Wednesday, October 10, 2012

SOME STUPID WITH A FLARE GUN: It surprises me, it really does, that Deep Purple received only 14 out of 50 votes in our Rock and Roll Hall of Fame poll.  Are we that young, or that far separated from our collective memories of the early 1970s, or that nostalgic for the soft rock and disco that folks these days seem to think epitomized that era?  Luckily, we at ALOTT5MA have our Keltners (explanation) to tell us how to vote, and so Keltner we will: 

1.  Was Deep Purple ever regarded as the best band in rock music?  Did anybody, while they were active, ever suggest that Deep Purple was the best band in rock music? 

There probably was a non-trivial portion of rock fandom (more in England and Europe than in America) in the early 1970s that thought so, and an even larger population that would have put them at among the best bands in rock music. 

2.  Was Deep Purple ever the best band in rock music in its genre? 

No, because at its peak, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath also were in its genre.  It is fair to say that in the heyday of Deep Purple's genre (arena-oriented hard rock/nascent heavy metal), Deep Purple was the best band not already in the HOF. 

3.  Was any individual member of Deep Purple ever considered the best at his instrument/role? 

Arguably yes.  Ritchie Blackmore was pretty much the prototype for the "technically brilliant/lacks heart" model of electric guitarist.  He basically invented the trope of the classically-trained rock guitarist, the guy with the JS Bach hairdo and the laced romantic pirate shirts and the fur boots.  But he had chops, and he was not afraid to stick a bunch of Bach-themed arpeggios into hard rock solos whether or not they fit there. 

Also, Ian Gillan was never an iconic vocalist like his genre contemporaries Plant and Osbourne, but he had a bigger voice than either.  And he played Jesus in the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar, though I'm not sure how that cuts for anybody.  Still, big voice. 

4.  Did Deep Purple have an impact on a number of other bands? 

Yes, and this is where they make their best case for the Hall.  First, "Smoke on the Water" was the first thing any aspiring rock guitarist learned to hammer out on a guitar basically from the moment it was recorded right up until the advent of "Seven Nation Army."  That's over three decades.  Second, you have to credit (or blame) Deep Purple directly for a lot of spinoffs and related music, including Blackmore's Rainbow (both the good stuff and the Joe Lynn Turner bland stuff), David Coverdale's Whitesnake, Ronnie James Dio (via Rainbow), and latter-era Black Sabbath (both the three Dio albums and the one weird and amazing Ian Gillan one).  Third, and maybe most importantly, though Deep Purple was overshadowed by its genre contemporaries at the time, it was Deep Purple, and not Sabbath or Zeppelin, that ultimately charted the course of heavy metal for two decades.  Def Leppard, all of the hair metal bands, most of the European non-Satanic metal (Europe, Thor, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc.), and basically all American arena hard rock came principally from Deep Purple (with some debt to Van Halen for a few of those categories). 

5.  Was Deep Purple good enough that the band could play regularly after passing its prime? 

Anybody can play regularly past his or her prime.  I think Quiet Riot still tours, and those guys might all be dead.  But for what it's worth, Deep Purple was doing a brisk reunion concert business in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and may have done it again in the 2000s.  I wouldn't be surprised to see some iteration of the band headlining the state fair/casino circuit. 

6.  Is Deep Purple the very best band in history that is not in the Hall of Fame? 

I wouldn't go that far, but I do think that they are the most deserving of this year's nominees. 

7.  Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame? 

I don't know what "comparable recording history" means.  If it means quality, there are bands I like better who are not in the HOF and bands I think are worse that are in the HOF.  If it means album sales, the Internet tells me that Deep Purple sold over 130 million albums, but the Internet also tells me that they sold about 70 million albums.  So I don't know.  They sold a lot -- that probably compares favorably with whatever sales floor anybody wants to impose.  If it means influence, yes -- see above. 

8.  Is there any evidence to suggest that the band was significantly better or worse than is suggested by its records? 

Billboard underreported heavy metal album sales?  The strength of DP's concert sales outpaces album sales?   I don't know what this question means. 

