It’s Purple Week at mikeladano.com! It’s all Deep Purple and Deep Purple alumni, all week. This is Part 3…and this time we’re going Epic Review Time.
DEEP PURPLE – Perfect Strangers (1984 Polygram)
Deep Purple were the proverbial candle that was burned at both ends. Their first four studio albums (plus a friggin’ concerto!) were cranked out in a mere two years. Management and record labels pushed the band to stay on the road, only taking precious breaks to write and record new music. Sometimes the pressure worked (Machine Head) and sometimes it didn’t (Who Do We Think We Are). Ian Gillan’s resignation signaled the end of the celebrated Deep Purple Mk II lineup. Though the band successfully carried on with David Coverdale & Glenn Hughes, even those lineups imploded and by 1976, Deep Purple officially ceased to exist.
The absence of Purple created a void that was filled by greatest hits records, live albums, and well-known side projects such as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Gillan, and Whitesnake. Still, there was such a demand for Deep Purple itself that original singer Rod Evans put together his own bogus “Deep Purple” and played several shows in 1980! In his band were a couple guys from Iron Butterfly, but no other former Purple alumni. Just Rod. The guy who didn’t sing “Highway Star”, “Smoke on the Water”, or “Lazy”. Needless to say, Rod Evans’ bogus “Deep Purple” did not last as soon as word got out. The lawyers for the other former Deep Purple members ensured that by running ads in the local papers. “The following members will not be appearing with the band called Deep Purple at [such and such a date and venue] : Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, Glenn Hughes, David Coverdale.” A show in Montreal was particularly horrid, and reportedly the band’s stage act involved one of the members bringing out a chain saw to cut stuff up. They were hit with lawsuits galore and quickly packed it in, but not before recording two new songs for a projected new “Deep Purple” studio album. The two songs, “Blood Blister” and “Brum Doogie”, are thankfully lost. A video of “Smoke on the Water” live in Mexico remains, to remind us why this was not a good idea. [For more on the bogus “Deep Purple”, click here.]
Clearly, lots of profits were to made if the real Deep Purple were ever to reunite. They tried earlier on, but were hung up when Ian Gillan joined Black Sabbath. When Ian’s Sabbath commitments were finished a year later, it finally happened. Jon Lord had freed himself of Whitesnake, and Ritchie, Roger Glover and Ian Paice were all ready willing and able. The reunion was on, for real this time.
The band quickly agreed on creating new music (otherwise, what’s the point of it?), and decided that there had to be a level of quality that served the name Deep Purple. They retreated to the gorgeous Stowe, Vermont and found themselves to be in great spirits and full of ideas. Another wise decision was the use of bassist Glover to produce. After his first stint in Purple, he became quite successful as a producer. He recorded some of the best Nazareth albums, a Judas Priest record (Sin After Sin) , Rainbow, David Coverdale, and countless more. It only made sense to keep production of the new album within the band when you have a guy like Roger in the band!
The album that resulted, Perfect Strangers, was more modern but unmistakably Deep Purple. Taking advantage of modern recording studios resulted in an album with rich instrumental tones. As great as classic Deep Purple albums were sonically, Perfect Strangers has a new richness and clarity. Jon’s organ is deep and gorgeous, but Ian Paice’s drum sound is monstrous.
The opening track “Knocking at Your Back Door” (hah hah hah) commences with ominous keys from Jon, sounding at first like the pipes of doom. Then Roger begins a quick pulse, and Paice crashes that cymbal, and my God, Deep Purple is back! Ritchie and Ian join them for the first Deep Purple epic of the album — and on the first track, no less! “Knocking at Your Back Door” may be a joke lyrically, but it’s dead serious musically. It’s Deep Purple, but streamlined. Extraneous things have been discarded; others are sleeker. The only disappointment about the song is actually the guitar solo, which just slightly does not fit. Glover once said about this album that Ritchie struggles with solos in the studio more so than live. Something about when the red light goes on, he gets cold feet. There’s some incredible playing in this guitar solo, but parts of it feel out of place and overdone.
That one minor complaint is probably the only quibble you’ll read here about Perfect Strangers. The album continues to impress as it plays. “Under the Gun” is a song that would sound so great live today; shame that it hasn’t been played live in 30 years. I can’t imagine why. “Under the Gun” demonstrates the streamlined groove that Purple were going for in the 80’s. Listen to Paicey’s drums. They are relentless and powerful, but he’s also playing it simpler than he used to. This is intentional. When I say “streamlined”, that doesn’t mean there aren’t long solos, because Ritchie’s here is over a minute long (in a 4:34 song)!
