Almost every rock music lover who decides to master the guitar learns one of the first tunes the famous riff from Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. It sounds spectacular, but at the same time is so technically simple that Ritchie Blackmore is said to be embarrassed to present the composed melody to his colleagues, considering it too primitive for a musician of his level.
History of creation and meaning of Smoke on the Water
The song’s lyrics talk about a fire witnessed by the members of Deep Purple in the Swiss city of Montreux. They were there to work on a new album in a mobile studio rented from The Rolling Stones. For these purposes, a room was rented in a local casino.
On December 4, 1971, Frank Zappa gave a concert in the theater of this gambling establishment. After that, the hall was to be taken over by Deep Purple. But fate decreed otherwise. During Zappa’s speech, a fire broke out in the room, the cause of which is said to be a rocket launcher shot into the ceiling. It all ended with the fact that the entertainment complex was completely destroyed by fire to the ground.
Musicians from Deep Purple watched what was happening from the window of the Europe Hotel, which is located on the opposite shore of Lake Geneva. So the smoke above the water, in honor of which the new song was named, spread over its smooth surface.
They had to record the album in another room. The corridor of the Grand Hotel, fully rented for this purpose, acted as an impromptu studio. But we are more interested in the history of the Smoke on the Water song itself.
One morning a couple of days after the fire, Roger Glover, who was lying in bed and still not really awake, came up with the phrase “smoke on the water”. He described it this way:
I was alone in bed… at that mystical time between deep sleep and awakening, when I heard my own voice saying these words aloud. I woke up and asked myself if I really said them, and decided that I did. I thought about it a lot and realized that this could be a potential title for a song.
A little later, he told Ian Gillan about this, but in a conversation they came to the conclusion that such a phrase is more suitable for some kind of drug addict song, and therefore decided to refuse it. However, the idea of a song describing that fire did not leave them, and over time they realized that Smoke on the Water would be the best name for it.
The lyrics of the song not only talk about the sad incident, but also generally describe the band’s stay in Switzerland. Almost every line is based on real events and their participants. For example, “Cool Claude” is the head of the jazz festival in Montreux, who helped to get people out of the burning hall.
The same guitar riff Ritchie Blackmore composed during improvisations, which he often arranged with drummer Ian Paice. It is widely speculated that he borrowed it from the song Marie Moite by the Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, recorded in 1966.
Release and achievements
The members of Deep Purple did not believe in the success of Smoke on the Water and did not release it as a single until the release of Machine Head (early 1972), on which it was included. But a year later, the single was still released and performed well on the charts in different countries.
Check out the music video for Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple.
Over time, Smoke on the Water has become the most recognizable composition of Deep Purple, which Rolling Stone magazine placed on the 434th line of the list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
In an interview with Metal Hammer, Roger Glover described her as follows:
I think Smoke on the Water is the most important song Purple has ever had. It is constantly required to be performed, and this is not the best song for live concerts. It’s a good song, but it’s a bit tiresome to play. The excitement comes from the audience.
It is difficult to list all the cover versions of Smoke on the Water, because many bands and performers covered it. Among them are Iron Maiden, Sepultura, Bon Jovi, Carlos Santana and others.
- Once, on television, Ricci Blackmore joked that the famous riff from the song was the introduction of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony played backwards, adding that he owed the composer a lot of money.
- On the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreux, a statue was erected with the name of the band and song, as well as the notes of the guitar riff.
- In 2008, a survey was conducted among students of music schools in London to identify the most famous guitar riff. The first place was taken by the melody from Smoke on the Water.
- In 2010, while performing near Samara as part of the Rock Over the Volga festival, Deep Purple performed the song, changing the words of the chorus to “Smoke on the Volga”.
Lyrics Smoke on the Water
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 & the Mothers were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground
smoke on the water
A fire in the sky
smoke on the water
They burned down the gambling house – It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out, pulling kids out of the ground
When it all was over, we had to find another place
Swiss time was running out – It seemed that we would lose the race
We ended up at the Grand Hotel – It was empty, cold and bare
But with the Rolling Truck Stones Thing just outside making our music there
With a few red lights an’ a few old beds, we made a place to sweat
No matter what we get out of this, I know… I know we’ll never forget
Translation of the song Smoke on the Water
We all came to Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva,
To record songs on a mobile studio. We had little time
Frank Zappa & the Mothers played in the best room
But some jerk with a flare gun burned the hall to the ground
Smoke on the water.
fire in the sky
Smoke on the water
They burned down the gambling house. It collapsed with a terrible crash
Cool Claude was running back and forth, pulling people out of the hall
When it was over we had to look for another place
Our time in Switzerland was coming to an end. It seemed like we couldn’t do anything.
Finally we ended up at the Grand Hotel. It was empty and cold.
But by launching The Rolling Stones mobile studio to play music,
Turning on a few red lights and installing a couple of old beds, we set up a place to work in the sweat of our brows.
It doesn’t matter how we got off the ground, I know… I know we’ll never forget it
… since then, I have always listened to my random thoughts.