I have a complicated history with this one – I probably thought about it before hearing it more than has been the case with any other album…
Let me explain. Deep Purple was one of my first loves – a Singles collection by the band was the very first CD my parents bought when they were replacing their vinyl collection. That became one of my most listened to albums – and as I was gathering up information about the band in a pre-internet world, in little old Hastings, NZ, I hung on to this idea of the group recording with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The very thought of it seemed so thrilling. I had to find this album…
But I didn’t. For years. Instead I bought up the studio catalogue – everything from the 60s and 70s and that very fine mid-80s ‘comeback’ album that saw the Mk II line-up of the band reunite. And some live albums, some compilations, but I just never found the Concerto for Group and Orchestra. It wasn’t on the shelf when I wanted it. And it was on back-order the couple of times I wrote away or asked a store to source it for me.
Then, when I moved to Wellington to star university and a record collection of my own it was one of the very first LPs I found. Going cheap of course.
What a let-down it was to hear it finally.
Shitty sound and the orchestra and band didn’t really play together, they alternated. And it just didn’t really mean anything. I guess I’d built it up far too much.
I still held on to the copy of it that I had found. It was, at that point, almost a holy grail for me. And I loved the ideal of it and the idea of it more than I loved the actual thing. The music was fine. But not at all extraordinary. In fact the more I heard it the more I hated it. Thought of it as basically an extension of hippie-twaddle. It made sense at the time with some good herb no doubt.
Then I found a remastered, reissued CD version with some extra tracks and I liked it a lot more. This coincided with another round of Deep Purple appreciation too – I mean when I first found Concerto it was at a bad luck phase; my Purple fandom had run its initial course. Not that it needs to be one in/one out but I was far more into Led Zeppelin. And probably The Who, The Grateful Dead and a few other things of that nature. And Deep Purple (and Santana) were off having a break as far as I was concerned.
When I got back into them it was through the Concerto album – and probably because I was a lot more into and interested in orchestral music – classical, but perhaps particularly movie scores. Which is what the Concerto is closer to, if anything.
Also the CD copy had better sound. So that helped.
Then there was another CD version – a double disc that adds some more of the Purple set from during the gig. There are great versions of songs without the orchestra. Because the main piece, Jon Lord’s concerto, isn’t ever at all great. It’s one of those things where if you’re a rock fan you marvel at the guy from the band being able to write something that passes for orchestral. But it’s all pretty sedate and perfunctory.
When the band comes crashing in it still bugs me most of the time.
But for better and worse this was my introduction to the crossover world/s.
I’ve often blamed this album for what I call “Sympathy Orchestra gigs” where the local band made good gets to play its hits – with strings attached!
At the same time there are moments in the main concerto (the strings in the second section) that are rather lovely; that just works for me.
So here I am revisiting the album again – and it’s silly and weird but also kinda wonderful. The cleaned up CD/streaming version gives it a soul that was never there in my first visits (and which is usually the vestige that gets erased by anything with audio being ‘cleaned up’ but go figure).
A weird and sometimes wonderful album then. It’s still one of my least favourite Deep Purple albums – and by the band’s long tail there are several unnecessary Purple records now. But it is an album that was a gateway drug for me. It opened a few doors I reckon. Got me interested in a few fresh musical worlds. The finished product didn’t have to be good in any way, the fuse of imagination was lit for me with the mere mention of it, the concept was enough.
It inspired far more ‘bad’ albums than good – most of the prog/metal/rock crossover records that featured orchestrations or an actual concert performance with an orchestra can link back to this. This record must, for example, take direct blame for Metallica’s S&M and probably KISS’ lame version of the same sort of thing. Gah!
So whatever love I might – from time to time – have for this album it is a crap album given its legacy. It helped bring more harm into this world than good.