Machine Head
Deep Purple

The biggest sin of “Sins of the ’70s Week” was the sin of omission. I forgot Deep Purple! Yeah, yeah, yeah, the freaks said/man those cats could really swing (“Space Truckin’ ”). Some of these songs do have a sort of big-band swing to them, but most of them are having a bad night in Suck City. Jon Lord’s organ sometimes sounds like a harpsichord. So does Richie Blackmore’s guitar. And yet this band has a good claim on the invention of heavy metal.

I loved this album and spent many hours tormenting my parents with it. These days I smile as each song begins but after a couple of minutes I want them to end. I have no patience with the berserk Bee-Gees falsettos, the alleged lyrics, and the solos, which are always Blackmore first, then Lord, unless they decide to mix it up and have Lord go first, then Blackmore. (Improv jazz bands that always give you the tenor sax solo followed by the trumpet solo followed by the piano solo, or the piano solo followed by the tenor sax solo followed by the trumpet solo, make me feel like Ricardo Montalban as Kahn. I grow fatigued.)

Of course you can’t discuss Deep Purple without tripping over “Smoke on the Water.” Duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, DUH-DUH. It’s slow, it’s turgid, it takes forever to end. It’s like building blocks for beginning guitarists. You can’t get to “Stairway to Heaven” without first mastering “Smoke on the Water.”

“Smoke on the Water” is also a rarity among rock songs in that it reports on an incident that happened to the entire band. You don’t get a lot of journalism in this genre. If you’re paying attention to Deep Purple’s lyrics you’re in trouble, but while forcing myself to pay attention this evening I was surprised by the stripped-down Hemingway ending:

We ended up at the Grand Hotel.
It was empty cold and bare.
But with the Rolling truck Stones thing just outside,
making our music there.
With a few red lights, a few old beds,
we made a place to sweat.
No matter what we get out of this,
I know, I know we’ll never forget
smoke on the water
and fire in the sky.

In the 1940s, legendary editor Maxwell Perkins said that there will always be a new class of sophomores who will discover Thomas Wolfe and be entranced by him. There will always be a new class of middle-schoolers who will discover “Smoke on the Water” and be entranced by the damn thing. This year at our chess club, one of my middle-school girls told her BFF, “I just heard the most awesome song.” I asked her what it was and she handed me an earbud and pressed Play. Duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, DUH-DUH.

Longest instrumental lead in a song that actually has words
Here’s something else about Deep Purple. In this contest I just dreamed up, they smash their puny human opponents with “Lazy.” “Lazy” begins with a jazzy riff that doesn’t open the door for the singer until 4:22, daringly late for a song that ends at 7:22.

First runner-up: Boston, “Foreplay/Long Time,” Boston (1976)
Boston owes a lot to Deep Purple’s influence (check out “Never Before” on Machine Head). “Foreplay/Long Time” is almost exactly the same length as “Lazy” (7:47), but Boston only strings us along until 2:45, when the singer enters and declares that he has to keep moving along so he can keep chasing that dream. Tough luck, honey, I can’t stay and commit to a healthy relationship.

Second runner-up: The B-52s, “Planet Claire,” The B-52s (1979)
And we’re still in the ’70s. Fred Schneider doesn’t start singing until the band has run through all of their outer-space sounds at the 2:30 mark. The song ends two minutes later. (The Foo Fighters do a cover of “Planet Claire” that clearly show this song’s debt to the Peter Gunn theme.)

Worth mentioning: Love and Rockets, “Body and Soul,” Hot Trip to Heaven (1994)
The actual singing begins at 2:20, but throughout the song a woman sighs suggestively every four seconds. “Body and Soul” runs a mesmerizing 14:14 and, as the reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine notes at, “they [Love and Rockets] sound like they’re trying to figure out what the hell is going on.”

Note: As you can see from the comments on this post, the first and second finishers are actually Mike Oldfield for “Tubular Bells” and Pink Floyd for “Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-5).”

Note from the far future (7 July 2019): I forgot The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” I am a double dumb-ass. There’s no singing in the first 4 minutes (almost tying “Lazy”). The radio edit is 6:59 and the album version cracks the 12-minute mark!


  1. Ohmigosh! I totally agree with you about Thomas Wolfe! Loved him when I was nineteen! I also have a funny wah-wah story about Deep Purple. I was in boarding school, in my senior year fall 1987. We got tickets to see Deep Purple. I knew nothing about them but was stoked because it sounded cool and Joan Jett was opening/playing with them. We had to finagle all sorts of fancy permissions and rides to get from our campus in Concord MA to the stadium a couple of hours away. Anyway, we had a plan, we gathered, got into the gig and then….sat. For a very very long time. Finally we were told that we’d be getting rain checked because the band’s plane was fogged in in Maine or something. Joan Jett was backstage! SO CLOSE! Of course we had to leave and get a refund because no way were we going to be able to get away from school again. So much of high school is like this. Big build up. Big attempt at epic-ness. We were a bunch of preppies trying to become rockers and we trooped home dutifully. Anti-climax, much?

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      You went to school in Concord? That would’ve been a huge leap forward for me — a kid from Fall River. We didn’t have boarding schools, we had schools where the boards didn’t keep the rain and wind out. What a great story, and you’re absolutely right. High school is all about high hopes that fail to materialize and events that are rarely as epic as we dreamed about. You may have been a preppy, Lise, but you definitely rock.

      I loved Thomas Wolfe when I was in my 20s. My reading theme for 2015 will be Big Books, and after I make it through War and Peace I’m going to reread Wolfe and see if I can’t go home again.

  2. Wm Seabrook says:

    Longest lead in….

    Shine On You Crazy Diamond? 8:30+!

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Of all my far-flung correspondents, Bill is the most flung, as he dwells at the end of a 12-hour plane ride from me. Leave it to him to introduce Pink Floyd to this discussion. “Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-5),” the opening track on the monumental Wish You Were Here (1975), is Floyd’s tribute to one of their founders, the late Syd Barrett. It has a running time of 13:31 and no singing at all until 8:41. So much for the bar set by their less-talented cousins, Deep Purple. So then, does Pink Floyd continue their lengthy reign?

      No! Bill reminded me of “Tubular Bells, Pt. 1,” from Mike Oldfield’s 1973 debut, Tubular Bells. “Tubular Bells,” the greatest achievement in prog rock (which means Yes and everyone else could’ve gone home 40 years ago), runs a marathon at 25:29. The announcer, Vivian Stanshall, doesn’t start announcing the instruments (“Grand piano!”) until 19:46. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the record for a record with the longest instrumental lead before anyone starts vocalizing.

      Only in the Seventies…

      Thus endeth the lesson!

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