“Nobody’s Home” gives Jon Lord a change to stretch out a bit on the synths, but it’s just a feint. This track re-writes “Black Night” for 1984, and ties it all up with a little bow in under four minutes. “Your lights are burnin’ bright, but nobody’s home!” sings Ian, for once not speaking of Blackmore! Jon takes the spotlight with a nice quick solo on the Hammond, a sound not often heard in ’84.
Side one was closed by the nasty little “Mean Streak”. It has one of those quirky Gillan lyrics that I like so much. “She came home last night, rockin’ rollin’ drunk. She talk no sense but she sound good so she thunk.” It’s a cool rock track with a chugging riff; always a deadly combination when wielded by Deep Purple. It boasts one of Ritchie’s coolest solos on the album.
I will never forget seeing this video on MuchMusic, introduced by Bruce Dickinson. Of Deep Purple he said, “Well, they’re very good. But not as good at football as they appear. No. They’re not.” The VJ (Erica Ehm) asked, “Why not?” Dickinson simply responded, “Because they’re not! What a silly question.”
Of all the songs on Perfect Strangers, only one has been consistently played live every tour: the title track. This epic, like its side one counterpart “Knocking at Your Back Door”, opens with Jon’s ominous keys. This time it’s the old trusty Hammond, and then the band crash in with the riff to kill all riffs. I think in some respects, this song has become Deep Purple’s “Kashmir”, especially when played in concert. It has evolved to become more exotic since it was first recorded, though it does contain those flavors here. The lyrics are ambiguously beautiful. Back in the Record Store days, I talked to a guy once who thought the lyrics were about God. I’ll leave it up to you. Blackmore called it his favourite Deep Purple song. It’s a tough call, but Top Five for sure. I cannot survive without this song in my life, period.
Then WHAM! “A Gypsy’s Kiss,” right in the kisser. If any doubters had thoughts that Purple had lost anything in the past decade, this song proved them dead wrong. Blazing pace, blazing Paice, the whole place is ablaze! Again, Ian’s lyrics are awesome, and I love the self-referencing. “Space truckers free and high, Teamsters get ya by and by.” I also really like this verse, because, hey. John Wayne, man.
John Wayne, the Alamo,
Crazy Horse, Geronimo,
I’ll smoke a piece with you.
Mind, Body, Heart and Soul,
We got Rock and Roll,
And there’s nothing they can do.
A good Deep Purple album rarely has a slow blues buried deep within. “Wasted Sunsets” is the album’s heavy blues track, like “When a Blind Man Cries” was to Machine Head (though it was relegated to a mere B-side). Jon’s organ sets the mood stunningly, and Ritchie absolutely nails it. I get the feeling that Ian is baring his soul in the lyrics, although he doesn’t seem too regretful of all those one night stands.
For self referencing, no lyric on the album beats out “Hungry Daze”:
The mountain’s getting cold and lonely,
The trees are bare,
We all came out to Montreux,
But that’s another song, you’ve heard it all before!
Regrets? Hell no. “Different girls, laughing girls, forever girls and it was loud!” Gillan has a talent for making cheeky lyrics like this work with serious music. “Hungry Daze” has that modern Purple groove with the same kind of chugging exotic riff that powers “Perfect Strangers” — but faster! There’s even backwards tapes (Jon’s organ), a sound unheard on a Deep Purple album since 1969, but back in style in 1984.
Lucky cassette and compact disc buyers got a bonus track: “Not Responsible”. When I first got the album (on cassette) I wondered, “Why is this song a bonus track? It’s one of the best songs!” Good question! (Perhaps because it’s the only song on which Gillan dropped an f-bomb.) I think it closes the album even better than “Hungry Daze” does. Lyrically it’s more drinking and debauchery. “So I’ll raise a glass to you, the foot is on the other shoe.” I consider “Not Responsible” to be of equal value to any of the better tracks on the album proper, so if you only own this on LP, consider getting this song (legally) to complete the picture.
Want more? There’s one more, but you’ll have to do a little research to get it in full. “Son of Aleric” is a killer slow groove 10 minute instrumental, with all the flavor of the album. It was released on the B-side of “Perfect Strangers”. If you bought the 7″ single, you got the 5:28 edit version. If you bought the 12″ single, you got the full Monty at 10:03. The full version was rarely issued on CD. I have it on a compilation CD with the cumbersome title of Knocking at Your Back Door: The Best of Deep Purple in the 80’s. But “Son of Aleric” is only on the UK version! (Other territories just got a live version of “Child in Time” from the live album Nobody’s Perfect. Bummer.) This is the kind of open Deep Purple jam that you just want to melt into. It’s magic.
If you like Deep Purple, but do not own Perfect Strangers, then I advise that you remedy that situation at your earliest convenience. I am no stranger to this album; I have played it hundreds of times, often more than once in the same day. I have never grown tired of it. For that reason, and many more, Perfect Strangers earns the coveted: