Today in 1971: Frank Zappa Inspires Deep Purple’s Signature Hit

Wednesday, December 4, 2019
This Day in Music

48 years ago today, an unfortunate event took place in Switzerland that led one band to lose all of their equipment while leading another band to compose a tune that, in addition to being their signature song, is also one of the great rock anthems of all time.

On December 4, 1971, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were set to play a gig in the theater of the Montreux Casino, in Montreux, Switzerland, while Deep Purple were in a mobile recording studio – one they’d rented from the Rolling Stones, as it happens – elsewhere within the casino complex. The way the story goes, someone in Zappa’s audience made the highly questionable decision to fire a flare gun into the air inside the freaking theater, causing the highly-flammable ceiling to do what highly-flammable things do when they’re exposed to flares. In short order, the entire casino complex had gone up in flames, destroying the whole place and everything within it.

Thankfully, Zappa and the Mothers escaped, while the members of Deep Purple were actually at their hotel, watching the fire and seeing the resulting smoke as it floated across Lake Geneva.

Are you following this? There was smoke, there was water… Okay, we didn’t really think we had to spell it out for you, but we just wanted to make sure.

Anyway, the resulting song first turned up on the band’s 1972 album, Machine Head, and when it was released as a single in ’73, it made it to #21 in the UK and #4 in the US. Perhaps more importantly, though, the song also made it to #4 on Total Guitar’s Top 20 Greatest Guitar Riffs Ever. It’s also been played by just about any rock fan who’s ever picked up a guitar, which isn’t bad for something Ritchie Blackmore readily admits that he came up with on the spur of the moment.

As simple as it sounds, though, Blackmore is quick to observe that it’s often played improperly by amateurs. “It’s actually picked, the two notes,” said Blackmore, in a video interview. “I don’t think it would’ve had the same effect if it had (been strummed). It needed that big sound.”