Speed King; Ritchie Blackmore's Righteous Riffs

Ritchie Blackmore in 1973
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Fin Costello/Redferns

Today we celebrate the birthday of Ritchie Blackmore, a legendary guitarist who got his first taste of fame within the ranks of Deep Purple. As such, we’ve put together a list of a dozen top-notch guitar performances by Blackmore while he was playing in the band during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Give it a listen and relish this man’s ability to rock.

“Kentucky Woman” (1968): It’s hard to imagine a hard rock band covering a Neil Diamond song in 2021 and not having it treated as a novelty song, but when Deep Purple delivered their version of this Diamond tune, it rocked so hard that it never occurred to anyone to mock them...nor should it have, because it’s awesome.

“Child in Time” (1970): Inspired by “Bombay Calling,” a song by It’s a Beautiful Day, this track from the band’s In Rock album was a protest song. “We created this song using the Cold War as the theme,” Ian Gillan said in a 2002 interview. “The song basically reflected the mood of the moment, and that’s why it became so popular.”

“Speed King” (1970): Originally entitled “Kneel and Pray,” this tune’s lyrics were unabashedly borrowing from early rock and roll songs, including “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “Tutti Frutti,” “Lucille,” “Rip It Up,” “Hard Headed Woman,” and “Some People.”

“Black Night” (1970): Released after the band’s In Rock album, this song literally only came into existence because their management had been bitching that their album didn’t feature an obvious single. “We thought that we'd humor them, because we never thought of ourselves as a singles band,” Roger Glover told Metal Hammer. “We spent a whole afternoon trying to get a riff and nothing happened. Round 7:30 we decided to go down to the pub and stayed there until closing time and came back to the studio completely drunk whereupon Ritchie picked up the guitar and started playing what was to become 'Black Night' and we said, 'Yeah, that sounds great, let's do that.'"

“No, No, No” (1971): An underrated tune from the band’s Fireball album, this is a perfect example of a song that you don’t realize is as good as it is until you really sit down and listen to it, but after you do, you can’t figure out why everyone isn’t in awe of Blackmore’s performance.

“Smoke on the Water” (1972): The origins of this song are pretty well documented, but just in case you’ve never heard the story... Picture it: Montreux, Switzerland, Dec. 4, 1971. Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention were set to play a gig in the theater of the Montreux Casino while Deep Purple were in a mobile recording studio elsewhere within the casino complex. Reportedly, someone in Zappa’s audience made the highly questionable decision to fire a flare gun into the air inside the theater, causing the highly-flammable ceiling to do what highly-flammable things do when they’re exposed to flares. In short order, the entire casino complex had gone up in flames, destroying the whole place and everything within it. Thankfully, Zappa and The Mothers escaped, while the members of Deep Purple were actually at their hotel, watching the fire and seeing the resulting smoke as it floated across Lake Geneva. Are you following this? There was smoke, there was water… Okay, we didn’t really think we had to spell it out for you, but we just wanted to make sure.

Read More: The Real-Life Incident That Inspired Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water"

“Highway Star” (1972): Arguably the inspiration for the entire genre of speed metal, this track was written by Deep Purple on their tour bus while heading to a show at the Portsmouth Guildhall in 1971, and they mostly wrote it because they were tired of opening with “Speed King.” Whatever their reasons, it’s a true rock classic.

“Lazy” (1972): Some would say that this is less a song than it is a good excuse for Blackmore to trot out an amazing riff, and... Well, so what if it is? It’s one hell of a riff!

“Space Truckin’” (1972): If you’ve only ever heard the studio version of this interstellar track, then you really haven’t heard “Space Truckin’” the way it should be heard. The version on the band’s live album Made in Japan takes up their entirety of Side 4, if that gives you an idea.

“Burn” (1974): Co-written by the band’s then-new vocalist, David Coverade, this was – as the cover of the album implies – a bit of a supernatural-themed tune, which is only appropriate, as the guitar work by Blackmore is pretty supernatural in its own right.

“Mistreated” (1974): Another Coverdale/Blackmore co-write, the music for the song was actually written some years prior, but it took until the Coverdale era of the band for the lyrics to be finished. It was worth the wait.

“Storm Bringer” (1974): The title track of the last Deep Purple album of the ‘70s to feature Blackmore in the lineup, the song was not, in fact, inspired by Michael Moorcock, despite that being a common belief. Coverdale has said that the comparison was mentioned to him by another band member, but he wasn’t aware of it at the time he wrote it.

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