9.  Is it the best band in its genre who is eligible for the Hall of Fame? 

If it's limited to 70s arena hard rock, yes.  Even if you expand to all heavy metal/hard rock, it's hard to think of any band more deserving that's not already there.  Don't say Rush, either, because (a) not heavy metal/hard rock; and (b) Deep Purple is more deserving anyway. 

10.  How many #1 singles/gold records did Deep Purple have?  Did Deep Purple ever win a Grammy award?  If not, how many times was Deep Purple nominated? 

They sold a lot of albums, if you care about that.  There was no Grammy category for heavy metal when they were at their peak, so their best album competed with Carole King's Tapestry (1972) and James Taylor's Mud Slide Slim. In ten hundred million thousand years, do you see a bunch of sexagenarian music industry voters -- Tin Pan Alley veterans and what-not -- picking "Highway Star" or "Smoke on the Water" over "You've Got a Friend" and "So Far Away"?  Ugh, the Grammies are terrible. 

11.  How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Deep Purple have?  For how long of a period did the band dominate the music scene?  How many Rolling Stone covers did they appear on?  Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame? 

They had enough material for a decent greatest hits album.  Three, maybe four solid albums that were among the pillars of early 1970s rock, but back then they gave Grammies for songs, not albums.  But "Smoke on the Water" is a biggie.  I'm sure they had some RS covers, don't know how many.  And yes, most of the bands with this sort of impact are in the HOF. 

12.  If this band was the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock? 

70% chance of yes; 28% chance of them getting in a pissy fight in the middle of the set and storming off because they hated each other; 2% chance of them actually breaking up right there and then, which kind of would rock anyway. 

13.  What impact did the band have on rock history?  Was it responsible for any stylistic changes?  Did it introduce any new equipment?  Did it change history in any way? 

Leader in: Bach haircuts; romantic laced-bodice men's pirate shirts; fur boots; stealing from classical music; pretentious hard rock; smoke machines; always breaking up; replacement singers; songs that mention Frank Zappa. 

14.  Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider? 

Everybody says that Almost Famous is about being on the road with Led Zeppelin, but I kind of think it's more about Deep Purple.  So yes. 


Like I said, I really don't understand how 36 out of 50 people could think that Deep Purple doesn't belong in a Hall of Fame that has the words "Rock" and "Roll" in its title.  I suspect it has to do with how little memory and history have to do with each other.  People's current tastes dictate what they think was big back in the day, and since arena rock and hair metal have petered out, there is nobody to trace their current tastes back to Deep Purple (though, frankly, some of the organ stuff you hear from the Decemberists may go back that way).  You can't draw a line from Gaga or Gotye or Jay Z or Carly Rae Jepsen or the Arcade Fire or Mumford & Sons to Deep Purple, that much is true (though there might be a thin line from the Decemberists).  But Deep Purple was a huge band in its day, and it had a lasting influence on the music that came later, and it deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. 


  1. But if they get in, who gets in? The 1970-73 lineup is the one that established the band as a force, and every lineup after that paled in comparison. The post-73 lineups all took on the musical form of the guitarist du jour and each seemed different in their own right, but never at that level. I think it's too hazy determining who Deep Purple is to elect them.

  2. isaac_spaceman9:47 PM

    It's 1970-1973, clearly. Blackmore, Glover, Gillan, and then it doesn't really matter after that.

  3. Natalie9:48 PM

    Ted Neeley was Jesus in the film version, Ian Gillan sang on the original album.

  4. isaac_spaceman9:48 PM

    Par for the course for my recitation of facts involving musicals. Fun fact: Judas was played in the original Broadway production by the actual Judas.

  5. Joseph Finn9:50 PM

    "Like I said, I really don't understand how 36 out of 50 people could think that Deep Purple doesn't belong in a Hall of Fame that has the words "Rock" and "Roll" in its title."

    I looked at the list and voted for bands I felt more worthy by output and influence to be more deserving of entry. Deep Purple goes in the Hall of Quite Good to me.

  6. Duvall9:50 PM

    Almost Famous wasn't about traveling with the Allman Brothers?

  7. Tosy and Cosh10:00 AM

    I readily acknowledge that "first exposure to the work is the one people think is best" syndrome is at play, but I've never heard anyone sing that part better than Gillian on that first concept album.

  8. They were Crowe's original source material, but Gregg was darker than whatever Jason Lee's character was named (more drugs; Duane had just died). Billy whatshisname had Dickey Betts down, however.

