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Who Do We Think They Are?

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Who Do We Think We Are (1973) was the fourth and final studio album of the mk.2 Deep Purple line-up of Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice, the band that had recorded the seminal In Rock (1970), Fireball (1971) and Machine Head (1972) albums. At the time of release, Deep Purple were the most successful, top-grossing, stadium-touring heavy rock band on the planet; a position confirmed by the virtuoso performances captured on the double live album, Made in Japan (1972), and the chart success of the single, ‘Smoke on the Water’ (May 1973), which climbed to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The idea for the title of the album came from drummer Ian Paice, who told Melody Maker that the band received ‘piles of passionate letters either violently against or pro-the group’, with the angry one’s typically beginning: “Who do Deep Purple think they are.” (July 1972) This quote appears at the centre of the double-page album artwork, which is made up of a collage of press-clippings and headlines that dramatically contrast the success of the band with the controversy that surrounded it, particularly negative reviews of the band smashing up their equipment as the finale to their live performances. This highlighting of a lack of consensus or critical division of opinion over the musical merits of the band notably appeared three years before the cartoon-illustrated booklet, ‘The Ten Year War’ given away with the Black Sabbath album Technical Ecstasy (1976), which similarly collates negative press clippings. The decision to entitle the final-vinyl box set of Sabbath (2017) with this same title (and a reproduction of the booklet) encouraged many reviewers to narrate this story of a lack of critical acceptance that was slowly, even grudgingly, rescinded over time; only finally, retrospectively overhauled, once the depth of influence of the Sabbath and all those who were to follow them was fully appreciated.

What this volume seeks to do, in bringing together a host of innovative and internationally recognised Metal Music scholars, is intellectually contest this now well-established orthodoxy in arguing that Purple were equally, if not more critically derided, as proponents of ‘heavy metal’ rock. But it was their success, amidst this controversy, in communicating - over the course of a series of ground-breaking studio albums and especially in live performance -with a new, younger rock audience, that helped to define the genre template we now recognise as ‘classic’ heavy metal. Without this success, heavy metal would not have developed in the way that it did nor forged a lasting bond with its audience amidst the controversy which surrounded its rise; a controversy which centred, in particular, on the manner in which it choose to communicate with this audience, through extremes of volume and dramatic musicianship, particularly live. Indeed, the now legendary, genre-defining phrase ‘everything louder than everything else’ that epitomises the distortion-drenched and over-driven power of hard rock and heavy metal, played through a wall of 100watt Marshall amps, is actually derived from an on-stage interchange, caught on the Made in Japan album, where lead singer Ian Gillan somewhat bemusedly passes on Ritchie Blackmore’s request, ‘Can we have everything louder than everything else’, to sound engineer Martin Birch.

But the book goes further, in not just seeking to put the seminal mk. 2 Purple line-up back at the centre of the formation of the heavy metal genre in its classic phase, but also to trace artistic and musical influence of it and later iterations, such as Blackmore and Dio’s Rainbow, on subsequent metal bands, metal musicians and metal sub-genre styles, such as speed metal, neo-classical ‘baroque’, symphonic and progressive metal, as well as most obviously power metal. Topics covered in this wide-ranging volume, include: the contrasting critical reception of Deep Purple in the French music press in the early 1970s and the 1984 mk. 2 reunion; Purple’s Influence on Russian hard ‘n’ heavy music behind the Iron Curtain; Ian Gillan and the legacy of the operatic voice in heavy metal; Jon Lord’s legacy in hard rock keyboard virtuosity; distinguishing hard rock and metal in the seminal styles of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Black Sabbath; analysing the virtuoso drumming style of Ian Paice; studying Deep Purple’s tonal idioms and their influence on heavy metal rock; how Ritchie Blackmore and Tommy Bolin’s contrasting guitar styles reshaped Deep Purple in their own image; the music of Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore post-Purple and Simon Robinson, the Deep Purple Appreciation Society and the remastering of Purple’s classic albums. With a Foreword by the band’s own Roger Glover, this volume will appeal to metal scholars, musicologists, music historians, music critics and metal and hard rock fans around the globe.

Published: Oct 1, 2024