By Adam Waldman
On March 25, 1972, Deep Purple released their sixth studio album, Machine Head. This album – which features the classic Deep Purple lineup (aka “Mark II”) – made the band into a household name. Although there are only seven tracks on the album (which totals just over 35 minutes of music), four of the songs are among the band’s greatest hits. Each has stood the test of time 45 years later.
You don’t have to be a Deep Purple fan (or even a rock music fan for that matter) to be familiar with the band’s greatest hit, “Smoke On The Water.” The song features one of the most iconic riffs in the history of music. While most people identify with the riff, it’s the lyrics that make it a truly fascinating song, because it tells the story of the unusual events surrounding the recording of Machine Head. The challenges that the band faced during the recording process makes the end result even more impressive.
Machine Head was originally slated to be recorded in December of 1971 at the Montreux Casino in Switzerland, using a mobile recording studio owned by the Rolling Stones. The band performed at the casino in May of ’71, and chose to use it as a recording facility because of the location and their fondness for the owner, Claude Nobs (who is mentioned in the “Smoke On The Water”). Since the casino closed for refurbishments each winter, the band would have it all to themselves.
Most of the members of Deep Purple arrived at Montreux on December 3rd. The one exception being Ian Gillan (who contracted hepatitis, and was advised by doctors to spend a few months recuperating). The rest of the band (Ritchie Blackmore, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice) was going to start the recording process after one last concert on December 4th (Frank Zappa).
During Frank Zappa’s concert, an irresponsible member of the audience fired a flare gun into the building’s roof. No one was injured, but the fire destroyed Deep Purple’s recording plans. Nobs set the band up in a nearby theater called the Pavilion. The band recorded basic tracks for a song that was referred to simply as “Title No. 1.”
Sometimes greatness comes from toiling away, and sometimes it comes in unexpected ways. Roger Glover woke up one morning and spoke the words… “Smoke On The Water.” Eventually, Ian Gillan took the title and wrote the story of the band’s experience in Montreux. The rest, as they say, is history. It’s hard to believe that, if not for a disaster caused by carelessness, the world may never have known one of the most iconic songs in rock history.
The Pavilion turned out to be a problematic location for recording, as local residents flooded the local police station with noise complaints. Eventually, the band ended up at the Grand Hotel, an empty building on the edge of Montreux. This location was far from ideal though. The recording van was parked at the main entrance to the hotel, but because of all of the equipment and mattresses being used for sound proofing, it was difficult to access the van. Rather than go through the ordeal of getting back to the van to listen to playbacks, the band decided instead to just perform each song until they were satisfied with what they had done.
With only seven tracks, you would think that nothing would have been left off of the album, but there was a track called “When A Blind Man Cries” that was only featured on the B-side of the single for “Never Before.” While it doesn’t appear on the original version of Machine Head, it is featured as a bonus track on the 25th Anniversary edition of the album.
Machine Head hit #1 on the UK charts within a week of its release. In the U.S., it reached as high as #7 on the Billboard 200 chart, and remained on the chart for over two years. In addition to “Smoke On The Water,” the other classic songs on Machine Head are “Highway Star,” “Lazy” and “Space Truckin’.” This may sound insignificant in today’s times, but it’s interesting to note that “Smoke On The Water” appears on side 2 of the record.
On the heels of the success of Machine Head, the classic lineup of Deep Purple would release one more album (Who Do We Think We Are) before Gillan and Glover’s departure. This lineup wouldn’t appear together again until a reunion for their 1984 release, Perfect Strangers.
There have been numerous releases from the various incarnations of Deep Purple, but none quite as memorable or impactful as Machine Head.
Check out “When A Blind Man Cries” below…