Mini-history: "Black Night," Deep Purple's soccer chant.


For four decades, most lineups of Deep Purple have performed "Black Night," a song first released as a single in 1970. A rockin' if not spectacular number, it achieved mandatory status mainly because its drunken-sailor riff is made for chanting along.

Has "Black Night" received regular airing as a soccer/futbol chant? Maybe not yet, but Deep Purple surely sensed the riff's sport potential from the start. Founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore has been known to foot-juggle the sphere quite skillfully; singer Ian Gillan is a regular partisan.

The riff resonates with primal authority. Deep Purple didn't even create it; they thieved it wholesale from Ricky Nelson's version of the Gershwin brothers' "Summertime," altering it only by plucking it a half-step higher. God knows where Nelson's bass player got it -- perhaps a scene similar to the birth of "Black Night," where some musical yobs float off to a nearby pub following a rehearsal, and return filled with stout and inspiration.

Although Deep Purple have attributed no intent to the lyric of "Black Night," saying it's just doggerel Gillan spewed after the sixth pint, it could be perceived as the first in a line of the voxman's complaints about famously critical band boss Moreblack, including "Smooth Dancer" (1973), "Bad Attitude" (1987) and "The Battle Rages On" (1993). With Gillan having joined Deep Purple only months earlier (he would quit or be fired on several future occasions), one could easily read meaning into lines like "I don't need black night" and "Maybe I'll find on the way down the line that I'm free/Free to be me." In a bit of a role reversal, Gillan ended up as a permanent member of Deep Purple, while Blackmore decamped; the latter's current longtime project is Blackmore's Night.

Which would make "Black Night" a song about a rivalry. I nominate it for permanent inclusion in the soccer-chant repertoire.