Released : 1973
One way or the other, Smoke On The Water’s instantly hummable main riff must’ve started or ended the careers of a million aspiring guitar players. So simple a novice could pick it out (probably), it continues to the rock equivalent of The Entertainer: and if you couldn’t master that either after three lessons your talent wasn’t getting you anywhere beyond a life stacking shelves in the local Co-Op.
Doubtless inspired by The Sweet turning a mini riot at a gig into Ballroom Blitz, Deep Purple created Smoke On The Water out of real life events too. In Montreux to record what would become their sixth album Machine Head, they were preparing to use the Rolling Stones mobile studio when somebody at a Frank Zappa gig in the same complex shot off a flare gun and the whole place burned down. The water in question was Lake Geneva, and the ‘Funky Claude’ was Claude Nobs, who kept himself busy leading people to safety from the blaze.
Not released as a single until 1973 and written two years prior to that, Smoke On The Water felt like it belonged in the previous decade, a highly potent mixture of blues rock and psychedelia with Blackmore’s chops and Jon Lord’s Hammond organ made for a trip which might’ve begun during the Summer of Love. Once heard, never forgotten, you’ve either got it or you haven’t, and for many this song would be the reason why.