more than bits and pieces edited from the other segments included on the set, with one or two additional interview snippets added as afterthoughts. What, exactly, is the point? Instead of clogging up the disc with a superfluous rehash, why not include more performance footage? The 20-page booklet that comes with this collection accomplishes the same task without taking up valuable disc space. Even more irritating, though the clips and footage on the Highlights disc are carefully labeled to explain when and where they were filmed, the ones on the Hits disc are not. Where did that amazing performance of "Child in Time" come from? When were the Bolin songs filmed? There's no indication anywhere on the disc or packaging, even in the booklet. This is inexcusably sloppy on Eagle Rock's part. Longtime fans will recognize the performance of "Mistreated" from the Deep Purple: Live In California '74 DVD and the versions of "Lazy" and "Smoke on the Water" from the Live in Concert '72/'73 DVD, for instance, but some of the others appear to have never been released before. It makes no sense that only one disc has such detailed information; viewers deserve better than that.
In every other respect, History, Hits & Highlights is a worthy package. The selections are well-chosen, mixing classic hits with more obscure but important album tracks for a collection that will serve as a great sampler for newcomers and a necessary addition for longtime fans. The full-screen transfer and Dolby Digital stereo mix both do a solid job of presenting the material. Some of the archival footage shows its age but overall most of it is surprisingly impressive. The only extra is a photo gallery, but the disc is so packed with content that none is really needed; it would have been better for Eagle Rock to provide more information on what's already here instead. There are just too many important performances here to pass up, so even though Eagle Rock has made some questionable decisions in how this set is packaged, it's still a must for anyone interested in Deep Purple's music.
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