One Track Mind: Deep Purple, "Highway Star" (1972)

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When Faith No More disbanded in 1998, they released Who Cares A Lot, one of those annoying best-ofs that fans hate — all the hits they already owned in one form or another, including a relatively obscure side (the band’s cover of the Bee Gee‘s “I Started A Joke”) that was tossed in as a cookie to entice someone to buy it.

Of course, “I Started A Joke” was not particularly “rare”; most big fans had it on a b-side somewhere. So, the label realized that, regardless of how amazing and influential Faith No More was and would eventually be, even die-hard fans were likely going to be hard-pressed to pick this thing up, so they tacked on the other crappy fan-incentive: a bonus disc of truly “rare” material. The disc as a whole was pretty shoddy, just some studio and live toss-offs that really no one needed to care about, especially the aimless “Hippie Jam Song.”

All the friggin’ killer b-sides the band churned out for singles, all the live shows that must be sitting around on tapes somewhere and the best the label can come up with is this? Who cares a lot, indeed. Anyway, I would have traded the stupid thing back as an investment on something more worthwhile if it weren’t for one little nugget of stupid fun – a quick just-over one-minute long live spazz-out in the form of a cover of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” originally found on the 1972 recording Machine Head.

I’d pretty much forgotten about that neat little bit until recently being baraged a while back by commercials for a Deep Purple tour which, you guessed it, features a snippet of “Highway Star” and a few others, most notably “Space Truckin’.” After a few repeats, I had that song firmly lodged in my head and sought out Who Cares A Lot‘s shoddy bonus disc for some satisfaction, having wholly forgotten that the tune on that disc was mere snippet of the original tune. A minute and seven seconds later, I knew I had to seek out the real thing, and held out hope that sometime soon I’d run into a deal.

Having seen a total freak-out version on VH-1 by Deep Purple live on Germany’s Beat Club (seriously, did EVERYONE play on this show in the 1970s?) accompanied by some really irritatingly cheesy blue-screen graphics, I knew the somewhat timid studio version wasn’t going to cut it. Luckily for me, I ran into a used copy of Made In Japan, recorded during their first tour there in August 1972 and released the following December. This was the deluxe two-disc edition, no less, with audio nirvana in track one, disc one — an almost-but-not-quite-as-spastic take as the Beat Club version of “Highway Star.” Also pleasantly present is an astounding 19 minutes of “Space Truckin’,” among others.

What I’d failed to notice until then, however, was how influential Deep Purple had been on one of my favorite bands — Iron Maiden. I had read the band liked Deep Purple, but “Highway Star” really shows how much of the sound Maiden had absorbed (and let’s not forget the obvious nod with the title of their still-unavailable live album Maiden Japan.) Imagine a punk-infused Purple and you’ve got a small sampling of the ingredients for the first two Iron Maiden albums. First vocalist Paul Di’Anno’s affection for Ian Gillan is more than evident on “Running Free,” which sounds in spots like the band wanted to mimic “Highway Star” with his raspy howling and near-operatic wailing.

Given that it’s taken me years to really develop much of an interest in the Di’Anno-years of Maiden, it should come as no surprise that I might develop an interest in Gillan-helmed Deep Purple. Luckily for me, the band seems to have churned out live disc after live disc of their most fertile and important years — namely, the 70s, so there will be much to explore.

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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