It’s probably just me, but I feel like these days Deep Purple doesn’t get the same love and respect that their metal-pioneer peers Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath get.
I understand why: Zeppelin is Zeppelin, and their reputation has grown to the point where they’re in the conversation as the greatest band of all time. (Or at least my conversation.)
And Black Sabbath has always benefited by the contrast between the outsized darkness of their music and the outsized outlandishness of Ozzy Osbourne. In contrast, Deep Purple really didn’t have an overarching mythology: they were just a bunch of great musicians who happened to play hard rock.
And while Zeppelin and Sabbath were on point from the very first songs on their debut albums, Deep Purple didn’t even start as a metal band. Like their peers Yes, the were some weird hybrid of hard rock, psychedelia & prog-rock. Pick a lane! So like their peers Spinal Tap, the chose the metal lane. And the point where they chose it was 1970’s Deep Purple in Rock, a quantum leap for Deep Purple and one of the greatest metal albums of all time.
Full-on changes sometime happen when you get a new singer and a new bassist, but not always. So if it wasn’t new singer Ian Gillan — who was also playing metal icon Jesus on the Jesus Christ Superstar album — and new bassist Roger Glover who pushed them into the metal fold, they damn well ensured that Purple would execute on a whole new level.
And no song epitomizes that new level of execution than the brutally precise “Child in Time,” in which every single note is exactly where it should be. It’s a proto-prog power ballad.
Starting off slowly, with a call-and-response between Roger Glover’s bass and Jon Lord’s organ, “Child in Time” builds slowly after singer Ian Gillan comes in and sings the one verse that he bothered to write.
Sweet child, in time, you’ll see the line
The line that’s drawn between good and bad
See the blind man shooting at the world
Bullets flying, taking toll
If you’ve been bad, oh Lord, I bet you have
And you’ve not been hit, oh by flying lead
You’d better close your eyes (Ooohhhh)
Bow your head
Wait for the ricochet
After that verse, Gillan softly sings sad-sounding “oohhhs” and inexorably ramps up into a long series of “ahhhhhhs” getting more and more tortured-sounded as they progress onward and upward ratcheting up the intensity until the whole band explodes into a bolero rhythm (as was mandated by 1970 Heavy Metal Law) for a couple of measures, followed by a meandering Ritchie Blackmore solo.
But it’s all just a feint, as they jump immediately until a speedy bluesy shuffle as Blackmore uncorks a jackhammer solo that sounds like he’s tunneling towards center of the earth. Down and down and down it goes, a never-ending tornado of notes that drills and drills and drills and suddenly Jon Lord has joined him, figuring if they combine forces, they’ll get there even faster, and so down they spiral, together, until they slam smack dab into the center of the Earth.
And you know what they find there? “Child in Time.” The song essentially starts over. Glover & Lord do their call-and-response, Gillan sings his verse and does his ooohs and ahhhs and we wonder, has Blackmore created some kind of singularity with that solo? Are we destined to repeat the song over and over and over again until the end of time?
As it turns out no, because of going into the bolero section, “Child in Time” heads into a coda, consisting of Ian Paice speeding up a double-time as Jon Lord makes scary organ noises and Ian Gillan just screams and screams until the whole thing just ends with a crash. And . . . scene!
“Child in Time”
Official (?) Video for “Child in Time”
“Child in Time” Live 1970