We celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest live albums of all time, Deep Purple’s Made In Japan. This is a truly live album– no doctored-up, overdubbed fixes here, just a killer band at the top of their game, tearing through a live set with little thought to the recording process. They thought this album would only be released to a limited audience in Japan… turned out to be a huge hit and the ultimate Deep Purple album. This episode, we explore the power of Deep Purple in all their glory with the definitive version of “Highway Star”.
“Highway Star” (Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice) Copyright 1972 HEC Music, EMI Music Publishing
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Hey, it’s Brad Page, back once again with another edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast network. Each episode of this show, I pick one of my favorite songs and we dive into it together, looking for all of those magical moments that make it a great song.
You probably all know by now that Deep Purple is one of my favorite bands. Today we’re talking about the album that made me a Deep Purple fan. In April 1973– 50 years ago this month– Deep Purple released their “Made in Japan” live album, and it became a true classic. So let’s celebrate the 50th anniversary of this great record with a look at one of the standout tracks on the album: “Highway Star”.
We’ve talked about Deep Purple on this show a few times before, and we’ll talk about them again, I’m sure. So I’m not going to go into deep detail on their whole history right here, but here’s a quick overview, just to catch us up to where this album entered the picture in the Deep Purple universe:
Deep Purple was founded around 1968, with the core members being Richie Blackmore on guitar, John Lord on organ and Ian Pace on drums. After recording their first three albums, they fired their original singer and bass player and brought in two new members: In Gillan on vocals and Roger Glover on bass. This became known as the “Mark II” lineup of the band.
By 1972, this Mark II lineup had recorded four albums together, including the “Machine Head” album. That’s their record that includes “Smoke on the Water”, as well as the original version of “Highway Star”.
“Machine Head” came out in March 1972, and the band hit the road to promote it. And by August of ‘72, they headed to Japan to play three shows.
Now, in my opinion, at this point, 1972, Deep Purple were one of the greatest live bands in history. The band was simply on fire, and they were unbeatable on stage. They had retooled their live set to feature more songs from that recently released “Machine Head” album, which were all songs that just came to life when performed live.
The Warner Brothers office in Japan decided that they wanted to record those three Japanese concerts for a live album that would only be released in Japan. The band kind of reluctantly agreed, but they insisted that their favorite recording engineer and producer, Martin Birch, would come to Japan with them to handle the recording.
The band performed the three shows, and though they knew the gigs were being recorded, they didn’t really think much about it. They were just concentrating on putting on a few really good shows for their Japanese fans. Honestly, they didn’t consider the album to be that important either. They figured it was only going to be released in Japan and not that many people would end up hearing it. In fact, most of the band didn’t even show up to hear the final mix.
But somebody at Warner Bros. must have been smart enough to know what they had, because they ended up releasing the album in the U. K. as well, in December of 1972… and it was a hit. So a few months later, “Made in Japan” was released in the US in April 1973. It reached number six on the Billboard chart, and to this day, it’s almost universally considered one of the greatest live albums of all time. Unlike a lot of live albums, there are no overdubs and no fixes done to this record. It is a true live album, representing the band exactly as they were on stage.
Of the three shows that were recorded, most of the album was taken from the August 16 show in Osaka, Japan. “Highway Star” is one of the tracks taken from that show.
“Highway Star” was the song that they chose to open the show, and it’s the first song on the album. It features Ian Pace on drums, Roger Glover on bass, John Lord on keyboards, Richie Blackmore on guitar, and Ian Gillan on vocals. All five band members share writing credit on the song.
The track begins with the band pretty casually taking the stage and getting their instruments warmed up. John Lord leads us into the song with the organ. Ian Pace begins a build up on his snare drum; Ian Gillan introduces the song. Roger Glover is in on bass, and Richie Blackmore’s guitar is revving the engine. This song is about to take off.
Ian Gillan was never happy with his vocals on this album. Apparently, he was just getting over a bout with Bronchitis and he just wasn’t satisfied with his performance. But I always thought he sounds amazing on this album. Let’s see if we can bring up the vocal tracks a little bit in the mix and listen.
I’ve always loved the interplay between Ritchie’s guitar and John Lord’s keyboards. The way they create this massive sound that’s just greater than the sum of their parts. Let’s hear their parts here. Simple but effective. Richie’s guitar is panned to the left, john is on the right.
Love Richie’s guitar at the end there, he’s just wrenching the whammy bar on his Fender Stratocaster.
Let’s bring up the vocals again.
That is a vintage Ian Gillen vocal right there. And there’s a great drum fill by Ian Pace that leads us out of that chorus.
And that leads us into an organ solo by the great John Lord. There’s a fantastic little instrumental riff here that leads us into the next verse.
And let’s focus a little bit on what the bass and the drums are doing.
Now it’s time for Richie Blackmore’s guitar solo. And remember, this is recorded live; there’s no overdubs, no punch ins, no fixes. Not every note here is perfect. If you want to hear perfection, go listen to the studio version of this song, which is iconic. But here, you get a performance that is a go-for-broke, knock the audience right out of their seat performance. Richie is on fire here.
Once again, Richie is just yanking the hell out of his Annie bar.
Here’s the last verse.
Listen to Richie, his guitar on the left, and to Roger Glover’s bass, too.
Deep Purple – “Highway Star” from “Made In Japan”, released in the US. 50 years ago this month.
I think for every music fan, there are specific albums you remember hearing for the first time, like watershed moments. This was the album that showed me the power of a live performance, how intense music can be when performed by five musicians at the top of their game.
John Lord passed away in July 2012. One of the most important keyboard players in the history of rock and pop music. I don’t think he often gets the credit that he’s due.
Richie Blackmore, one of the most important guitar players of all time, pretty much walked away from rock and roll around 1997 and formed Blackmore’s Night with vocalist Candace Knight, playing sort of a contemporary version of medieval in Renaissance music.
But Ian Gillan, Ian Pace and Roger Glover still play in a version of Deep Purple today.
Thanks for joining me for this tribute to one of my all-time favorite albums. If you enjoyed this show, there’s plenty more like it. You can find all of our previous shows on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com, or just search for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on Amazon, Google, Apple Podcasts. Spotify… anywhere that you can find podcasts.
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I’ll be back in about two weeks with another new episode. Until then, go get a copy of “Made in Japan” and crank up “Highway Star” by Deep Purple.