If In Rock and Fireball made Deep Purple stars, then Machine Head elevated them to superstar status. It topped the British album charts and remains their biggest selling studio album in the United States to date. Released during March 1972, it was their finest hour (37 minutes and 25 seconds to be precise) of the Mark II line-up of vocalist Ian Gillan, keyboardist Jon Lord, drummer Ian Paice, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, and bassist Roger Glover.
The album’s is best remembered for “Smoke On The Water.” The song’s history actually began at a Frank Zappa concert. Deep Purple had traveled to Switzerland to record at the Montreux Casino Complex after the last concert of the season, which was Zappa’s. During his performance a fan fired a flare into the roof of the facility and while no one was hurt, the building burned to the ground. The song was about the smoke on the water from the burning building. The introductory guitar riff is still instantly recognizable, and the song serves as a clinic in hard rock history. It was released as a single close to a year after the album, and it rose to number four on Billboard’s Album Chart in the United States, plus Rolling Stone named it as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Two other Deep Purple and hard rock classics appear on the album. “Highway Star” is the album opener and it is a high octane blast. Keyboardist Lord and particularly guitarist Blackmore take on two of the better solos of their careers. The album endd with “Space Truckin,’” which is a tour-de-force for vocalist Gillan, while drummer Paice provides a thunderous foundation.
The last four tracks may not be of the same caliber as the former three, but they help add up to one of the better hard rock albums of the era. “Pictures Of Home” is a fast paced rock piece with solos by Blackmore and Glover. “Lazy” begins with a Lord solo and has some jazz influences, as Blackmore and Lord swap solos as the song moves along. “Maybe I’m A Leo” and “Never Before” completes the song list and are competent performances.
Machine Head remains not only one of Deep Purple’s master pieces but is a signature album of the 1970s. It is an essential listen for anyone interested in the history of hard rock.