ON THIS DATE (39 YEARS AGO)
May 26, 1973 – Deep Purple: “Smoke On The Water (Edited Version)” b/w “Smoke On The Water (Edited Version) [Live]” (Warner Bros. WB 7710) 45 single is released in the US.
“Smoke on the Water” is a song by Deep Purple. It was first released on their 1972 album Machine Head. In 2004, the song was ranked number 434 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, ranked number 4 in Total Guitar magazine’s Greatest Guitar Riffs Ever, and in March 2005, Q magazine placed “Smoke on the Water” at number 12 in its list of the 100 greatest guitar tracks.
The lyrics of the song tell a true story: on 4 December 1971 Deep Purple had set up camp in Montreux, Switzerland to record an album using a mobile recording studio (rented from the Rolling Stones and known as the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio—referred to as the “Rolling truck Stones thing” and “the mobile” in the song lyrics) 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 session a Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention concert was held in the casino’s theatre. In the middle of Don Preston’s synthesizer solo on “King Kong”, the place suddenly caught fire when somebody in the audience fired a flare gun into the rattan covered ceiling, as mentioned in the “some stupid with a flare gun” line. The resulting fire destroyed the entire casino complex, along with all the Mothers’ equipment. The “smoke on the water” that became the title of the song (credited to bass guitarist Roger Glover, who related how the title occurred to him when he suddenly woke from a dream a few days later) referred to the smoke from the fire spreading over Lake Geneva from the burning casino as the members of Deep Purple watched the fire from their hotel across the lake. The “Funky Claude” running in and out is referring to Claude Nobs, the director of the Montreux Jazz Festival who helped some of the audience escape the fire.
Left with an expensive mobile recording unit and no place to record, the band was forced to scout the town for another place to set up. One promising venue (found by Nobs) was a local theatre called The Pavilion, but soon after the band had loaded in and started working/recording, the nearby neighbours took offence at the noise, and the band was only able to lay down backing tracks for one song (based on Blackmore’s riff and temporarily named Title n°1), before the local police shut them down.
Finally, after about a week of searching, the band rented the nearly-empty Montreux Grand Hotel and converted its hallways and stairwells into a makeshift recording studio, where they laid down most of the tracks for what would become their most commercially successful album, Machine Head.
The only song from Machine Head not recorded in the Grand Hotel was “Smoke on the Water” itself, which had been recorded during the abortive Pavilion session. The lyrics of “Smoke on the Water” were composed later, and the vocals were recorded in the Grand Hotel.
The song is honoured in Montreux by a sculpture along the lake shore (right next to the statue of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury) with the band’s name, the song title, and the riff in musical notes.
“Smoke on the Water” was included on Machine Head, which was released in early 1972, but was not released as a single until a year later, in May 1973. The band members have said that they did not expect the song to be a hit, but the single reached number 4 on the Billboard pop singles chart in the United States during the summer of 1973, number 2 on the Canadian RPM charts, and it propelled the album to the top 10.