I’ve been a Deep Purple fan since the first time I heard Hush in 1968. However, it was the Mk II version of the band that captured by heart and soul. Every member of that band was indispensable, in my opinion, and it was Ritchie Blackmore who would inspire me to pick up the guitar in earnest. Every Mk II album was a discovery of musical excellence and further inspiration into my own musical endeavors. And then it happened . . . a new album! “Who Do We Think We Are” was released and nearly everyone, including the band themselves, dismissed it as a poor offering. Of course, the previous studio release was the near-perfect “Machine Head,” followed by the hugely successful “Made in Japan” live album – tough acts to follow indeed. And, the band was dissolving internally – so it’s now wonder those involved had a tainted perspective. But my friend Chris Parker and I were so excited to the hear the new music, we didn’t care what others were saying. By then, “Woman from Tokyo” was already filling the airwaves and we loved that song.
If I remember correctly, Chris found the record first. We carefully cued it up on a turntable hand-built by his father, and we let it rip. It was a fantastic experience and we loved everything we heard. Critics be damned – this was classic Mk ll Purple in every way. We listened to that album quite a bit, which sounded particularly great on his Dad’s excellent system. And if I was lucky, Mr. Parker would give me a lesson on hi-fi and speaker efficiency! But it would all come to an end . . . well nearly . . . when Ian Gillan and Roger Glover left the band. What? How could they do this to my favorite band? Of course, Mk lll would release the great album “Burn” and give the world a legendary performance at California Jam (watch it). But for me, this was THE version of DP and when I found out it was over, I was one troubled teenager.
Occasionally, I would revisit this album to see how it held up over time, band reunions, and new iterations of DP. It would always have the same impact on me. I listened to “Who Do We Think We Are” again recently, and sought out some internet opinions as well. Much to my surprise, the negative opinions persisted almost everywhere. But, as usual, my opinion persisted as well – it is among their greatest releases. Maybe it was the tension in the band, maybe it was the result of their exhaustion, or maybe I’m crazy. Every song is brilliant and sounds inspired to me, even if the players were less-than-inspired. Here are my thoughts on each track:
- Woman From Tokyo – a blistering riff, driving beat, that heavy overdriven Hammond organ, a big bass tone, and a fantastic vocal performance from Ian Gillan. It sounded like a more polished version of the classic DP, but still raw and heavy. It’s among their best work, sorry Mr. Blackmore.
- Mary Long – I always loved this song – a clever and biting piece about hypocrisy and those attempting to be artistic gate-keepers. Mary Long is a composite character based on Mary Whitehouse and Lord Longford The band is fluid and playful. The guitar work is particularly brilliant here, especially under the vocals, which are bold and convincing.
- Super Trouper – That signature DP unison riffing with beautiful chord work and harmonies. Classic Purple. The guitar lead is over a complex rhythm and is an interesting break from the norm. What would I change? Maybe a bit less flange effect during the chorus – but that might take away from the “dreaminess” of that section. Never mind, leave it alone.
- Smooth Dancer – Ian Gillan’s lyrics are about his discontent with Ritchie Blackmore – an angry “see you later.” The band sounds tense but energetic. It almost sounds like a musical fist fight – maybe not far from the truth. Classic DP, but angrier. The brilliant keyboard solo is a frantic Jon Lord – perfect for this song. Ritchie soloing over Ian’s vocals at the end, even the missed ending – pure goodness.
- Rat Bat Blue – classic Purple – this one could have been on “In Rock” or “Fireball” (I know, two very albums). Ian Paice lays down a great counter-rhythm foundation to what the rest of the band is playing. Truly genius drumming. Jon Lord’s solo is eclectic and somehow hands off perfecting back to the main riff. It’s another song based on a great riff, and Ritchie’s tone is to die for.
- Place in Line – A quirky blues tune with a pinch of classic DP seasoning. Gillan seems to be out of his element and also right in the pocket – sometimes at the same time! It’s a more subdued DP that is jamming the blues. The magic here is the chordal twist at the end of the verses. It has occasionally taken its turn as my favorite cut on the album.
- Our Lady – Etherial, melodic, musically sparse, harmonically complex. Always one of my favorite tracks on the album – this song gives me goose-bumps, even decades after I first heard it. In closing the album, it gave me great hope for what was to come next from this band. But it was not meant to be . . . at least for a while. Against the backdrop of personnel changes, it now sounds like Deep Purple Mk ll saying “goodbye.”
So, in closing . . . why does this album generate so much contempt, even among the purest of DP fans? What did Chris and I hear that still escapes so many? I stand by my opinion of “Who Do We Think We Are.” It is a great work of art and sits proudly among the classic Deep Purple Mk ll releases.