I would like to continue to celebrate the musical achievements of Jon Lord by looking back on some of my favourite moments on albums that have been with me for as long as twenty years, and that have profoundly influenced and shaped my understanding and appreciation of music. The following is not intended as a definitive guide to Lord’s greatest achievements in the rock institution that he co-founded, but should be looked on as a personal tour through the keyboard playing moments on his studio albums with Purple – taking into account the live recordings would make for a truly monumental task! – that astound me, and never fail to raise a smile. We’ll start at the very start, with my favourite Lord moments from the first version of Deep Purple . . .
Deep Purple Mark I
Deep Purple in its original form was very much Jon Lord’s baby. Emerging from the ashes of the innovative Roundabout project initiated by former Searcher Chris Curtis, Lord found himself the leader of, and father figure to, a troupe of young, highly talented musicians, and took the opportunity to attempt to forge a commercially viable musical outlet that would enable him to explore the relationship between classical music and the fast-evolving rock genre, in a way that was to prove as engaging as it was laudably ambitious. While the first Deep Purple would be overshadowed by later versions of the band, and treated as little more than a footnote by many rock historians, the melange of psychedelic stylings, cheerful pop sounds, and strikingly progressive moves that they dealt in, is a heady brew that still commands fervent devotion from a significant chunk of the band’s fans. And, let’s be honest, a big stateside hit single (Hush) and two US tours, including a jaunt opening for Cream, wasn’t bad going for a bunch of ‘erberts fresh out of the starting block!
Shades of Deep Purple (1968)
Deep Purple’s hastily thrashed out debut finds the new band struggling to forge an identity, and – as was the custom in debut albums of the day – showcasing their facility in a variety of musical modes; hence, we have the bright sixties pop of One More Rainy Day alongside the intense instrumental workout And the Address, the psychedelic strains of Love Help Me and the muscular freakout of Mandrake Root, and a plethora of wildly divergent cover versions including, most importantly, a sensitive reading of the Beatles’ Help and the brilliant early touchstone, Hush. The intro to that song – the howling wolf, the brash chords, Lord’s percussive Hammond strokes, followed by Nick Simper ushering in a groove that would be aped by countless British indie rock bands in the 1990s – ranks as arguably the first great Deep Purple moment, and the solo that Jon plays towards the end of the song, building to a grand climax supported by some fine rhythm work from Paice and Simper, is one of my favourite Lord moments: turbo-charged with the drama and intensity that would become the Deep Purple hallmarks in the band’s heyday. My second favourite Lord moment from the album is the virtuoso solo he plays on Mandrake Root, following the time change, in which his inventive and idiosyncratic improvisation proves more than a match for Paice’s frantic drumming, and sets the stage for the legendary Deep Purple live experience that was soon to be unleashed on the world (indeed, Mandrake Root would be retained as an extended live workout into the Mark II years, making it second only to Hush from the first album, in canonical Purple stature).
The Book of Taliesyn (1968)
This album may perhaps be regarded as one of the greatest missed opportunities in the Purple pantheon: the progressive aspirations of the band are there for all to see, and the quality of the musical ideas on display is often highly impressive – however, it is equally clear that the band were not able to make the album that they wanted to make at this point. Their second album was a very rushed affair, even by Mark I Deep Purple’s breakneck standards, as the presence of three puffed up covers attests (and, unlike on Shades, the covers are the weakest tracks on the album). No-one would have been more frustrated by this situation than Jon, as the creative director of the group, and I can imagine it was rather galling for him and his bandmates to see their version of Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman shunted out as the follow-up to Hush, given the quality of the original material they were able to deliver in the tight time frame. Of that material, Wring That Neck stands out in its early embodiment of classic Deep Purple values – a dazzling and utterly engaging instrumental (granted that the rather staid studio version does not adequately represent the energy of its live performances), lit up by extravagant lead trading from Lord and Blackmore. For it’s main melody (which I half suspect may have been inspired by Woody Woodpecker’s laugh) and his opening solo, it is my first favourite Lord moment from Taliesyn. Other album highlights include The Shield and Anthem – terrific progressive cuts, both of which would have made great singles – with the latter featuring another favourite Lord moment. Listening superficially to Anthem, it seems like one of the least likely candidates for a classical crossover moment; it is a beautifully wistful sixties pop ballad (with one of Rod Evans’s best vocal performances in Deep Purple), and might well have been written as a simple three minute pop song. However, midway through proceedings, everything stops for a baroque organ solo spot, the motif of which is quickly taken up on strings that provide the backdrop for a tasteful Ritchie Blackmore solo. A fill on the snare from Paice leads into another Blackmore-led refrain, before the memorable chorus returns, and Lord’s baroque noodlings, echoing his brief intro to the song, gracefully close the performance. What, in lesser hands, could have degenerated into a cluttered musical mess, stands as an eloquent musical statement of impressive emotional unity, which can surely be regarded as an important stepping stone towards the kind of ideas Lord would explore and develop with his Concerto for Group and Orchestra.
Deep Purple (1969)
One of the most curious – and arguably the most overlooked – platters in the Deep Purple canon is, somewhat ironically, their self-titled album, which was to prove Mark I’s swansong. The album notably witnesses the extrovert talents of Ritchie Blackmore being pushed to the fore, especially on hard rocking cuts like The Painter and Why Didn’t Rosemary? On The Painter, after Ritchie tears off some scorching heavy blues, Jon pays him back in kind with one of his most exciting Hammond solos on the three Mark I albums – a favourite Lord moment for sure, and one that sets the tone for the exhilarating solo trading between the guitarist and keyboard player that was to earn Deep Purple so many acolytes in the coming years. The progressive Bird Has Flown, built around Ritchie’s wah-wah work locking in with Nick’s pulsating bass, is one of the heaviest Mark I tracks, and gestures towards the kind of intensity the band would achieve on the revamped line-up’s first album, Deep Purple in Rock. Its extended outtro, growing out of a Hammond solo spot, is another favourite Lord moment: it takes the listener on a journey that starts with some bluesy solo riffing and concludes atmospherically around a simple chord modulation, with each instrumental protagonist showing an admirable command of dynamics. Lord’s classical leanings are also further extended on the album, especially on the epic finale, April, which covers a range of genres across its eleven minutes. However, I personally regard the infectious Blind as the most effective crossover track on the album: lent a distinct Gothic flavour by the keyboard maestro’s use of that noted rock staple, the harpsichord, the melodramatic conclusion of the song, played unaccompanied, is pure Lord magic.
That’s all for now – check back soon for parts two and three, where I’ll cover my favourite Lord moments from the band’s glory days: the Mark II albums from Deep Purple In Rock to Who Do We Think We Are.