Made In Japan was the live album that almost wasn’t. Originally intended to have only been issued in Japan, its release in the United States was pushed back five months so as not to interfere with Deep Purple’s studio release of Who Do We Think We Are. Finally released in the U.S. in April of 1973, it sold over one million copies and reached number six on the Billboard Pop Album Chart.
Whether by design or accident, the album caught Deep Purple at the right moment in time. The Mark II incarnation of Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice, Jon Lord, and Roger Glover were at the height of their power. Gillan’s vocals were never better, and Blackmore was engaged and interested.
The album was recorded August 15-17 from concerts at Kosei Nenkin Kaikan in Osaka and Budokan in Tokyo. The sound was excellent for the day, especially for the haphazard nature of the process. The album has been released in several expanded forms down through the years, but I am still attracted to the original.
Though it contained only seven songs, the initial vinyl release was a two-disc affair with two tracks to a side and one on side four. The band was touring in support of their Machine Head album, and elongated performances of four of its songs appear in this live set.
Made In Japan blasts out of the gate with a powerful rendition of “Highway Star,” making it immediately clear that the band members are in tune with one another and firing on all cylinders. A 12-minute “Child In Time” follows, allowing the band to stretch out a bit as Lord and Blackmore begin to improvise.
“Smoke On The Water” doesn’t get the audience reaction one would expect but the song had yet to become a hit at this point. This is a fairly loose interpretation of the song but the signature Blackmore guitar licks remain intact.
“The Mule” contains arguably the best drum solo of Ian Paice’s career, which given the quality and longevity of that career is saying a lot. Paice has provided the foundation for Deep Purple’s music for decades and this track illustrates him at his best. Ian Gillan’s voice now reflects the years of stress and strain but this live rendition of “Strange Kind Of Woman” finds him hitting notes that have rarely been reached. The 10-minute “Lazy” serves as a vehicle for some interplay between Lord and Blackmore.
The album comes to a close with a spectacular and nearly 20-minute version of “Space Truckin,’’ which begins with an extended jam before settling into its familiar melody. Just when you think the song is drawing to a close, one of the band members takes off in a new direction. This is probably the definitive version of this often-played hard-rock classic.
Made In Japan remains one of those live albums that that serves as a template against which all live albums should be judged. If a band is measured by its live work then Deep Purple receives an A+ for this effort. It is an essential listen for anyone interested in hard rock.