I enjoy Deep Purple partly because in my mind, Ian Gillan is the literal voice of Jesus, and partly as a cultural artifact. In the 70’s there were dozens and dozens of bands that looked and sounded this way, the foremost of which was, of course, Led Zeppelin. While now, in hindsight, most of those other bands look like parodies, they all took themselves stone cold seriously. Remember, they all looked and sounded like this, because the hard rock fandom was a subculture with a set-in-stone set of aesthetical rules just as surely as emo kids were in the 2000’s. Those fans are all your annoying boomer uncle now, and they still like to wax self-righteous about the “virtuoso musicianship”, badass outlaw lifestyles and overall virility of their favorite bands, which these gluten-free, safe sex-having, Soundcloud-rapping kids today could never understand or hope to aspire to. You can’t argue with the virility of these rock stars, because pants back them left very little to the imagination, and there were, in fact, a few virtuoso musicians among them. For the full effect of what kids these days are missing out on, though, I highly recommend watching all ten minutes of this performance, in which Deep Purple penetrates hard and deep into Spinal Tap territory as Ritchie Blackmore plays his guitar by stomping on it.
I’ve been on vacation for two weeks, and that means no thinking about music the way I usually do. I need to get my brain back into running order.
So let’s come back with the four-note guitar riff that every aspiring teenage headbanger learns on their first guitar. It’s one of the most memorable intros in music history, destined to be instantly recognizable long after there’s no one left alive to remember anything else about Deep Purple or the culture they came out of. When something has been riffed so far into the popular consciousness that it’s basically become the generic shorthand for hard-rock guitar riffs, is there any point in asking what it’s about, where it came from, or even if it’s a good song? Well, if you’re a classic rock fan, you probably know the famous story of how Deep Purple’s plans to record an album in Montreux where thwarted when their recording venue burned to the ground. Based on the riff and chorus, you would imagine the kind of hammer-of-the-gods heavy metal lyrics in which hard-rocking vikings threaten to raze your civilization, but it’s actually a pretty mundane story about the inconvenience of finding a recording space for a very loud band in a very quiet Swiss town. Which, I think, is what makes it an indelibly great song. Nobody really wants to hear another poorly-researched heavy metal song about vikings, and this, at least, tells a personal story. Of course, we’re far removed from the days when cultural relevance was measured in guitar solos, and even fans of the genre have to admit that far less of 70’s hard rock culture will endure than your dad and his drinking buddies thought in 1973. But from what’s left of that moment in time, this riff will be remembered as the height of what labradoodle-looking shirtless dudes in obscenely tight jeans could achieve whilst blackout drunk on Southern Comfort.
That’s what they all say, every time; never, never before. Then they say never, never again. Piledriver metalhead aggression aside, this is a pretty astute love song, actually. Yeah, it’s simplistic, but sometimes the most simplistic ideas resonate the most. Because the sentiment of ‘never before’ is the universal experience throughout the love cycle, no matter how many times we’ve ridden the roller coaster, once we’re on it, it feels like new. And of course, every time we get burned it feels like the worst feeling that’s ever been felt. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it and it’s just a dumb song.