Writers: Deep Purple
Producers: Deep Purple
Recorded: December 1971 at the Pavilion theater and the Grand Hotel in Montreux, Switzerland
Released: Spring 1972
|Album:||Machine Head (Warner Bros., 1972)|
Deep Purple‘s most enduring hit, “Smoke On The Water” tells the saga of the recording of the group’s Machine Head album.
The “Mach II” version of the group (Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, and Ian Paice) was slated to record the album, using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, in December 1971 at the Casino in Montreux, Switzerland. The group had been advised to record the album away from its native Britain in order to be spared taxes.
The night before Purple was to begin recording the album, Frank Zappa & the Mothers Of Invention played a concert at the Casino. During the show, an audience member fired a flare gun into the roof, setting the building on fire. It burned to the ground, taking no lives but destroying all the Mothers’ equipment and leaving Purple without a place to record.
The image of watching the Casino burn from the hotel bar stuck with the band, according to Glover: “As I looked out the large plate glass windows of the hotel in the dying afternoon light, I could see a huge pall of black smoke from the doomed building stretching high up and out over the placid blue surface of Lake Geneva, an unforgettable sight.”
The group began working on “Smoke On The Water” a couple of days later in the Pavilion, an old theater in the center of Montreux used mostly for summertime concerts.
The song, whose working name was “Title #1,” was built from a guitar riff Blackmore came up with.
Purple played so loud that it disturbed Montreux residents who lived near the Pavilion. Police came down to order the band to stop, but Purple’s roadies held the doors shut until the band finished laying down the track.
Recording subsequently shifted to the Grand Hotel, where Purple played in the hallways and assorted rooms while the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio sat parked outside.
The lyrics for “Smoke On The Water” transpired after the switch to the Grand Hotel. Glover said: “We had decided to write about our own experience in making the album and justified the title by thinking of the pall of black smoke that hung over the lake that day as the fire destroyed the Casino. Every line in the lyric is true.”
In fact, there really was a “Funky Claude” on site, and he really did “pull kids out of the ground” as they were emerging from the Casino’s basement.
Despite its eventual success, Glover says the group thought of “Smoke On The Water” as “just another track.”
In fact, “Smoke On The Water” didn’t become a hit single until the summer of 1973, nearly a year and a half after Machine Head was released.
The song peaked at Number Four on the Billboard Hot 100, selling more than a million copies as a single.
Blackmore says the song has endured “because it is very catchy, basically incorporating four notes. It’s got tons of personality.”
Keyboardist Jon Lord estimates that “Smoke On The Water” still brings Purple’s members five- and sometimes six-figure royalties each year.
The Machine Head album peaked at Number Seven on the Billboard 200 and has sold more than two million copies.
However, tensions within the band were increasing–particularly over artistic direction and songwriting credits. At the time, Blackmore predicted, “I suppose we’ll see the year out if we’re lucky.”