Speed King is a song by British hard rock band Deep Purple from their 1970 album In Rock. The song is one of the loudest from the album, and featured some of the band's greatest amount of improvisation in a song, on both the original version and later live versions across the years. It was released as the B-side of the single "Black Night"
The song was the first song to be written by vocalist Ian Gillan, who wrote the lyrics by writing down a mix of lines from Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry songs in the order that they came to mind. Possibly because of this, the song was never played without him. However, during the years that he has been in the band, it has been one of the band's staple live performances.
The song opens with a guitar solo by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore featuring large usage of the whammy bar. He is soon joined by bassist Roger Glover, organist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice. The four of them jam together for a minute, before the guitar, bass and drums leave the song, and Lord plays an organ solo. On the original U.S. edition of In Rock, the intro was cut out. The version on the compilation Deepest Purple starts with the organ intro. The organ solo lasts a few seconds, before the more recognizable section of the song begins, with Gillan's vocals coming into the song. After the second verse, a keyboard-guitar battle is played between Blackmore and Lord. This is followed by a guitar solo by Blackmore, mainly consisting of one lick played several times in different keys. As usual, Blackmore multi-tracked the solo, so that in the finished recording, the lick played in the solo can be heard being played in two different keys simultaneously (or, at times, in the same key). After the solos, Ian Gillan comes in with a very high-pitched scream and the song returns to the third verse, after which the chorus is played twice. During the last 40 seconds of the song, the band jams on the closing notes.
There is also a "Piano version" of "Speed King" (early take) on The Deep Purple Singles A's and B's and on the 25th anniversary edition of In Rock (remixed by Roger Glover).
In concerts, the song is altered, and jams can extend it to 10-15 minutes long. Currently, it is played in concert with the keyboard solo at the beginning is cut out, and the song beginning with the first riff and first line. The song is played more or less as usual up to the second verse.
After the second verse, Gillan leaves the stage, and the improvised guitar-keyboard battle between current keyboardist Don Airey and current guitarist Steve Morse is played. After this, Airey and Morse leave the stage.
This is sometimes followed by a bass solo by Glover, at the end of which he leaves the stage and Paice plays a drum solo. Other times, however, the bass solo is cut out and the song immediately cuts to the drum solo.
After the drum solo, the whole band resumes the stage, and sometimes play a portion of a '50s rock song. After this, Gillan and Morse often have a vocal-guitar battle, while Glover, Paice, and Airey play a background rhythm. At the end of the guitar-vocal battle, Morse plays the original solo lick with Gillan doubling him by singing the second guitar part. From there, they return to the original song and play it like the original recording until the end of the song.
In the early days of Deep Purple Mk II, they had an additional set of lyrics in the song, which would eventually become part of a separate song called "Kneel and Pray", or "Ricochet". "Kneel and Pray" was recorded at the BBC studios (August 11, 1969) and shows up in a number of Deep Purple bootlegs, including theit earliest-known bootleg for a long time, recorded at the Amsterdam Paradiso on August 24, 1969 (Crash Landing). The live album Kneel & Pray was recorded October 4, 1969.
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