More people search this site looking for information on Smoke On The Water than any other single aspect of Deep Purple's history; this special page on the Deep Purple Appreciation Society website will cover all aspects of this amazingly popular rock anthem...
Smoke On The Water - the story
Smoke On The Water was written and recorded during sessions for Deep Purple's seminal rock album Machine Head in Montreux, Switzerland in December 1971. Deep Purple were watching a Frank Zappa matinee concert in the Montreux Casino concert hall when a flare gun was discharged into the ceiling and started a fire which quickly engulfed and destroyed the venue. The band's roadies saved Deep Purple's gear, parked outside the hall where they were going to start recording their new album the next day. The group escaped with everyone else, and watched the hall burn down. As the smoke drifted across the lake nearby, the sight inspired Roger Glover to jot down the song title Smoke On The Water.
The group set up the Rolling Stones Mobile and began recording in another hall, and the first backing track they laid down was the Smoke On The Water riff, before police closed down the session after neighbours complained about the volume. Ritchie Blackmore had come to the sessions with a few ideas in his head, and the famous Smoke riff was the first one he suggested that they jam with.Finally Deep Purple hired the nearby empty Grand Hotel and recorded the rest of the album in a cordoned off area of the corridors with mattresses to deaden the noise. Ian Gillan who wrote the lyrics about their experiences over the Smoke On The water backing track.
Deep Purple performed several tracks from the album live, some before they were recorded, but Smoke On The Water was the last track to be added to their concert set in mid-1972. It was first played live for a small audience at the BBC on March 6th 1972, when the group recorded a special show for the radio to promote the new album. Smoke On The Water was too long for a single and the group were sure another album track, Never Before, would be a hit. It didn't sell as well as they hoped.
Smoke On The Water was then recorded for a live album, Made In Japan, in August 1972. A massive album hit in Europe, their American label Warners didn't want to release this at first. Then they had the idea to issue an edited single of Smoke On The Water. Radio stations in America picked up on this and it was a huge American hit in early 1973. It was also issued in Japan and most other countries (see the Japanese sleeves here) but incredibly the single was not issued in Britain until after the group had split.
Smoke On The Water stayed in their live set even after Ian Gillan left the group in 1973 and was sung by David Coverdale. In 1975 guitarist Ritchie Blackmore left, but the riff was taken over by Tommy Bolin. Deep Purple split in 1976 but Smoke On The Water was now a firm favourite with audiences, and when the musicians formed their own groups they all played the song live. Ian Gillan was first with his group The Ian Gillan Band. Blackmore followed soon after with Rainbow. Even David Coverdale has included it in his Whitesnake shows on a few occasions.
Deep Purple reformed in 1984 and Smoke On The Water was one of the old tracks they had to perform. Their reunion tour helped them become the biggest grossing live act in America in 1985. It was claimed not long afterwards that Smoke On The Water was the second best known song in America after their national anthem.
The tracks has been included in just about every show they've played since 1984, and we estimate the group have performed it live over 3,000 times.
Smoke On The Water was included on the band's Machine Head album. You can read details of the album here, as well as the recommended remastered compact disc edition with a superb remastered version of the track by bassist Roger Glover. You can purchase the CD at the Deep Purple online store. (For more information on the history of Deep Purple 1968-76 see our Deep Purple family tree).
The first ever live performance of the track is released now as In Concert 1970/72. You can read the discography here. You can buy the CD at the Deep Purple online store. A number of archive CDs exist with live versions of the track. See our illustrated discography page for more details.
Only three clips of the group performing Smoke On The Water live in the seventies are known to exist, including only one by the Mk2 line-up. Ian Gillan performed the song with the group on American TV in 1973 and this is now on the DVD 'Live In Concert 72/73' (see clip opposite). David Coverdale fronted the band when they played Smoke On The Water for over 100,000 fans at the California Jam, which is also out on DVD 'Live In California 74'. Finally Tommy Bolin played the track during the group's tour of Japan in 1975 and this will be out on the third Archive Collection DVD very soon. You can buy these DVDs here. Clips of Tommy Bolin version, and a new Smoke On The Water montage (put together by Sony in Japan) are available to watch in our video jukebox.
Smoke On The Water - The Biography
A new book telling the story of Smoke On The Water in detail is due for publication in 2009. This book covers the recording sessions and venues in great detail, as well as the way the song developed and grew in importance. The social history of how the song came to be so popular, and the importance of the track to rock fans worldwide is studied. Producer Martin Birch and the many other people involved, as well as The Stones Mobile, are documented.
The book looks at the many cover versions, both serious and less so. It also sees how the song has become part of the national culture, name checked in news and dramas, as well as comedy shows and even The Simpsons. British Prime Ministers try to play it and staff at musical instrument stores have banned it.
The many different versions of the song the group and musicians have been involved with over the years are detailed, as well as archive releases on CD worldwide. The book takes the story right up to date, with the world record attempts by guitarists to play the riff en masse, and new guitarist Steve Morse's reinterpretation of the track on stage.
