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Monday, April 25, 2011

Deep Purple: "Fire In The Sky"; The Story of "Smoke on the Water"

A stream of research material telling the story and development of arguably the most famous rock song of all time. Beginning with the first sessions, the book ranges far and wide across all aspects of the way the song has been handled and treated over the years, right up to the inclusion of the riff on electric play-along kids guitars today. It also detours along many different avenues in a way which is a little hard to describe, but hopefully readers will find both informative and entertaining.

"Smoke On The Water", a rock song so ubiquitous that even people whose knowledge of ‘heavy metal’ music would fit onto the back of a packet of acoustic guitar strings can find themselves humming the riff.

These days Deep Purple’s best know composition is such a well-known rock ‘anthem’ that it almost seems as if it has been out there forever. Yet the story of how this most famous of metal tracks came into being is shot-through with chance events, any one of which could have seen the recording stifled at birth, leaving the hard rock music scene scrabbling about for another ‘best riff of all time” contender (and five hard-working musicians considerably less well-off).

Incredibly, while the song’s backing track was the first music laid down for the legendary "Machine Head" album, in the ensuing chaos of being evicted from their temporary studio and washing up in the corridors of the Grand Hotel, the tape was almost forgotten – until an engineer pointed out that they were indeed one track short of an album… Even after the legendary Geneva session was finished, "Smoke On The Water" might never have been played live at all were it not for a request from the BBC for a radio session.

And then the band’s American label decided to try a third time to get a single from the album away. The London office sent them an edit of "Smoke On The Water" and wondered if it might do the trick. It went on to sell 12 million copies.

This forthcoming book charts the events which led to the group to record the song in an empty Montreux hotel corridor in the winter of 1971, and follows the song through the different incarnations of the band and the solo groups which emerged from the wreckage of Deep Purple in 1976. New facts are uncovered and some myths laid to rest, while the writing takes us off on any number of interesting diversions, aided by the author’s close involvement in the band’s archive reissue programme over the last twenty years.

So expect a sideways look at the British Truck industry as we ponder the sad demise of the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio; marvel at early format wars ("Smoke On The water" in Quadraphonic anyone?); botched album sleeves; backstage rows over whether to play the song for an encore or not; pantomime horses; impossibly rare singles; religious finger puppets and orchestral cover versions: "Smoke On The Water" is the thread which links them all. And in these times of economic hardship, isn’t it inspiring to know that punitive tax rates were responsible for the band being exiled to Montreux in the first place?

Deep Purple’s recording session in Montreux was organised by the founder of the annual Jazz Festival, Claude Nobs. Claude – who is name checked in the lyrics to the song – has agreed to answer questions for the book to add eye-witness details about the events. The book in now scheduled for 2011 as part of celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the recording.

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