29 August, 2012

Smoke on the Water

Much to my family's dismay, I've become a bit obsessed with the show Classic Albums. It's a show where they break down the making of some of the more notable albums in the history of popular music. My family is less interested. I like the way they break down the songs and will play individual parts like a guitar solo, a bass line that maybe was buried in the original mix or shut off all the instruments and just show the vocal harmonies (Queen and, believe it or not, Def Leppard were especially impressive in the harmony department). You get a glimpse of the recording process and you get to hear the song in a way that you may not have heard it before.

Today I watched one on the making of Deep Purple's Machine Head. I admit, I'm not a huge Deep Purple fan and don't really know much of their music. However, Smoke on the Water is one of the most memorable, instantly recognizable and famous guitar riffs ever. To be completely honest, after the guitar riff, I never really paid much attention to it. The thing is, as I was watching the show, I found out that the story behind the song is actually quite interesting.

Here's what it says about it on Wikipedia:

'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.[7][8] 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. 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 theater called The Pavilion, but soon after the band had loaded in and started working/recording, the nearby neighbors took offense 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 entirely in the Grand Hotel was "Smoke on the Water" itself, which had been partly 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.

On the Classic Albums series episode about Machine Head, Ritchie Blackmore claimed that friends of the band were not a fan of the classic Smoke on the Water riff, because they thought it was too simplistic. Blackmore retaliated by making comparisons to Beethoven's 5th Symphony's First Movement, which revolves around a similar four note arrangement—and is arguably the most famous piece of music in the world.'

They also said on the show that they were recording a take of the song when the police showed up and knocked on the door. They managed to hold the police off until they finished the take and that take is the one that actually ended up on the album. Pretty interesting.

24 August, 2012

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23 August, 2012