Aside from being cited as one of the pioneers of hard rock, I knew little of Deep Purple outside of the renowned hits. Their debut album, Shades of Deep Purple, celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, and I was naturally expecting raucous rock in a similar vein to “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star”. I was surprised, and impressed, to hear the band come out the gate with an ambitious instrumental track lasting five minutes. Lo and behold, Deep Purple’s debut record turns out to be none other than a pleasing prescription of psychedelic rock. Shades of Deep Purple is no Surrealistic Pillow by any means, but it’s still pretty good going, and the general vibe is spot on. The sonic scenery is colourful and smoky, and the band sound like they’re having the time of their lives. It’s obvious that they were still in search of a refined sound, and whilst that comes with its degree of frustrations, the general looseness is actually rather endearing. The quality in content ranges, but on the whole it’s fairly consistent. The record features a handful of brave covers, and to their credit Deep Purple pull them off, making each song their own in the process. The core criticism for Shades of Deep Purple is purely derived from the fact that its sound had been done better elsewhere, even by the time of its release in 1968. Drawing comparisons to albums such as Surrealistic Pillow, Revolver and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn makes for a harsh window of quality, but it’s true nonetheless. This a pleasant plunge into the world of psychedlia — a gateway to the real stuff. Despite its rawness, Shades of Deep Purple remains an enjoyable ride 50 years later, and that’s some feat.7 10
Favourite tracks // Hush
And the Address
This is a real time capsule of an album. Half of it is covers of ‘60s classics, while the other is a frenetic onslaught of psychedelia fit for any Summer of Love montage. The fact that Shades of Deep Purple was released a year after those messy months in San Francisco only seems right. The album very much feels like a product of its time, a faithful, occasionally zealous disciple of a zeitgeist. The likes of Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, and, of course, The Beatles loom large over Deep Purple’s own forays down the rabbit hole. There are worse influences out there to be sure, and they translate into quite a trip here.
Still, it would be a disservice to the band not to acknowledge the qualities they bring to the table. The album is much more than fan service. Opening with a five-minute instrumental track, “And the Address”, says as much, while songs as unravelled as “Mandrake Root” are beholden to no-one. There is adventure in this album, it’s just looking for the same treasure others had already found and brought home to the adoring masses. Shades of Deep Purple finds its joy in the journey rather than the destination, and that’s fine by me. They don’t make music like this anymore. I mean, they probably do, but I’m too much of a philistine to notice.7 10
Favourite tracks // Mandrake Root
Deep Purple’s debut highlights a band that are content with building on the successes of the era it was produced. With original tracks from the band like “Mandrake Root” that reek of the ’60s, and reinterpretations of tracks like “Help” and “Hey Joe” strongly tinged with the band’s own character, Shades of Deep Purple is an enjoyable montage of its decade. Instrumentals across the tracklist feature bombastic guitar and drum work and heaps of organ, but nothing feels trite. Instead, moments like the instrumental opener or the closing moments of “Mandrake Root” are some of the most enjoyable, feeling rocky and loose without being messy. Classic hallmarks of the time can be found here too, as Rod Evans’ vocals gently cry away to the hard left on headphones while the organ player sits at the other end of the cavernous hall on the hard right. That said, this album is a delight to listen to on headphones, with the bouncy bass thudding along the ground of “Hush” as the vocal echo ping-pongs from one end of the stereo field to the other and the backing vocals feather away. For an album that’s now half a century old, I haven’t heard anything that sounds tired, nor have I heard anything to deter me from repeat listens. Shades of Deep Purple still has energy, and while it hasn’t been an earth-shattering experience, it’s made for an enjoyable week of listening. The fact it feels like the band’s own celebration of the ’60s rather than their own fresh take to push listeners into the ’70s does hobble it a little, but I’ll happily take that over the failed attempt to be edgy and cool that could’ve materialised from a new band.7 10
Favourite tracks // Help