Mk 1 on the Radio

Mk 1 on the radio. In Mono. By Kurt Piepenburg


Sometimes I get stuck on songs I recall hearing on Chicago AM radio from the late 1960s. Most recently, it has been three Deep Purple records from late 1968 and early 1969. These were, of course, Hush, Kentucky Woman and River Deep, Mountain High. Oddly enough, what sparked the re-interest in these three songs was hearing the Made in Japan version of Smoke on the Water. There are three small sections of this version of the song that still work for me and I thought to examine why it was so: It’s the Gillan phrasing of  “a few red lights”; the second downward riff into the song from Blackmore and the nicely distorted organ work from Jon Lord near the end of the song. These sounds reminded me strongly of the earlier and more familiar (to me) version of Deep Purple and the three aforementioned songs.
It may be important to bear in mind here that in 1968 45s (singles) were still a much larger sales draw than LPs were. Knowing someone who actually possessed an “album” was like seeing the Goodyear Blimp floating over your neighborhood. By and large, rock bands that had hits ‘Stateside” were known for their 45s, not their LPs. Most of us had no idea that Deep Purple were a British band, as one might imagine, based upon the fact that the three songs we heard most here were covers of (excellent) songs written by three very good American talents. Yes, they were “pop” songs, but they were most certainly not done in a “pop” fashion.
So, since the seed had been replanted, I went to find my old 45s and gave them a listen again (I have since purchased the remastered CDs). A few things became quite clear, which are – in no particular order: That I preferred Rod Evans over Ian Gillan; that the production of these 45s was a very big reason as to why the music sounded “deeply purple”; that the guitar player was incredibly (almost laughably) sloppy with his solos, while still sounding good in spots: that the Hammond was absolutely perfect, and the bass was loud and dirty. The overall sound was deep and it was purple.
The three charting singles on Tetragrammaton Records were all produced by Derek Lawrence and all had sound placement and depth that evoked rich color imagery which came across well in mono on a transistor radio. I also recall hearing Hush in my back yard as it played over loudspeaker at the community swimming pool two blocks away. Even at that distance it was still an arresting song to hear, made all the more interesting as the summer breezes pushed the volume in and away, acting as a natural Leslie cabinet.
The production gave the organ and guitar a real sharp edge not heard on AM radio before. These records had something of a live sound, too. I can’t quite pin it down as to why I always thought of Deep Purple as a band from, say, Georgia or Mississippi (and I had not heard or seen anything other than the 45s). Probably it was a combination of the depth and scope of the production, the choices of American songs, and that Rod Evans certainly sounded as if he could have come from that region of the United States.
It is somewhat ironic that Rod sounded very much like Joe South on Hush (on all three singles, actually), since we hadn’t yet heard either Joe South’s version of his own song or “Games People Play” until months later.  I heard The Book of Taliesyn in its entirety years after I had discovered Deep Purple was a British band and was very surprised to hear Mr. Evans’ “normal” voice on Listen Learn Read On (in retrospect, maybe the best B-side ever by anybody), definitely a contrast to his work on Kentucky Woman and River Deep Mountain High, the singles released from the same LP. Perhaps at that point in time, Deep Purple were trying to appeal to both sides of the ocean? It worked over here… but it may have worked even better if Tetragrammaton had released a longer version of River Deep. Certainly the 2:35 edit could have been strung out to a 4 minute “Hush” length.  Record labels did some strange things back then.
I do prefer Mk 1 over any other incarnation of Deep Purple. The band changed into, well, more of a jamming band, and the singer was sometimes too dramatic for my tastes. I can’t listen to Child In Time, for example. Not knocking it, just sayin’ so.

