This classic live album by Deep Purple was recorded in Japan way back in 1972. As far as I am concerned, it is the greatest live rock album ever recorded. And I guarantee I'm not the only one who thinks that.
It starts off with "Highway Star." The gradual buildup at the start of this song grows into a crescendo that will blow you away. The organ solo by Jon Lord is riveting, and the guitar solo later in the song by Ritchie Blackmore is amazing. I defy anyone to name another rock jam that jams harder than this one -- excluding other songs on this album!
Check out this classic live footage of "Highway Star" in Copenhagen from back in the same year that Made in Japan was recorded. This version was not quite up to the MIJ musical standard, but it's still good. Apparently the band got better at this song between the Copenhagen performance and Japan. The recording was done by a television news crew with no experience in recording rock concerts, and it shows. Although it is in black and white and lacks a modern light show, the music speaks for itself. This rare video footage of the early Deep Purple was nearly discarded, but thankfully it was saved for posterity (the entire concert is now available on DVD).
While you're at it, check out this extravagent Japanese cover of "Highway Star," which faithfully reproduces Lord's and Blackmore's solo performances. Apparently the Japanese have not forgotten this concert even after thirty-five years! This one is pretty darn good too! And take a look at this amazing home demonstration of Blackmore's guitar solo.
The next song is "Child in Time." Unless I'm really in the mood, the screaming is a bit much for me, so I usually skip this song, but it's a classic nevertheless. Blackmore's work on guitar is nothing short of incredible, and Lord's organ is dramatic and powerful as usual.
"Smoke on the Water" is perhaps the song that Deep Purple is best known for, and it's a classic. It is based on a true story of a casino in Switzerland that burned down while they were recording the Machine Head album. This song is supposed to be played LOUD! The dramatic back and forth improvisation between Lord and Blackmore at the end is something to behold.
The next song, "The Mule," is not bad. Ian Paice is always fantastic on drums, and he plays like a mule here, but his solo goes a bit long. During live concerts, the rest of the band would leave the stage and let poor little Ian work his ass off. The energy he must have burned during a complete concert is amazing. (Ian Paice is a shorter than Ian Gillan, and he is known affectionately as "little Ian.")
"Strange Kind of Woman" really shows off Ian Gillan's vocal talent. It wasn't for no reason that he was chosen to sing the part of the main character in Jesus Christ Superstar. The back and forth between him and Blackmore is amazing, as he matches Ritchie note for note and sounds almost indistinguishable from Ritchie's guitar. He lets go an incredible scream at the end that seems like it will never end, followed by a thunderous ending.
The album ends with "Space Truckin'." This may the one jam that is even more intense than Highway Star -- and that's saying something! If you've heard only the studio version of this song on Machine Head, you haven't heard this song yet. The live improvisation goes way beyond the studio version, and it really shows off the amazing on-stage talent of this band. It goes for just short of twenty minutes, and it goes through incredibly intense as well as soft and slow, dramatic periods. After the first few minutes Gillan takes a break, and the rest of this song is instrumental.
And man, what an instrumental! Lord starts it off on his Hammond with the most captivating organ solo I've ever heard. Blackmore is phenomenal as usual on guitar, and Paice is a wild man on drums. Some say this song is too long, but I beg to differ. The song does have a few rough spots, though amazingly few for a live performance with this level of improvisation and sophistication. About three quarters of the way through, Ritchie plays his Stratocaster in a unique cello mode that is soft, delicate, and dramatic, and Paice backs it up with a subtle, snappy beat that goes with it perfectly. This is pure musical genius. The song then stops with a abrupt surge (be careful, it will blow your eardrums away if the volume is way up and you are not ready for it).
After a few seconds, just as the audience starts applauding, thinking the song is over, it starts again with a fury. The last few minutes are rough and wild. This is the part where Ritchie would usually play his guitar with his foot and then smash it, Hendrix/Townshend style -- but I don't know if he performed such theatrics this time. What a shame it is that this concert was not captured on video. This finish is without a doubt some of the most intense rock n' roll ever played. Don't miss it!