Ian Gillan, renowned for his vocals with Deep Purple, has one of the most iconic voices in rock’s history. Deep Purple played a huge role in shaping heavy metal as we know it today — in particular, Gillan’s ability to jump two octaves and hit an incredibly high note in his falsetto voice set him apart. This technique has become known as the ‘banshee scream’.
In 1969, Deep Purple found chart success with their hit, ‘Hush’ off their album Shades of Deep Purple. Ritchie Blackmore and the rest of the band wanted to steer away from the psychedelic blues sound prominent at the time and into more hard rock-based music. After seeing Ian Gillan perform with Episode Six, he was asked to join Deep Purple. By their third album, Deep Purple in Rock, Gillan had fully joined the group and helped the band develop a heavier sound.
Gillan’s vocal style is very much characterised as being classically trained as well as heavily inspired by Elvis Presley. It’s a duality that has always inspired Deep Purple.
In 1983, Gillan was invited by the manager, Don Arden, to join Black Sabbath, which was initially intended to be a supergroup via a different name. Due to increasing pressure from Sabbath’s label, they kept the name.
Although overall, there was mutual respect between Gillan and Sabbath, drummer Bill Ward recalled that he “didn’t particularly like some of the lyrics that Ian was bringing forward and putting into the songs. Not because Ian doesn’t write good lyrics or anything like that; I think Ian is an excellent performer, great singer and often at times I think his lyrics can be quite brilliant. But I just have a personal difference in what I like to hear in the way of lyrics, and so I felt terribly disconnected.”
For their encore, Black Sabbath would play ‘Smoke on the Water’, a Deep Purple song, frequently at shows. Gillan would only remain with Sabbath for one record: Born Again.
Considering Ian Gillan’s abilities and place as one of the greatest rock singers, it was interesting to see what his five favourite songs are. Below you’ll find that list.
Ian Gillan’s 5 favourite songs
‘Long Tall Sally’ – Little Richard
For Gillan’s first choice as found in an interview with Wiki Metal, Gillan takes it back to the roots of rock n’ roll. Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’ was released in 1956 and remains a favourite for all. “My grandfather, my uncle was a jazz pianist and there was lots of music in the house. I think it gave me the background, but it didn’t inspire me to work as a musician in those days,” Gillan said.
While Little Richard planted the seeds for a young Gillan, it wouldn’t be until he started listening to Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly when he was a teenager; “my grandfather, my uncle was a jazz pianist and there was lots of music in the house. I think it gave me the background, but it didn’t inspire me to work as a musician in those days.”
‘Good Vibrations’ – The Beach Boys
Following the lineage of the aforementioned rock artists, naturally, brings us to The Beach Boys, who were equally inspired by them.
In an interview with Music Times, Gillan explained what it was about The Beach Boys that he loved: “You listen to the production on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and stuff like that, and George Martin’s production on the Beatles and listen to the early sound recordings from Elvis.
“It’s impeccable — glorious, glorious sounds, whether you like the music or not.”
‘I Only Want To Be With You’ – Dusty Springfield
While it will be a surprise to many people, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering not only Gillan’s vocal ability but also the diversity of his origins as a musician. Dusty Springfield, the great pop singer of the late ’50s, makes an appearance on this list.
“This will probably sound strange, but I grew up listening to Enrico Caruso, Albert Schweitzer, who was a scientist, but also a great organist, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, Wes Montgomery,” Gillan remarked in an interview with UOL.
It is one thing to have the rock persona and the vocal chops to back it up, both of which Springfield had, but one thing that she that many others didn’t have, which Gillan appreciated, was her pop sensibility which comes in handy when you’re an aspiring songwriter.
Razzle Dazzle’ – Deep Purple
This next one comes from Ian Gillan’s band but appears later in their catalogue. ‘Razzle Dazzle’ is off their 2004 album, Bananas.
The album stands as a testament to the band’s loyal following, which contributed to their sheer longevity. Besides it becoming more refined, particularly in the studio, their sound did not change much over the years, maintaining their hard rock roots.
It is also the first song since the ’70s to feature backing vocals that Gillan did not do in the studio. The album charted well despite its lack of media coverage; in particular, it performed well in Europe and South America.
‘Love Me Do’ – The Beatles
The fifth song on Ian Gillan’s list is one of the fab four’s first songs to be released. ‘Love Me Do’ has been quoted as an influential song by a long list of other artists.
In an interview with Bravewords, Gillan remarked about John Lennon: “When I heard his lead vocal on ‘Twist and Shout’ – which was the first time he really let rip – then I thought, ‘He’s the man.’ And he had a great sense of humour. He was sometimes crude – but always listenable.”