A racing pulse, shrieking organ fills, impossibly catchy chorus… Hush blasted out of speakers in the summer of 1968, taking the newly formed Deep Purple into the upper reaches of the US chart. First recorded by American country-soul singer Billy Joe Royal, who’d been gifted the song by his friend Joe South, Hush came to define early Purple in its mercurial fusion of psychedelic R&B and hard-nosed rock.
Purple’s Hush might not have happened at all, had it not been for Vanilla Fudge’s epic revamp of a Motown classic the previous year.
“Vanilla Fudge had covered a Supremes hit [You Keep Me Hangin’ On] and turned it into something else,” explains Purple bassist Roger Glover. “And that was such an inspiration. That’s what the band tried to do with Hush: put their own spin on it.”
Crucially, Purple’s Hammond player Jon Lord and original bass player Nick Simper had shared a bill with Vanilla Fudge, when both were part of the live set-up for the Flower Pot Men. Fudge’s Mark Stein’s dynamic organ lines made a particular impression on Lord.
With its mid-tempo southern chug, the original Hush felt mannered compared with Purple’s untamed romp. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had heard Royal’s version not long after its release in 1967, and immediately saw the potential. All it needed, he decided, was a tougher, bolder arrangement.
Recorded at London’s Pye studio in the spring of 1968, during sessions for their debut album Shades Of Deep Purple, Hush very nearly didn’t happen at all. The song had been earmarked for the final tracklist, but nobody had thought to bring along a copy of Royal’s recording as a guide. It was left to Simper to hastily phone his friend Rod Freeman, who’d recently been singing Hush with a band.
Freeman fetched up with his guitar and dutifully wrote down the chords and lyrics. The album completed, Deep Purple still weren’t convinced. The band pushed Parlophone to release their cover of The Beatles’ Help as a debut single, but their paymasters were instead intent on issuing Hush.
It was a move that paid off, at least overseas. Built around a surging rhythm (likened by Lord to a samba) and irresistible ‘Na-nana-na’ vocal spurts, the song peaked at No.4 on the US Billboard chart and also charted high in neighbouring Canada and in parts of Europe. Oddly, the UK proved resistant to Hush’s charms, but the song immediately became a highlight of Purple’s set-list.
“I’d first heard Hush on the radio by an English guy called Kris Ife,” recalls Glover, who joined Purple, along with singer Ian Gillan, from Episode Six in 1969. “Then six months or a year later I was playing it with Purple. We were doing a lot of covers in those early days: Hush, Kentucky Woman, Help!, Hey Joe. Even the first single I played on, Hallelujah, was a cover.”
By 1970, Deep Purple were making strides with their own songs, most notably Black Night, but Hush remained a key part of their live set. Glover and Gillan finally got to record it during a studio jam in 1988, and the new version closed that year’s Purple live collection Nobody’s Perfect, released to salute the band’s 20th anniversary
Having dropped it from their tour set-list for a time, Hush was eventually revived at the insistence of guitarist Steve Morse shortly after taking over as Blackmore’s permanent replacement in 1994. It’s been part of their encore ever since, often taking on different shapes.
“We don’t necessarily stick to the arrangement,” Glover explained. “We play around with little movements within the song. If you listen back to our early stuff, people forget that Purple was a jamming band.”
Hush has inspired many other covers over the years, including by the Love Affair, Johnny Hallyday, Thin Lizzy and Kula Shaker, but Deep Purple’s version remains unrivalled. Over half a century on, it’s central to the band’s DNA.
“The essence of the band was always great musicians,” reckons Glover. “You had Jon on one side and Ritchie on the other. Then Gillan and I came from a pop band, which was a good thing because you have this naivety balanced with virtuosity. To me, that was the key to what the Deep Purple sound was. And still is."