Amid the ever-growing tide of Deep Purple box sets (this was at least their eighth in nine years), Listen Learn Read On stands alone, not only as the ultimate round-up of the band's greatest moments, but also as the answer to more collectors' dreams than most collectors were even aware they'd had. You want Deep Purple's long-legendary, but forever unavailable BBC sessions? They're here. You want the killer live encores that other albums omitted? They're here. You want a solid introduction to the band members' pre-Purple passages? They're here. And, of course, you want the hits. So they're here as well.
Superficial similarities to the 2001 Rhino box can be dismissed immediately. Six CDs and a 120-page booklet eschew the full 30-plus year career summary approach that marked that set. Rather, Listen Learn Read On concentrates wholly on the band's original lifespan, prior to their mid-'70s break-up. That this covers each of the group's most vital incarnations is self-evident -- no matter that the reformed Deep Purple has now more than doubled its predecessor's existence -- still, the so-called Marks I and II and Mark III created the band's reputation, with II and III, at least, revitalized every time the latest line-up plays another show.
Of course the approach isn't perfect. No matter how well-loved the David Coverdale era of the band may have been, there is no escaping the fact that disc six, covering Stormbringer and Come Taste The Band, is a distinct departure from the highs of the earlier eras. Hitherto, Deep Purple were helping blueprint all that hard rock and metal would grow up to become. Those last couple of albums not only lost that particular focus, they also lost all the wit and wisdom that was once the band's hallmark. It gets pretty grueling in the dog days of that final disc.
Spin back to those that went before, however, and it doesn't even matter that it's once more around for "Smoke On The Water," "Child In Time," "Strange Kind Of Woman," "Space Trucking," and "Mistreated." In each and almost every instance, vaults have been scoured, archives have been emptied, and there's a surprise around every corner -- a quadrophonic mix here, a BBC session there and, in the case of "Space Trucking," a previously unissued 30-minute live version that makes every other rendition sound anemic.
Familiar friends rub shoulders with perfect strangers -- the Fireball outtake, "Fools," is the only wholly unheard song on the set, but almost half the 71 tracks here have either never seen legal daylight in the past, or are making their CD debut. And, of the rest -- well, you said you wanted the hits. You just didn't say exactly how you wanted them.