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Speed King

Speed King's origins go all the way back to those very first rehearsals Deep Purple Mk II had in the Hanwell Community Centre. Ritchie Blackmore had suggested that the band needed to write an opening number, similar in feel to Hendrix's 'Fire'. Roger played the first thing that came into his head.

"My Fender Precision bass sounded lonely as the sound careered off the dirty, cream painted walls. I just made it up on the spot, and surprised myself by musically blurting it out. They all joined in, making it sound great, and a jam ensued which would set the course of the song. It was exhilarating."
Roger Glover, from the Deep Purple in Rock Anniversary Edition sleeve notes, 1995.

Though the song seems to have musically come together very quickly, the lyrics were a different matter. The song was originally titled 'Ricochet' and was recorded for a BBC radio session on 11th August 1969, whilst the version recorded for them on the 29th August was called "Kneel & Pray". A further version of the song was recorded for BBC Radio on the 28th September.

Listening to this version is a little weird - the music is just so familiar, yet the words are so different...

You were good, I was bad
I just wanted the things you had
Don't run, oh don't run
Oh, baby have some fun
Good loving is meant for two
A bit for me and a bit for you
Oh please, oh let me please
Stop my misery, Yeah

Oh kneel and pray
Oh baby this is what I say

You've been right, I've been wrong
Let me sing my simple song
You were good, I was bad
I wanted the things you had
Don't run, oh don't run
Oh, baby have some fun
Oh please, please, please
Stop my misery

I've heard three tapes of the track, all claiming to be from different BBC shows. However, all three seem to be the same take, just running at slightly different speeds.

It is uncertain when the song actually made the live set, but it was certainly there by the time of the famous Paradiso shows on the 23rd and 24th August 1969, where and 8min 30sec version of the show was used to open the show. The song kicks off with the first few bars of 'And the Address'.

Though no version of the song in this form has been officially released, there are several versions hopefully about to see the light of day. The DPAS have reported that several of the BBC Radio sessions should be included on EMI's Deep Purple Box Set due October 2002. Simon Robinson is also trying to negotiate the release of the Paradiso show, recorded by Amsterdam radio at the time and released in part on several bootlegs. Finally, there is also a full recording of the band's Montreux Casino show on 4th October 1969, which may see light of day as a Sonic Zoom release.

The band made it's first studio recording of the track during the 14th-21st October 1968. The recording took place at IBC Studio A, and though still referred to as Kneel & Pray on the tape box, the song was probably more like the version we know so well today. At least, a version with the familiar lyrics was recorded for BBC radio on the 31st October. The only real holdover from the original was the line during the instrumental break "Kneel down, turn around, look at what you've found". The rest of the lyrics were taken from various classic rock'n'roll numbers - 'Good Golly, Miss Molly', 'Tutti Frutti', 'Lucille' and 'The Battle of New Orleans' for instance.

An early take of 'Speed King' featured a piano rather than organ. This version was originally used as a B-side in some countries, but has since made an appearance on several compilations and the 25th Anniversary release of the album.

The earliest live version of the song so far released officially comes form the BBC In Concert show recorded 19th February 1970 and released on Deep Purple In Concert. It is approximately a 7 minute take with short solos and interplay from Ritchie and Jon.

The song was used (in its various forms) as the band's opening number from (at least) August 1969 until it was replaced by Highway Star during October 1971. It then became became a semi-regular encore until the end of the US tour in Miami on 16th December 1972. A version from this period is found on the 'Live in Japan' triple CD set, with another from the 'Made in Japan Remastered Edition'. Judging by tapes of the 1973 tour (as described by Mike Richards in his Live tape Analysis), the song was not played during the final few months of MkII, and as they were the only line-up of the band to play it, it was to be quite a wait until the song was heard live again.

In fact, it was in Adelaide on 30th November 1984 - the second show of the re-union tour, where it was used as the second encore. Again clocking in at around the 8 minute mark, the song set the standard that is still used today - a very fast-paced number, with extended guitar and organ duelling after the second chorus. This version of the song can be found on the 'Highway Stars' bootleg, which forms part of the first Bootleg Boxed Set, officially released by Thames/Thompson in 2001.

The song was to stay as an encore throughout the '84-'85 tours and occasionally Ritchie and Jon would throw in a bit of the Burn riff during their playing around. The song was also used, to a lesser degree as an encore during the '87 and '88 tours. From there, there was a break until Gillan rejoined the band for the Battle Rages on Tour, where eventually making in back into the set, again as an encore, usually pretty much as before, though it did have several inspired performances over the course of the tour.

Moving on, the song remained as a regular encore during Joe Satriani's stint in the band, and the first few shows with Steve Morse. From there is got promoted to the song that regularly ended the main set. Initially played pretty much as before, the song slowly developed from just under 8 minutes in April '95, the song eventually ended up being 15 minutes or longer. Owners of the original Bootleg Box set can easily appreciate this - just listen to the version from 'Purple Sunshine' to that on 'Made in Japan 2000' to hear the difference.

Originally it just featured the wonderful duelling between Jon and Steve, but it went on to include mini bass solos, Ian Paice's drum solo (including his one-handed drum roll) and various silliness from Ian Gillan usually ending up with a vocal/guitar duel. During this bit of silliness, Gillan would throw in several older rock'n'roll numbers. Over the years, these have included 'Not Fade Away', 'The Battle for New Orleans', 'Great Balls of Fire', 'Blue Suede Shoes', 'Lucille' and even Rolf Harris' 'Tie Me kangaroo Down Sport'. Recently, the regular incumbent has been 'Highschool Hop'.

By my reckoning, Speed King is the only track to have been used as an opening number, a set closer and as an encore. It is also one of the oldest surviving numbers in the current set, and listening to today's version next to that laid down in late '69/early '70, you can see how much the song has evolved and lived that life of its own.


  • Deep Purple in Rock (1970/1995) - Original Studio Version
  • Deep Purple in Rock (1995) - Alternate studio take with piano
  • Deep Purple in Concert (1980/1992) - BBC Radio 19th February 1970
  • Doing Their Thing (video deleted) - Manchester 13th July 1970
  • Scandinavian Nights (1988) - Stockholm 12th November 1970
  • Scandinavian Nights (video 1990) - Copenhagen 1st March 1972
  • Made in Japan Remastered Edition (1993) - Tokyo 17th August 1972
  • Live in Japan (1998) - Osaka 15th August 1972
  • Highway Stars (2001) - Adelaide 30th November 1984
  • In the Absence of Pink (1991) - Knebworth 22nd June 1985
  • Hungary Days (2001) - Budapest 26th January 1987
  • Come Hell or High water (1994) - Stuttgart 16th October 1993
  • Purple Sunshine (2001) - Fort Lauderdale 4th March 1995
  • Bombay Calling (video 2000) - Bombay 8th April 1995
  • Live at the Olympia '96 (1997) - Paris 17th June 1996
  • New, Live & Rare (2001) - Moscow 23rd June 1996
  • Total Abandon (1999) - Melbourne 20th April 1999
  • Made in Japan 2000 (2001) - Osaka 1st April 2000
  • Soundboard Series (2001)
  • Melbourne 9th March 2001
  • Wollongong 13th March 2001
  • Newcastle 14th March 2001
  • Hong Kong 20th March 2001

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