Enlightened Lyrics: Smoke on The Water




That (sort of) is the iconic introduction to this week’s Enlightened Lyrics’ subject of analysis. That’s right, Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. This 1972 song is off their 6th studio album, entitled “Machine Head”. Though it didn’t reach number one on any of the billboard charts, it’s still number one in out hearts as it has one of the most recognized introductions in rock music. Here’s an extra bit of trivia, Deep Purple was part of the “Unholy Trinity (of British hard rock)” alongside Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Just so if anyone ever asks you about British hard rock of the 1970’s you can be ready to answer 🙂

Alright then,”let’s do it” (the final words of murderer Gary Gilmore. Stick with me and you’ll learn a thing or two). The lyrics of “Smoke on the Water” aren’t as deep and meaningful as last week’s Enlightened Lyrics, but they’re meaningful enough to register on my lyrical meaning radar (that should be a thing, somebody tell Elon Musk to start working on that).

The first verse is as follows:

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 and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground

For you that aren’t interested in the geography of Europe, Montreux is a place in Switzerland on Lake Geneva. And that was where the band recorded the album “Machine Head”, coincidence? I think not (it’s not, trust me). The next line is “to make records with the mobile”, see? RECORDS, they were making records in Switzerland, like the song says they were going to. And the “mobile” refers to a mobile studio. This mobile studio was outside of the Montreux Casino, but couldn’t be used just like that. The band needed to unload everything within the mobile studio into the Casino, or wherever the would be, in order to record.

The next bit is about Frank Zappa and the Mothers, something tells me this section is about Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Hmm, what could be giving me that idea? For many of you, these words make no sense, and that is understandable. Frank Zappa was a musician who was very much into experimental music and music that tended to not fall into a certain genre. His band was called “The Mothers of Invention”, and they too are also fairly experimental. The bottom half of this verse refers to when The Mothers were performing at a venue which was subsequently burned down. It was burned down by a person in the audience, and what did they use? A flare gun.

They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground

Now, which is the venue that I speak of?  The first line answers that. The “gambling house” which Deep Purple refer to, is the Montreux Casino. And the venue in which the Mothers were in was the theatre of the casino. “Funky Claude”, this refers to Claude Nobs, who is the director of the Montreux Jazz Festival. Funky= Funk Music. Funk music had roots in jazz, Jazz Festival. Head of Montreux Jazz Festival = Claude Nobs. Claude Nobs had reportedly helped people from the audience escape the fire, but I’m not sure if they were children.

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, 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

After the fire, the group had a recording studio, but nowhere to record. So they had to look around and wound up in the Montreux Grand Hotel. The Montreux Grand Hotel referred to in the song as the “Grand Hotel”. The hotel was basically empty (empty, cold and bare), but because they had the mobile studio, which belonged to the Rolling Stones, they could record their music in the hotel.

“A few red lights” could refer to the “On Air” light that is illuminated when people are recording within the studio. The “old beds”could mean that the band had to set up a place to crash or refer’s to laying down tracks. Laying, beds, laying in beds. Huh? Huh? No. Because the rest of the song has been quite literal and there’s a lack of metaphors, why would the metaphors start half way through the last part of the song? The “place to sweat” adds onto making a place to stay (crash), as it may get quite warm recording 7 songs, several times over . The final lines refer to the event as a whole. Because of this whole ordeal, it seemed unlikely that the group was going to get any recording done, but whatever happened they’d remember it. I mean, if I witnessed an entire casino burn to the ground, I’d probably never forget either.

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

This chorus comes to us from the title of the song, which was dreamed up by a member of the band in response to watching the fire spread over Lake Geneva, thank goodness he did or else nothing good would’ve come from that one fateful day in Switzerland.

And that’s this week’s Enlightened Lyrics, next week’s will be a suggestion that was suggested recently. I won’t say what it is, but the song was released in 2005. That’s me done, Major Tom over and out.

Featured Image : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_on_the_Water




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