musical moments: fire in the sky
Smoke on the Water. 1972.
Every teenage boy with a guitar practiced those opening chords day and night. No matter what block you walked down, you could hear it coming from one garage or another.
The phenomen lasted for years, as Deep Purple put that song out on just about every compilation album to come out in the subsequent years. I think it's the first song I played on air guitar.
Meaning of Smoke on the WaterSo, what's the song about?
The lyrics actually tell the story of the recording of Machine Head . Deep Purple were originally all set to record the album at the Casino in Montreux, Switzerland. They were just awaiting a Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention concert to be held before the recording could begin. But the Casino burnt down during the concert, after some stupid had fired a flare gun into the Casino's ceiling. (Purple were in the audience. The actual Zappa concert has turned up on one of the Beat the Boots discs, I think.) They ended up at the Grand Hotel, closed for the winter season, where the recording eventually commenced during December 1971. They recorded the album with the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, also mentioned in the lyrics. Who's "Funky Claude" ? Funky Claude in the lyrics is Claude Nobs, who helped them out. He's still involved in the Montreux Jazz Festival, and seems to be a very important man in the music business in the Swiss town. As stated in the lyrics, he helped saving some kids during the fire at the Casino. He was also the man who found the Grand Hotel for them. There's a picture on him on the gatefold sleeve on the original LP release of the album. "Break a leg , Frank!" Actually, these were troubled times for Frank Zappa, who first lost all of his gear in the fire in Montreux. A couple of days later, when he played in London, a fan tore him off stage, and Zappa broke his leg as he fell into the orchestra pit. This, again, led to Ian Gillan dropping the comment "Break a leg, Frank!" near the ending of Smoke on the Water at a March 1972 concert recorded for the BBC, available on the excellent EMI 2CD set Deep Purple in Concert. The song itself was created more or less spontaneously; Roger Glover had the picture of the smoke spreading over the Lake Geneva in his head, and the line Smoke on the Water eventually stuck. He suggested to Ian Gillan that they should use it as a song title, but Ian shrugged it off, saying people would believe it was a drug song. Then Ritchie suddenly came up with the later hierostratically famous (and notorious!) riff, and things fell into place.