It was in 1972, in the country that doesn’t exist anymore, called Czechoslovakia. In the town where I was living, the communist regime allowed to build and open a new department store, as a part of a larger chain called ‘PRIOR ’. As was common in those times, for the purpose to get a lot of people to the new store, the regime allowed to import few attractive goods from the “hated” West. Among those scarce goods were also vinyl LPs from popular international artist.
At that time, I was still a small boy, just discovering all possible corners of music. So when my mom came with the news, that in the new-opened store they have some foreign recordings, she had to promise to buy me at least one.
I remember that to this day. We walked into the large light-grey building freshly opened in the middle of the town, and for the first time in my life I had a chance to experience and use an escalator. Because the music department was on the second floor. And there, among new gramophones, televisions, and radios, were ‘shining’ about a dozen LPs on display.
My knowledge about music was at that time restricted to piano pieces I practised for the music school, then dozens of songs we all used to sing at family gatherings, and the local popular music I could listen from the radio and TV. So when I walked into the music store, I had absolutely no idea about what to buy.
As my eyes glanced over the LPs displayed high on a shelf, my attention got caught by two of them. Both of them depicted adult males with longer hair. I must mention here, that that was the era, when for the communist propaganda, a long hair was a clear representation of the ‘capitalist decadence and degeneration’. At the same time I was already aware, that there were men with long hair, who played interesting and modern music.
So I was standing there in the music store with two LPs in front of me, trying to figure out which one to take home. My mom couldn’t help me with the decision, but also couldn’t afford to purchase more that just one of them.
I still have to laugh when I remember this situation. Because my decision, as I see it retrospectively, has crucially impacted not only my life, but also few of my closest friends. And I am laughing, because my choices couldn’t be more apart.
Just imagine, that the first LP was some kind of The Best Of Engelbert Humperdinck, an English pop singer, described as ‘one of the finest middle-of-the-road balladeers’ of the era. I cannot even imagine what direction my musical life would go, had I purchased this album.
The second LP didn’t have only one, but five(!) men with long flying hair on its title. And because of that, my decision was done. And I took home a freshly released album from the band Deep Purple, called Fireball.
The reason why I am writing this post is, that the original Fireball album was released exactly 50 years ago. To be exact, it was released on July 9 1971 in the US, and on September 1 1971 in the UK. It reached the No. 1 position on the UK album charts as well as in some other European countries. In the US it reached No. 32, and in Canada No. 24.
What this album has done for me was something tremendous. It has opened my eyes, my ears, and my mind. The old portable gramophone we had at home, for sure hadn’t played so much and so loud before. I didn’t speak English, so I learned to imitate all the lyrics only by ear.
Closed in my grandparents’ living room, I was belching songs like No No No, Demon’s Eye, or Anyone’s Daughter. But the one that impacted me the most was Fools. As the longest piece on the album with 8:18 min, I liked different atmospheres the song could impart. Especially the middle part with Ritchie Blackmore playing his guitar sounding like a cello. And I would play with him my ‘air guitar’ and immediately my ‘air drums’ with Ian Paice, or ‘air keyboards’ with Jon Lord. When I was tired, I would step back and play ‘air bass’ with Roger Glover, but constantly trying to overpower Ian Gillan singing.
Deep Purple has a few more successful albums in their discography and I like most of them. But the album Fireball holds a very special place in my music development and my personal music collection. And I am very thankful for this and happy that I made this decision almost 50 years ago.