The Swiss have even invented a Smoke On The Water salad - check out our Grollywood page for details!
Song To Soul
In April 2009 a Japanese TV station aired a new series of Song To Soul, which looks at the personal stories behind a famous rock track. Smoke On the Water was covered in an hour long show, and included interviews with Jon Lord and others, as well as writers including Simon Robinson, in his capacity of the author of the new book.
Can you help?
The authors would welcome any stories relating to the track which you may know about. We hear a lot from the band, but what about the fans who made this song the monster it was. When did you first hear the song and what does it mean to you? Does it deserve the reputation it now has? Do you know the mystery person at Warners who suggested issuing it as a single? E-mail us with your thoughts.
Smoke On The Water has now been covered dozens of times in all styles of music, from orchestral to jazz, from folk to speed metal. We will be building a collection of clips for you to listen to over the months. We will also shortly start to list all the cover versions which have come to light so far.
Ritchie Blackmore explains the riff
It sounds simple, but many people play the Smoke On The Water riff wrongly! Here's a video clip of Blackmore explaining how to do it correctly.
Smoke On The Water lyrics
Smoke On The Water lyrics are vailable in the Machine Head section of our Deep Purple lyrics page.
Smoke On The Water covers
Who were the first group (outside the immediate band members of course) to cover Smoke On The Water on record? It's a question which has arisen as Simon draws towards the end of his mammoth book on the song (147,000 words and counting!).
"My delving seemed to suggest that the first band to cut a version were Forcefield, sometime in 1986. Forcefield had quite a pedigree, being a sort of studio group with Cozy Powell on drums, Neil Murray on bass and Ray Fenwick on guitar. Although their first album came out on the cheapo President label, they actually had quite a big deal in Japan, and we've logged their albums in Darker Than Blue (the less of a household name Peter Prescott did vocals). However the other day I found an album in a charity store called Hooked On Rock, which came out in 1985, and sees a bunch of South African session musicians called Iron Fist belt through twenty five rock classics per side, all linked together disco medley style! And they kick of with Smoke On The Waaarder (sic). So for the moment they're the first, unless any of you can tell us otherwise!"
Sounds like a challenge to me, either that or a sneaky way for Simon to get a bit of free research (though to be fair the book is crediting everyone who helps).
"Hi Simon…you asked the question” what was the first cover of “Smoke on the Water?” I think it could have been a rather derogatory version called “Dopes on the Water” by a Canadian called Nash the Slash…this version was released by Virgin Records around 1981." Jeff Summers.
Thanks Jeff. It was indeed, on 'Children Of The Night', produced by Steve Hillage: "When we get out of here we'll make sure you never forget - Dopes On The Water' etc.
"Weird Al Yankovic has a song called 'Polkas On 45' from 1984. It contains lyrics from 'Smoke On the Water'. He actually played it live in 1983 before he put it to record. A great song, you can find more info on it from Wikipedia. Sayonara, Jeff Breis"
And the winner is?....
Amazingly we have pushed the search back to 1972 in just a few days, thanks to Tomasz Szmajter, who tells us a local Polish rock group called Test made a self- titled (and only) album that year. It didn't contain their recording of Smoke On The Water, but when the album was reissued on CD in 1992 they added this old cover as a bonus track.
Tomasz says the vocals are not great but instrumentally it's quite authentic. Apparently the group also used to play Child In Time on stage which almost got them banned from playing in Russia due to the hysteria it caused in some crowds.
I doubt anyone can beat this, so we'd better just see if anybody else can come up with other early recorded covers of the song.
Pax - a Peruvian contender....
Another contender is a Peruvian group called Pax, who released an early South American hard rock album called (deep breath): May God And Your Will Land You And Your Soul Miles Away From Evil.
This has been issued on CD recently and was spotted by Harrie Hendriksen.
The group did a lot of covers and the CD has seven bonus tracks, including Smoke On The Water.
These tracks seem to date from around 1973 but the details are sketchy.
Harrie Hendriksen has contributed his fascinating list of cover versions of Smoke On The Water to the forthcoming book. There are over 260 which he has logged, and that's before we even start on those by the band or associates. The Bare Naked Ladies, The Godless Wicked Creeps, Jesper & Jesper, Bloody Stew, Mr. Bellybottom & His Sideburns and Shake's Beer are just some of the band's who have been unable to resist the urge!
Harrie has threatened to send me a disc full of MP3s but I'm not sure if I dare to accept his kind offer.
new April 15th 2010
Carlos Santana is covering Deep Purple's 'Smoke On The Water' alongside a slew of other rock classics on an as yet untitled new album due out this summer, according to a report in Billboard. "We're not comparing or competing with those artists - we're complementing them," Santana says. "But when you hear this, you're gonna do 'Damn!' because it sounds so powerful, with vitality and vibrancy."
Thanks to Nigel Young for the info.