  9. Smooookke on the waaater.

  10. Marsha12:30 PM

    I don't really care at all who goes into the HOF, and I think I've demonstrated that my taste in music means I have absolutely no bona fides to judge who should be in there. given that, I'll call myself an objective observer.

    Reading your Keltnerization makes it seem that the majority of Deep Purple's claim to entry is a single song - "Smoke on the Water." It's a good riff, to be sure, but I can't imagine that anyone should get into the HOF on one song, and if one can, it isn't that song.

  11. Adam B.5:11 PM

    One-song inductees: Bill Haley,Del Shannon, Ritchie Valens,

  12. Marsha5:34 PM

    I'll give you Del Shannon (and I'd probably put him on the other side of the line if it were up to me), but the other two, seriously? Both had one song that eclipsed the rest of their catalogs, but that's not the only reason they got in.

    Bill Haley was not only a pioneer of rock and roll (and all HOFs should have a place in them for the first guys over the threshold) but he also recorded one of the iconic songs that not only defined the early days of the genre, but popularized the very name of it. From Wikipedia: "The single is commonly used as a convenient line of demarcation between
    the "rock era" and the music industry that preceded it; Billboard
    separated its statistical tabulations into 1890-1954 and 1955–present.
    After the record rose to number one, Haley was quickly given the title
    "Father of Rock and Roll," by the media, and by teenagers that had come
    to embrace the new style of music." Even if that were his only hit, it WOULD be the one that could get you in. But there were a number of others, including "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (which has stood the test of time) and "See You Later, Alligator" (which I guess hasn't, as I've never heard of it).

    Ritchie Valens? If by the age of 17 you've pretty much single-handedly introduced the Spanish language into Rock and Roll, recorded one of the most enduring rock-and-roll songs of all time, and DIED tragically in a plane crash on The Day the Music Died, I think exceptions can be made for being a one-hit wonder. Come on.

  13. Adam B.5:40 PM

    Was "La Bamba" an enduring song before the biopic?

    I'm not saying these aren't worthy inductees, or that there weren't extenuating circumstances. But in terms of songs, it's really only one for each. (Bill Haley didn't write, and was't the original performer, of SR&R.)

  14. Jerry Lee Lewis is arguably a two songer (Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lot of Shakin'), Booker T & The MG's another one songer, Velvet Underground never had a Top 40 Hit or album (though I think they get in on "influence"), and Grandmaster Flash is another arguable one songer (again, though, high high influence).

  15. Adam B.6:20 PM

    Which song -- White Lines or The Message?

  16. The Message charted at #62 on the Hot 100, and was the only Hot 100 hit for Grandmaster Flash. White Lines didn't chart on the Hot 100, though it went to #9 on the Club Play chart and #47 on the R&B Chart.

  17. Adam B.6:36 PM

    I don't think traditional charting data will tell you much about early hip-hop. Nothing from Run-DMC's first two albums charted on the Hot 100 -- It's Like That, King of Rock, My Adidas included -- and It's Tricky peaked at #57.

  18. isaac_spaceman6:43 PM

    This is a problem with the way I wrote the piece, not the Deep Purple catalog. It is a legitimate criticism of them that their peak lasted for probably three or four studio albums and a live album packed into a five-year period. It is not a legitimate criticism of them that their peak lasted for one song. The Keltners get long, so a whole bit in my head about Highway Star (actually my favorite of their songs), with its propulsive verses and its oddly effective vocals-lead-the-beat-music-drags-the-beat chorus got cut. And I didn't make it clear enough that it was the whole body of their work in the early 1970s period, not just (and, really, not even) Smoke on the Water, that charted the course for hard rock over the ensuing two decades. In other words, you could take Smoke on the Water out of their catalog, and they would have essentially the same influence on the rest of rock music, except for the part about the riff that everybody learns first. If the impression you got from my piece is that I think Deep Purple's principal claim (or a majority of its claim) to the HOF comes from "Smoke on the Water," I did a shitty job writing the piece.

