John McLaughlin: Purpose of When
Purpose of When
John McLaughlin (electric guitar)
Billy Rich (bass).
Composed by John McLaughlin.
Recorded: New York, February 1970
Rating: 93/100 (learn more)
As mad as guitarist John McLaughlin was that his album Devotion was botched in the editing process while he was away, there is no denying that four decades later it remains one of the great guitar grunge records of all time. It is said that the master tapes were damaged and cut up so badly that the reassembled parts never matched the actual planned songs. Part of McLaughlin's disdain for the result was also probably related to the fact that producer Alan Douglas paid McLaughlin a grand total of $2,000 for both Devotion and his follow-up record My Goal's Beyond. Now that was a bargain for Douglas! But considering how often those albums have been re-released over the years, McLaughlin is entitled to his regrets. That's a lot of cash going into someone else's pockets for your hard labor.
We'll never know if the outrageous guitar solo that begins "Purpose of When" was actually supposed to be at the beginning, but it's a great place to start. It is an angry and sometimes dissonant cry. Billy Rich's marching bassline and Buddy Mile's backbeat accompany McLaughlin's wailing. Organist Larry Young has his B-3 tuned to some alternate pitch to provide even more friction. McLaughlin's lines are distorted and dark. They are brutally loud if you can stand to turn the volume up to where it is supposed to be. "Purpose of When" is not a masterpiece of composition. (Maybe it was part of one before the editing snafu.) Instead, it is a detached statement of blues-influenced rage that comes from the angriest part of the primal instinct. You can't get much grungier than that.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky