Certain Songs #296: Deep Purple – “Highway Star (Osaka, Japan 08-16-1972)”

made in japan Album: Made in Japan
Year: 1972

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.”

Fan-made video for “Highway Star (Live)”

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