England - Full Moon 190 - 03/08/12
From head to heart
Deep Purple's Machine Head
Following our retroscope series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers'
corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart.
Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth the Lunar spotlight revisits another 40 year old platter. It was recorded in Montreux, Switzerland, as told in the lyrics of the song kick-started by one of the most iconic riffs of rock. The quintet (who btw took their name after a 1933 song being the favourite of the guitar player's
grandmother!) were on top with this - their 6th album. It's the creative peak of the classic DP Mk II line-up, who were a smashing success from the start; with first album, DP in Rock (1970), followed by a Fireball (1971), and then came...
A monster? The definitive Deep Purple studio album? The grandfather of heavy metal? Well, I'm not sure, but here is another album pushing the middle ages, celebrating 40 years this month. Come on, come on, come on, let's go space truckin'!
One sure thing is the unique circumstances the album was recorded under. The band wrote a song about it..: They burned down the gamblin' house,
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
Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky, smoke on the water
It died with an awful sound
and Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground
When it all was over
We had to find another place
But Swiss time was running out
It seemed that we would lose the race
Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky, smoke on the water 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 and a few old beds
We make a place to sweat
No matter what we get out of this
I know, I know we'll never forget
Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky, smoke on the water
Well, they really got something out of it. For instance the song that include the most famous guitar riff in the history of rock'n'roll and also the band's most successful album. Not a studio album as such. The plan was to record it at The Casino in Montreux, Switzerland with the Rolling Stones' mobile studio.
Frank Zappa and his Mothers
(the line-up that included the infamous Flo and Eddie from The Turtles, known as Phlorescent Leech and Eddie at the time) were playing the Casino the evening before the preparation of the recordings was to start. Some guy in the audience fired a flare after about an hour into the concert. The roof caught fire and the casino burnt down.
The big black smoke drifted out over Lake Geneva...
With the help from Funky Claude Nobs who ran The Casino, they found a replacement quite soon, a theatre called The Pavilion. But they only got to record one complete take of the basic tracks of a song, provisionally called "Title No. 1", later renamed "Smoke On The Water", before police was at the door after complaints from the neighbours.
Deep Purple was a real rock band and recorded aloud during the night, of course. Eventually they found the Grand Hotel a few kilometres outside the city centre that was closed for the winter. The album was recorded in the hotel corridor in less than two weeks and finished just in time for Christmas 1971.
Listening to the album again today, it seems the majority of the seven songs of the album are written using a similar formula: starting with a catchy guitar and/or organ riff, followed by a few verses and choruses, a guitar or keyboard (organ or electric piano) solo, preferably both after each other, before a final verse and maybe another solo. This goes for "Maybe I'm A Leo", "Pictures Of Home", "Smoke On The Water" and "Space Truckin'". "Highway Star" and "Never Before" needs more time to build up before they and the band really kick in. The format is blues-based hard rock. Well, at least it sounded very hard at the time. The tempo is about the same on all tracks, apart from a short slower part of "Never Before" and the start of "Lazy". The latter is the most overt blues rendition of the lot and also stands out because of the formula, starting with some blistering guitar and Hammond solos. It also shows Ian Gillan as a competent harmonica player and the strength, variety and range of his voice at the time. The sole ballad recorded at the Grand Hotel, "When A Blind Man Cries", was omitted and only made it to the flipside of the single "Never Before", that flopped. Pity as it's one of the greatest calm songs of the Purple songbook, up there with "Child In Time". Returning to solos, there's even a short bass solo and one of those tedious 1970s drum solos included, thrown in for good measure. The latter luckily lasts less than 30 seconds before the guitar joins in.
The songs of the album works fine except "Smoke On The Water" and "Never Before". They sound a bit stiff and immature - not least the guitar solos - and turned a lot better later on after the band had played them live for some time.
The others sound great, especially the first and last tracks of the LP, "Highway Star" and "Space Truckin'". They're harder than "Smoke On The Water", seem more well rehearsed and developed. "Highway Star" was written and played live along with my third favourite, "Lazy", on the preceding Fireball tour. The story goes that "Highway Star" was written on the day of the first gig of the tour. The management had invited the press to come along in the band bus to Portsmouth. Here's what Ian Gillan recalls (taken from the booklet of the 25 year anniversary edition of Machine Head):
A journalist on the bus asked Richie how he wrote songs. Caught in a playful mood, Richie picked up his guitar and said 'like this'... and he started a rhythm and I came in and ad-libbed words like 'We're on the road, we're on the road, we're a rock'n'roll band...'. The band finished the song during the soundcheck later in the afternoon and performed it live for the first time that very evening. Way to go lads! The guitar solo of the song is one of Blackmore's greatest, a true Nirvana for male teenage rock guitar admirers at the time. And we didn't even know it was inspired by Bach (yes, the one and only Johann
Sebastian!) And Jon Lord's Hammond organ spits sparks.
Machine Head went straight to no. 1 in the UK after its release. It went to no. 7 in the US of A and stayed in the American charts for two years. For a little while Deep Purple was up there with Led Zep...Well, it's only blues-based classic rock'n'roll, but I still like it!
Copyright © 2012 JP