US TV 1968 Deep Purple Mk 1.jpg

I looked at some old top 40 AM radio charts, (for) WLS (one is reproduced at the end of this page) and WCFL, the two competing AM pop stations in Chicago at the time. If you look at late August and through to the end of the year, you will see Hush and Kentucky Woman as they performed amid the other AM hits of the day. It is interesting to note that a listener could hear Deep Purple Mk 1 on any given day for over four months of that year, a pretty good run for two songs. I definitely recall hearing RIver Deep Mountain High a few times in Winter of 1968/9 as it bubbled under the top 40 (the reason why I bought the single). Soul Experience by Iron Butterfly was another of these great “bottom-feeders” that you could hear for a couple of weeks as they scraped the top 40.
Sometimes the Chicago stations would play songs that were maybe about to break over the nation, based upon Cashbox and Billboard performance. Indeed, if one looks at Cashbox charts, you will see that River Deep charted for five weeks and reached #52 in February. Look even closer at the Cashbox charts to see that another Deep Purple single on Tetragrammaton did chart also: Bird Has Flown reached Number 99 on March 22, while Emmaretta is shown the following week at Number 97. Seems as if the label couldn’t make up their mind as to which side of the single to promote.
Those were great days for radio. Sure, there was a load of crap forced over the airwaves into our ears and minds, but once in a while you could hear a non-hit that should have been played more than it was. A listener could also hear, on one or two stations, a good cross-section of what was popular around the nation, regardless of genre, all in glorious mono over the kitchen, car or magic transistor radio speaker. To make a record sound great in stereo AND mono was the sign of a great and innovative producer. Deep Purple had one for a little while. Kurt Piepenburg.

Thanks for this Kurt, it’s certainly very interesting to get some perspective on those early days from a fan who was both around at the time and part of what you might say was the target demographic (did they have such things back then or were they just audiences?) for these singles. Kurt is not alone in being a particular fan of Mk 1; a few other DTB regulars still rate this line up number one. I think it took Deep Purple a while to get it together but by early 1969, Mk 1 were in fine form. And while there was real time and budget pressures on the early line-up, there were also less expectations and producer Derek Lawrence could just get on with it, albeit much hampered by very tight studio budgets. So Ritchie did what he wanted at the time; sometimes it worked really well, other times more takes could have been done if they had been given the time, but generally weren’t as they didn’t. Plus he was a bit more experimental I always think in those early days.
It’s worth recalling that Lawrence had learned his trade working with indie maestro Joe Meek and had also for a time in the late sixties been producing singles in the UK aimed squarely at US radio (many only released there) before he took on Deep Purple. Being behind these independent productions for US labels, he had his ear close to the ground and a good feel for what worked over there.
Obviously the opportunities for singles airplay in the UK was very restricted by comparison as we lacked the commercial stations so prevalent in America. There is no good reason why Hush didn’t take off here beyond the fact that it got played so rarely. Kurt mentions WLS, they reached something like 4.2 million listeners a week in 1968. And that’s just one station.
Deep Purple were certainly frustrated by the lack of response in the UK, but I’m not sure the first LP was targeted at any special market beyond rock album buyers. The second LP clearly copied the first in format a lot as they had a sort of blueprint, and needed to put it together quickly. By the third LP, Deep Purple had more studio time and pushed the boundaries further , so getting closer to the direction the core members envisioned the band moving into. It is a more rounded album, sounding like they wanted it to sound like, and they were able to take more time over it too. And perhaps in the UK underground fans to some extent regarding the singles market as beneath them.
I feel for a time Mk 2 had this kind of loose spirit as well, and yes while they were a jamming type band as Kurt says, it was much harder, and it was inventive and creative work to these ears. But each to their own as they say. Simon Robinson

Here is WLS89’s chart for October 7. 1968 (courtesy, with previous week’s entry at the end of each line. See how many of these you remember:

* 1. Fire                          Crazy World of Arthur Brown-Atlantic  1
2. Midnight Confessions                        The Grassroots-Dunhill 13
3. Over You                                        Union Gap-Columbia 11
4. Special Angel                                   The Vogues-Reprise  4
5. Revolution                                       The Beatles-Apple  2
6. Shapes Of Things To Come                           Max Frost-Tower  6
7. Girl Watcher                          The O’Kaysions-ABC Paramount 10
8.  Little Green Apples                          0. C. Smith-Columbia 20
9. Hey Jude                                         The Beatles-Apple  3
10. Susie Q                       Creedence Clearwater Revival-Fantasy 15
11. On The Road Again                          The Canned Heat-Liberty  8
12. I Gotta Get A Message To You                         Bee Gees-Atce 16
13. Time Has Come Today                     Chambers Brothers-Columbia 14
14. Hush                                    Deep Purple-Tetragrammaton  5
15. White Room                                              Cream-Atco 25

Deep Purple US concert poster December 1968.jpg

%d bloggers like this: