Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple – 1973

Deep Purple Smoke on the Water Single CoverOne of the truly iconic and most immediately recognisable guitar riffs ever – Smoke on the Water was a hit for Deep Purple in 1973, both as a studio and a live version.

the latest technology

So, I’m at my mate’s place – he’s since gone haywire and joined the Moonies but that’s another story – and he’s just gone out and bought; wait for it!! Headphones!!

Yeah, like full cover-your-ears headphones. I’ve never used them before – only ever seen pictures of them in music mag’s. Today that might seem strange but back in 1972 all I’ve got is a mono-ear piece. Stereo headphones are as super high-tech as the iPhone 4S will one day be.

So, I’m at my mate’s place and I’ve got my brand new copy of Machine Head (1972 release), the latest Deep Purple album. I put it on, turn it up – loud – and slip the super high-tech headphones on and…

Well, it’s weird the things you remember, eh? I recall that moment vividly. It was, I guess, the first time I became aware of true stereophonic sound. I recall sitting there with a smile on my face and my mate mouthing to me, “It’s great, eh?!?” And it was.

deep purple

Deep Purple formed in the UK in 1968 and, with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, are often cited as the pioneers of heavy metal. The Guinness Book of World Records cited them as the world’s loudest rock band in the world (a title they subsequently lost to The Grateful Dead, if my memory serves me correct).

The band continues to play today although continual line-up changes mean that drummer Ian Paice is the only member to have been in the band the entire time.

Deep purple Machine head Album covermachine head

Machine Head is one of the great heavy rock albums of all time – my opinion. It begins with Highway Star a brilliantly written song which Richie Blackmore wanted to have a Bach like sound and which heavy music fans often cite as being the pre-cursor to speed metal music.

Of course, being the first song on the album I conclude that this was the first song I ever heard in true stereo, but that’s by the by.

The second side of the album began with one of the most recognised rock songs of all time – Smoke on the Water.

smoke on the water fax

  • Smoke on the Water rose to #4 on the US singles chart in 1973. It rose to #21 in the UK.
  • Smoke on the Water was ranked at #426 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It was ranked at #12 in Q magazine’s 2005 list of the 100 greatest guitar tracks. It was ranked as #4 on the BBC’s Top 20 guitar riffs of all time.
  • The lyrics of Smoke on the Water tell a true story. In 1971 Deep Purple were in Switzerland recording an album using the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording studio. During the time of recording Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention held a concert at the nearby Montreux Casino. During the show an audience member fired a flare gun into the ceiling;

We all came out to Montreux

On the Lake Geneva shoreline

To make records with a mobile

We didn’t have much time

Frank Zappa and the Mothers

Were at the best place around

But some stupid with a flare gun

Burned the place to the ground…

  • Claude Nobs was the director of the Montreux Jazz Festival. He helped some of the audience escape the fire and is immortalised in the song lyric;

…and Funky Claude was running in and out

Pulling kids out the ground…

  • The live version from the Made In Japan album also became a hit. In a later live version on Deep Purple in Concert, Ian Gillan utters the words, “Break a leg, Frank”. He’s referring to one of the injuries Frank Zappa sustained six days after the Montreux fire when he was attacked onstage by an audience member at a concert in London.
  • In 1983 Deep Purple’s guitarist Ian Gillan toured with Black Sabbath. They performed Smoke on the Water as a part of their encore set – it’s one of the very few cover songs Black Sabbath ever played live.
  • Smoke on the Water has been covered by Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Pat Boone, and Carlos Santana.
  • Smoke on the Water has been used in various video games.
  • Smoke on the Water is in the Guinness Book of Records as the song played by the most guitarists at the same time. The record was originally set in 1994 by 1,322 guitarists in Vancouver, Canada. In 2007 1,721 guitarists in Kansas City USA beat the record. Later that year 1,876 guitarists topped it in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany. The record is currently held by 6,346 guitarists who, in 2009, joined together to play at the Thanks Jimi Festival in 2009. They were, on this last occasion led by Deep Purple guitarist Steve Morse.  Click here to see a panoramic photo of the largest guitar ensemble in Wroclaw, Rynek, Poland, on 01 May 2009 (Guinness World Record).  On 30 April 2011, in the same place, 5 601 guitars played Hey Joe.
  •  Smoke on the Water lyrics.

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