“Perfect Strangers” is an intentionally abstract song about how our perception of ourselves, others, and our experience transforms over time. The lyrics demonstrate that the ever-changing nature of human beings causes us to grow beyond old ways of being in favor of new ones. In addition, this song manages to hint at some broader spiritual notions about rebirth and the idea that some connections are meant to last.
“Perfect Strangers” is the title track to Deep Purple’s famous 1984 comeback album, which was created after an eight-year hiatus. Themes of rebirth and the rekindling of old relationships, of course, were very much at the forefront of the band’s mind. As the band began to jam again, all of the members’ doubts started fading away, which resulted in the creation of this song.
In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these poetic lyrics to discover their hidden meaning. We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the universal themes that make this song accessible to anyone. Without further ado, let’s begin!
When interpreting these lyrics, it’s important to keep the theme of rebirth in mind. As mentioned in the previous section, Deep Purple was essentially reincarnated in 1984 during their unexpected comeback. “Perfect Strangers” is the flagship track for that comeback, so it seems very reasonable to expect that these themes would be present in the lyrics.
If that’s not enough for you, Ian Gillan has confirmed this interpretation himself. In one interview, he referred to the song’s title as a “contradiction in terms.” What he meant by this is that there are two opposite meanings to the name that are both true of Deep Purple – one emphasizes perfect, and the other emphasizes strangers.
Let’s keep this in mind when looking at these admittedly difficult lyrics. For starters, the first line asks us an important guiding question: “Can you remember my name?” This not only represents the feelings of Deep Purple band members but of human beings in general. The more years we have under our belts, the more it seems like figures and experiences from our past become blurry.
The next line poetically describes human connection. We “flow through” each other’s lives, but we also flow through “a thousand oceans” in the same way. We could likely never count how many people we’ve interacted with in our lives, and that’s the point Gillan is making.
What’s the difference between any of those countless people? Why do some become an “echo” of the past, while others remain with us? At the risk of sounding cliché, the answer is essentially love. Some spirits resonate with each other across time.
Due to this resonance, Gillan begins “returning the echo of a point in time” (engaging with his past). The “distant faces” begin approaching; soon they become “spirits” that spark joy in Gillan. Even though it seems that life is guided by “shadows of another day,” there are times when patterns re-emerge. They come to life again, but they rarely take the same form as before.
The chorus is a culmination of this idea. Even if the people of your past are not with you directly, their presence is always with you indirectly. Sometimes, it seems as if they’re simply “talking on the wind,” and their presence can hardly be felt. This is why the chorus demands that the narrator and listener “remain perfect strangers.” It’s celebrating the fact that both parties have changed, causing an element of rediscovery in the relationship. Rather than stagnating, we should remain “strangers” in this sense.
The bridge, in my opinion, represents a brief window of doubt. Instead of embracing the reconnection of the first two verses, Gillan begins to withdraw. He insists on staying in a “silent well of sorrows.” This lyric recognizes the difficulty human beings have with change. If a relationship takes a new form, we often feel tempted to retreat.
The doubt doesn’t last – verse three focuses on the beauty of conscious experience, not its fears. Gillan likens our souls to a “strand of silver hanging in the sky touching more than you see.” Our lives play out in timelines (strands), but those strands are much longer and broader than we realize. This is a possible reference to reincarnation, but the line can stand without that interpretation, too.
As we wade through our streams of consciousness, sometimes the “voice of ages” torments us. Instead of holding on to the past, Gillan tells us to embrace the “precious life” found in the future. Life is much broader than our suffering; our “tears are lost in falling rain.” Whatever we miss was meant for the past, and is only a small portion of our possible joys.
In summary, “Perfect Strangers” describes a method of obtaining perspective on what we’ve left behind by emphasizing the endless possibilities of our experience. There could be no more necessary message for a band on the verge of a comeback, and no more optimistic message for people in general.
Like many great songs, “Perfect Strangers” was inspired by a moment of magic. When asked about the track, Ian Gillan described an impromptu jam session that reignited the formerly estranged Deep Purple.
According to Gillan, the group was huddled in a basement in silence. Nobody was playing, there was snow outside, and there was uncertainty in the air. However, Ian Paice began “tapping” rhythms eventually, and the rest of the members soon followed. Soon, “everyone had a smile on their face,” and Perfect Strangers was born.
The result of their efforts was not only the revitalization of Deep Purple but also the creation of an important piece of rock history. “Perfect Strangers” is one of the quintessential Deep Purple tracks, having been heard by millions of ears. Critically and commercially, this song can only be considered a success.
The next time you play this heavy tune, let these pieces of background information bring it to life for you!