How Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’ ‘almost got left off the album’

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Deep Purple has become inextricably linked to the song “Smoke on the Water” since the song was inspired by a December 4, 1971 blaze. To think, the track almost didn’t make the final running order for the band’s subsequent album, 1972’s Machine Head.

“Certainly, we didn’t see it coming,” Deep Purple’s Roger Glover later rememebered. “In fact, it almost got left off the album. We thought it was just a mid-tempo, boring song. It wasn’t a story about love or anything, it was just a story about something that happened to us. But I think that’s the mystery of it.”

“Smoke on the Water” details a 1971 incident in which a fire swept through the Montreux Casino during a Frank Zappa concert, destroying the entire complex and forcing Deep Purple to move its nearby recording studio elsewhere to finish Machine Head. Glover came up with the song’s memorable title, based on the image of smoke rolling across Lake Geneva during the incident.

Somehow, though, despite the track’s many direct references to that December day, not everyone has been able to follow the narrative of “Smoke on the Water,” Roger Glover admits. Once, a radio DJ asked him if it was true that Deep Purple had “set fire to an island.”

“The lyrics are so real, and conversational — there’s no exaggeration,” Glover says, laughing. “It’s exactly what happened. So, how people can see different things into it, I don’t know.”

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