    But at the same time, I think you're undervaluing that riff. The riff -- not the song, but the riff (because I feel like I'm one of a tiny minority of people who know what the song sounds like after the first eight bars) -- is such a monument in modern music. It's almost the elemental definition of a riff, the Hydrogen of riffhood. There are other really famous, really effective riffs, like "Seven Nation Army" and "Breakin' the Law" and maybe Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll" (more famous; less effective), but there is just nothing even close, historically, to "Smoke on the Water." To deny the importance of that riff is to deny the importance of the riff (as a thing) to rock and roll music, which I think would be a really difficult position to justify (unless one were arguing from the assumption that hard rock and heavy metal music in general are not legitimately deserving of consideration by the HOF, with which I of course disagree, but which is not an unheard-of position).

  19. isaac_spaceman6:50 PM

    Richie Valens may have introduced the Spanish language into Rock and Roll, but after that, beyond regional and niche acts, I'm pretty sure Rock and Roll was like "Spanish? Rings a bell -- remind me ...." The history of Spanish in general-interest pop music is something like "Besame Mucho," "La Bamba," long pause, "La Isla Bonita," long pause, then the current stateside rise of Latin pop, which I don't think you can credit to Valens.

  20. Marsha6:52 PM

    We're talking past each other. I don't think you should get into the HOF if you're a One-Hit Oneder. Kajagoogoo isn't ever going to get into any HOF that isn't the Kajagoogoo Hall of Fame. But having a single monster hit and a bunch of other stuff to recommend you (which it is, to me, completely clear that Haley and Valens both did) then HOF is in play. It is especially so if the stuff to recommend you is pioneering and influential, as it was for both of them. My original point, which Isaac and I are discussing elsewhere, is that his Keltnerization makes me think that Deep Purple is noteworthy for one humungous song, but not much else, though if I'm choosing between them and Kajagoogoo, DP gets the nod, no problem.

    La Bamba was certainly a song I knew by heart before the biopic. I remember translating it in Spanish class in 7th grade (1982-3), which is well before the film. Still don't know what the fact that he's a captain, not a sailor, has to do with dancing the Bamba, much less with a little bit of grace.

  21. Marsha7:13 PM

    You made a much better case there than you did in the original post - I did come away with the impression that Deep Purple is basically Smoke on the Water and a couple of decent albums - wouldn't be near enough for me.

    That said, I guess I'm comfortable with your analysis with the riff given that it is iconic enough to form the basis for the first rock-education scene in School of Rock.

  22. isaac_spaceman9:01 PM

    Charts aside, I think of "The Message" as enough of a milestone that even I was aware of it at the time, which I can't say of "White Lines." But my guess is that Grandma Flashster (something about that looks wrong, can't put my finger on it) is in the HOF for history and influence, not songs.

  23. isaac_spaceman9:09 PM

    Hadn't really focused on this comment, but "Booker T & the MGs another one songer" is really a dangerous statement. Take away "Green Onions," which I think has basically nothing to do with why they're in the HOF, and Booker T & the MGs are still an inner-circle HOF first-balloter. "Try a Little Tenderness"? "Hold On, I'm Comin'"? "Soul Man"? The original "Respect"? "Midnight Hour" (if I'm not mistaken)? Then the CCR tour and the stuff they did with Neil Young, and on and on? Plus, Booker T's production work and Cropper/Dunn's session work? You have heard WAY more Booker T & the MGs work than you think.

  24. Tosy and Cosh9:42 AM

    That was my take on why Guns 'N Roses shouldn't have gotten in - one album isn't enough. Suspect I'm in the minority there.

  25. Though much of the case for G 'N R is Welcome to the Jungle, Lies is 5X Platinum, the Use Your Illusion albums were both 7X Platinum, and three non-Appetite tracks were Top 10 hits (Patience, Don't Cry, November Rain). While Jungle's the biggest part of their case, there's some stuff beyond there.

    Nirvana will be an absolute first ballot inductee with a similar record--yes, In Utero and Unplugged were both substantial sellers, but their case is 80-85% Nevermind.

  26. isaac_spaceman12:44 PM

    That may or may not be true on the quality-of-catalog criterion (I think it undervalues both Bleach and In Utero, but your view is probably closer to the voters' view), and the sales figure numbers are what they are. The 85% comment wildly underplays the influence part of the argument, which is most of what makes Nirvana a slam dunk.