Jim Connelly has been eye-deep in media of all kinds ever since he can remember, and probably prior to that. Over the past quarter-century he has worked in the radio, film, music, and internet industries, and has been writing about popular culture and technology the entire time. Prior to co-founding Medialoper, Jim's work appeared both online and off in publications such as Wired, The Village Voice, Neumu and Websight Magazine . . .
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One thing that I’ve realized for sure after writing 300 of these posts: it’s much easier to write about older songs than it is to write about newer songs.
That’s not really the revelatory realization, of course. Not only have I been thinking about those older songs a lot longer, I’ve heard them a lot more, and probably had experiences with them or the artists who made them, to boot.
That’s partially why there were so many Deep Purple songs: I’ve loved them for over 40 years. Whereas I’ve only loved Deerhunter for five years. Pretty much since this album, Halcyon Digest, which was a highlight of my favorite year for music in this millennium, 2010.
Of course, by the time I discovered and purchased Made in Japan — probably 1974 or 1975 — Deep Purple Mark II had already broken up.
Because things happened at supersonic speed in the world of Deep Purple, Ian Gillan had already resigned, which led to the sacking of Roger Glover while Made in Japan was still riding high in the charts.
So while there was a ton of new Deep Purple for me to discover in the mid-1970s, before 1973 had even ended, Gillan and Glover had been replaced by David Coverdale & Glenn Hughes. Who combined almost made up for about a quarter of the awesomeness of the guys they replaced.
So of course, there’s a bit of a problem with “Space Truckin'”. The studio version on Machine Head is good, but it feels unfinished, while the version on Made in Japan is far more powerful, but goes on for over 20 minutes.
And I’ve got to be somewhere in 20 minutes!
That said, even if you have warp drive, travel in space takes a very long time, so you need a song with a lot of long guitar and organ solos to accompany you. So the live version it is!!
Where even to begin with this iconic piece of history? The fact that it was based upon a true story, and so wasn’t just another chick song or road song? The fact that writing a song about something that happened while you’re recording the album the song is on felt cool and fresh?
The fact that the studio version of this song was a #4 hit single right here in the U.S.A.? And this live version was a hit itself? And in fact, the single edit (of course) of the Made in Japan version the one I remember being played on KYNO-AM, not the studio version, which I’ve always felt was significantly weaker.
So, after the utter triumph of Deep Purple in Rock, Deep Purple followed with two pretty good records — Fireball and Machine Head — that didn’t even come close. The former showed them stretching out a bit while losing some of their edge, and the latter had some edge, but its best songs were all eclipsed by their live versions.
Because Made in Japan.
One of the first albums I ever bought, and 40 years later, still on the short list of all-time greatest live albums ever recorded, especially when its so damn easy these days to skip the drum solo that ruins “The Mule.” (Which is a pity, because “The Mule” is the best song on Fireball, and a live version minus the drum solo would have made Made in Japan somehow better.)
So, “Highway Star.” Look, objectively I realize that the car-as-girl and girl-as-car metaphor is as old as time, kinda stupid and probably terribly sexist, to boot. And every single time I hear that organ fade-in, followed by the drumbuild and Ian Gillan announcing “this song’s called ‘Highway Star'” I get the same thrill of anticipation I got when I was 12 and thought Deep Purple were just the fucking greatest.
And it was really because of Jon Lord’s organ sound: on a song like “Highway Star,” Jon Lord’s organ issued noises that Richard Riegel in Creem once called “weightlessness-inducing,” and — especially then — was unlike anything else I’d heard. And even now, how many metal bands had an organist who produced sounds that were equally as powerful as what the guitarist was coming up with? Especially when the degree of difficulty was upped by the fact that the guitarist was Ritchie Fucking Blackmore?
Yeah, OK, Uriah Heep. Fine. Whatever. As if that’s a comparison.
Anyways, “Highway Star” as captured forever in Osaka, Japan on August 16, 1972 is my favorite Deep Purple song, and pretty much always has been. For all the awesome stop-time parts. For all of the cool little guitar asides Blackmore tosses in. For how Lord is so excited to start the organ solo he comes in early. For Blackmore’s guitar solo, almost as good as Lord’s organ solo. For the sing-along chorus.
And of course, because its a song called “Highway Star” that’s fast enough to be called “Highway Star.”