I never quite “got” Deep Purple or Ritchie Blackmore as a kid. In retrospect that seems odd as my youthful listening centred around Queen, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and Rush with side orders of Prince and The Doors. As an aspiring guitarist, I would regularly hear Blackmore’s name invoked in hushed tones alongside Hendrix, Beck and Page by my guitar-playing chums and yet … I just didn’t get it.
I didn’t mind certain tracks, quite enjoyed the occasional Rainbow thing but that was about that. Then, suddenly, just a few years ago, (creative writing lecturers the world over must surely be rending their cardigans in frustration at a sentence beginning with both “then” and “suddenly”) I watched an early live video of Purple from an old British TV show called Doing Their Thing and I got it. With fireworks. Boom.
So, over this past three or four years I’ve been gradually expanding my Deep Purple library, realising quite quickly that the classic ‘Mk.II’ line-up is the one for me. Certainly, there’s some ’60s fun to be had from the original line-up and Mk.III had their moments but the chemistry between Blackmore, Jon Lord, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and Ian Paice is where it’s at. The albums Deep Purple In Rock and Machine Head are obvious stand-outs but I reckon Who Do We Think We Are!, Mk.II’s final studio album before their ’80s reunion, belongs on that list. I first-and-last checked it out a couple of years ago while enjoying some light refreshments, becoming so refreshed, in fact, that I couldn’t remember a damn thing about it. This time, stone cold sober, I was blown away.
Before getting to the sounds themselves it’s worth noting that this old cassette (looks like a ’73 original, the gold cover is well worn, yellow paper labels on Purple Records) features a re-jigged running order to give each side an even running time. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in these virtual pages, that used to piss me off but in this instance I think the tape’s track sequence is actually better.
I’m familiar with opening number Rat Bat Blue as I’ve heard it regularly and often as part of an MP3 compilation. The difference between the MP3 and the tape is marked. The tape is bigger. Warmer, yes, that old audiophile chestnut. Better. All of which helps emphasise the heavy unison riffage and mental keys solo (indeed Lord’s leads seem to take the spotlight more than Blackmore’s throughout). There’s a recurring riff in there which I’m pretty sure was lifted by Whitesnake for their hair metal rebirth anthem Still Of The Night. I’m not going to research that though, as I might accidentally hear Whitesnake.
Next up is Place In Line, the album’s longest track at well over six minutes, a heavy electric blues. Even as the weakest track here, it’s far from bad. Our Lady, by contrast, is an almost rootsy rock ballad with a hint of psychedelia helping lend it a Crazyhorse vibe. Great song, an odd choice for an album closer, as it is on the vinyl/CD etc. but a fine way to bow out of Side One here.
Side Two has no truck with balladry of any sort. Mary Long is unexpectedly and pleasingly spiteful (Mary Long is a hypocrite/
She does all the things that she tells us not to do/Selling filth from a corner shop/And knitting patterns to the high street queue) while driving power rocker Smooth Dancer mercifully belies its title. Pub-rock classic Woman From Tokyo follows, laying the foundation for Kiss’ entire mid-late ’70s output but distinguishing itself with a psych-pop turn at the halfway mark.
The tape version of the album closes with Super Trooper, a solid piece of chest-beating with musical ties to Rat Bat Blue. All-in, that’s around thirty-five minutes of near perfection.
The tape is in pretty good order despite its years, with only the occasional fluttery moment and one drop-out to give it away. I paid about a fiver for this online, postage and all. Well worth it, clearly.