Often credited as one of the founders of heavy metal, Deep Purple's early albums hardly sound like the birth of a new genre of music. If one comes to the Mark I era Deep Purple looking for the hard rock focus of a Deep Purple in Rock or a Machine Head, it won't take long to realize that Shades of Deep Purple as well as the next two albums with singer Rod Evans and bass player Nick Simper are a totally different animal.
Recorded over two days in May of 1968, Shades of Deep Purple is very much a product of its time. A fascinating amalgam of flower power psychedelia, commercial pop, proto-progressive rock as well as a smattering of hard rock, Deep Purple's debut shows the band in search of a direction while stumbling along some brilliant material along the way: "Hush" is perhaps an overplayed staple of classic rock radio, but it really is an excellent pop song with its catchy chorus of "na-na-nas" and most especially Jon Lord's breezy Hammond solo. It would take guitarist Ritchie Blackmore a few albums to find his footing and on "Hush" as well as the rest of the album, Jon Lord provides most of the instrumental fireworks. "Mandrake Root" would quickly become a live concert favorite and this psychedelic scorcher would spend the next several years as the climax to the band's shows, often extended to 20 minutes or more as a jamming showcase. The underrated gem "Prelude: Happiness/I'm So Glad" opens big with a very Nice-like instrumental introduction before breaking into a mid tempo pop rocker. Purple's take on Jimi Hendrix's version of "Hey Joe" is excellent as well and the Spanish flavor of the track gives it a fresh spin.
Not everything works equally well: "One More Rainy Day" is rather cloying while their cover of The Beatles' "Help" fails to generate much excitement. As well, the production of the album is understandably scattershot given the circumstances it was recorded in. Considering how quickly the band were thrown together and how inexperienced they were in a recording studio, it's amazing that Shades of Deep Purple holds up at all.
Released in America in July of 1968, the band would concentrate most of their efforts in the United States and toured ferociously with the likes of Cream and would make an appearance on Playboy After Dark with "Hush". The 2000 remaster of Shades of Deep Purple is particularly recommended for reliving those days. Rounded out by some nice bonus tracks like album outtake "Shadows" and an instrumental version of "Love Help Me" the album has never sounded better in the digital realm. A lengthy essay by Simon Robinson tracing the early history of the band completes the package. On the whole, Shades of Deep Purple is a very strong debut album. Really, all three Mark I studio albums are of similar quality that are marked by imperfection but also contain many unheralded little masterpieces.
CD Remaster Bonus Tracks
- And the Address
- One More Rainy Day
- Prelude: Happiness/I'm So Glad
- Mandrake Root
- Love Help Me
- Hey Joe
- Shadows (album outtake)
- Love Help Me (instrumental version)
- Help (alternate take)
- Hey Joe (BBC Top Gear Session)
- Hush (live US TV)