Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to end an album and start a decade

Someone was asking about favourite song endings recently, and I couldn't get further than the somewhat obscure Hard Lovin' Man. Why? Because it makes a statement not just about the band that recorded it but about a whole decade.

Cacophonous guitar noise and heavy rock were still new when Deep Purple recorded this song on the first day of a new decade: 1 January 1970. Woodstock was only four months in the past, Hendrix was still alive and The Beatles had yet to record their final song. But the 60s were over, and the 70s were to be a very different decade.

Deep Purple were cheifly known in Britain at the time as the band that had recorded Concerto For Group And Orchestra with the London Philharmonic, a piece of experimentation that epitomised the limitless ambition of the 60s when there seemed no boundaries to what popular music could do in a world that could only get better. The disillusionment of the 70s prompted a tougher attitude that found its musical apogee (or nadir, according to your taste) in punk rock. The roots of that descent into anarchy are planted here.

Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore hated the Concerto and wanted the band (complete with new singer Ian Gillan and new bassist Roger Glover) to show that hard rock was the way forward. That statement was encapsulated in the title of the album, which also gave someone a wickedly simple yet memorable idea for the cover. "If this fails," Blackmore promised, "I'll play with orchestras for the rest of my life." In Rock was his rebellion, blasting in with a surge of electrical noise that kicked into 'Speed King'. The last track, 'Hard Lovin' Man', ended the same way, bookending the album perfectly.

'Hard Lovin' Man' gallops along, with a thumping drumbeat and driving bassline, overlaid by screamed vocals and searing guitar. Jon Lord, composer of the earlier Concerto, plays his organ barely in tune, as if any kind of melody would be an insult during such a brutal sonic assault.

After five-and-a-half minutes, the band sounds like it's going for a fade-out to a fast, heavy song, but Blackmore suddenly veers off on his own. Eventually the band stops but Blackmore carries on with some screeching, tuneless guitar noise. The band comes back in again, trying to corral the guitarist, but he's having none of it. Chaos triumphs over order and the band is pulled under, like the second Terminator briefly re-emerging in agony before sinking back into the molten steel . The fun new toy that was stereo enabled the guitar to tear from speaker to speaker like a victorious gladiator doing a lap of honour.

The track (and album) finally ends as the unaccompanied guitar screams, howls and eventually subsides into squeaks and pops, like the sound of tinkling glass that follows a catastrophic car crash. Blackmore has made his statement.