Behind The Songs – Blog 9

Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple

‘Smoke On The Water’ is probably best known for it’s easily recognizable riff developed by guitarist Richie Blackmore. The catchy riff is reasonably simplistic to play and is popular among beginner guitarists. The lyrics, written by lead singer Ian Gillan tell a true story. In December 1971 Deep Purple were in Montreux, Switzerland, to record an album using a mobile recording studio which they had rented from The Rolling Stones. The mobile studio was to be set up at the entertainment complex that was part of the Montreux Casino (referred to as ‘the gambling house’ in the song lyric). On the eve of the recording sessions , a Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention concert was being held in the casino theatre. During one of the bands songs the the theatre suddenly caught fire when a patron fired a flare gun which hit the ceiling, as referred to in the lyric ‘some stupid with a flare gun, burned the place to the ground’. There were no major injuries but the resulting fire destroyed the entire casino complex. The song title was derived by Gillan as he watched from his hotel window to see smoke billowing across Lake Geneva from the burning casino. Deep Purple were left with an expensive mobile recording unit and no place to record and scouted the town for another location to set up. After a week of searching , the band rented the empty Montreux Grand Hotel and converted it’s hallways and stairwells into a makeshift studio. It was here that Deep Purple laid down the tracks for their most commercially successful album “Machine Head” , released in March 1972, which included “Smoke On The Water”. The song itself was ranked 12th in Rolling Stone Magazine’s “100 greatest hard rock songs and 4th in “Total Guitar” magazines “Top 20 greatest guitar riffs ever”.

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