Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Deep Purple - Machine Head

For those who don’t already know it, here’s the story of the making of Machine Head:  Deep Purple didn’t like recording studios.  They would rather record anywhere but a recording studio.  Other bands didn’t like them much either.  Led Zeppelin was famous for recording much of their untitled fourth album and most of Physical Graffiti with a mobile studio at a house called Headley Grange.  The Rolling Stones built a mobile recording studio so they could record at Mick Jagger’s house, Stargroves.  They used it to record the bulk of Sticky Fingers in 1970 and Exile on Main Street in 1972.  The Who used the Mobile to record Won’t Get Fooled Again for Who’s Next.  So recording an album anywhere but a proper studio in London was become less and less of an unusual thing.  DP had played in the Casino in Montreux, Switzerland in in spring 1971.  It was a regular stop on the European touring circuit.  It was the home of the Montreux Jazz Festival.  Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd had also performed there.  They liked the place and decided to record there if they had the chance.  DP went to Montreux to record a new album, and took the Rolling Stones Mobile with them.   
When they arrived in Montreux in December 1971, they were greeted with gift baskets from Claude Nobs, the founder and director of the Montreux Jazz Festival.  Included in the gift baskets were tickets to see a matinee show of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.  Since FZ was playing the Casino, DP decided not to unload their equipment until after FZ was gone [a most fortuitous decision].  During the FZ show, somebody shot a flare gun from behind where Ian Gillan was sitting.  The flare got stuck in the wooden trunking above the stage and caught the building on fire.  I was listening to a bootleg of the FZ show last night, and you can hear FZ directing people to calmly head for the exits on the sides of the building.  In a matter of a few minutes the Casino turned into an inferno.  While people were evacuating the building Nobs knew of some places where people might hide to get away from the flames.  He kept going into the building and pulling people out of these hidden places.  As the smoke rose from the Casino, drafts from the nearby Swiss Alps pushed the smoke out over Lake Geneva, hence the title Smoke on the Water.

The Mobile Studio

With the Casino in ruins, the band had no place to record.  Claude Nobs found them a place called Le Pavilion, located in the center of Montreux.  They recorded one song there [called 'Title #1'] before they got complaints about the noise from the townspeople of Montreux.  Their roadies held off the police just long enough for them to finish 'THE take.'  Claude Nobs found them a more suitable, more isolated location to record.  The location was the Grand Hotel. It was a hotel that was closed for the season.   Jon Lord described it as a very forbidding place, a Victorian-era pile.  They found an alcove at the end of a corridor off the main lobby to record in.  It was a "T" shaped alcove, so that's where they stuck Ian Paice's drum kit.  The rest of the band recorded in the corridor.  They parked the Rolling Stones Mobile studio outside the front door, so it took some gymnastics to get from the recording area to the Mobile to hear any playbacks.  Maybe it was because of this set-up that the band usually nailed a song in only one or two takes.

Le Pavilion

The Grand Hotel

The songs:
Highway Star - This was the only song the band had written and performed before they went to Switzerland to record Machine Head.  During a fall tour of the UK in 1971, Deep Purple and some members of the music press were taking a bus to a gig in Portsmouth.  On this trip, they asked "how do you write a song?"  Ritchie Blackmore said 'like this,' picked up a guitar and started playing a one-note rhythm part.  Ian Gillan started to ad-lib a vocal about being on the road in a rock and roll band. A song was born.  When they got to Portsmouth Guild Hall, the rest of the band worked out the song during the soundcheck, and Highway Star was in the set that night. Roger Glover said that about the only things he contributed to Highway Star were the title [he was the band's 'title' man] and a few words.  It's mostly Ian Gillan's lyrics. Ritchie did most of the music.  Jon Lord came up with the chords over which he played his solo. He called it a quasi-Bach chord sequence.  He showed these chords on the Classic Albums episode for Machine Head.  Some and members didn’t think it would work, but Ritchie thought it would, and would be proven to be right.  As for Ritchie, he usually made up his solos of the cuff, but for Highway Star he worked one out ahead of time and committed it to memory.  Ritchie once confirmed the chord sequence was, like Jon Lord’s part, inspired by Bach.  His solo is probably his best in Deep Purple.  Roger Glover called Highway Star the quintessential Deep Purple song.

Maybe I'm a Leo - This song originated from a Roger Glover riff.  On the Classic Albums series, he said he got the idea for the riff after hearing John Lennon’s song How Do You Sleep [from Imagine].  He liked the idea that the riff didn’t start on the down beat.  Gov’t Mule covered this song on their The Deep End, Volume 1 CD.  It was one of Allen Woody’s favorite songs so Warren Haynes decided to cover it.  As a bonus, Roger Glover played on their version.

Pictures of Home - This is Ian Gillan being homesick, singing about 'emptiness, eagles and snow' [though there weren't any eagles].  Jon Lord said he thought Ritchie got the idea for the song from a short wave radio that he kept hidden in his hat [he used to wear pilgrim hats back then - see below].  Ritchie did hear the riff from either Bulgaria or Turkey on his short wave radio. The revelation on this song was Ian Paice’s drumming.   Included besides the Blackmore/Lord interplay, Roger Glover played a brief bass solo.  On the deluxe version of Machine Head, Roger Glover [who remixed the album for the deluxe release] opted to let the song progress to its conclusion rather than to fade it.  During that extended ending you can hear Ian Paice make up the drum bits on the fly.  Paicey demonstrated what a truly talented drummer he is.


Never Before – This song closes out Side One.  The band was very sure this would be a hit single.  Little did they know the next song on the album would be the big hit, not this one.  It’s a good song, but not a great one.  I’ve heard one live version – from the In Concert 1970-72 album of BBC shows.  They rarely played it live.  On their 2004 tour they played it because they were playing the entire Machine Head album for the tour.

Smoke on the Water – On the live Made in Japan album Ian Gillan introduced this song thusly - “This song is also from the last album.  It tells the story of how we recorded it and what went wrong when we did it.  It happened in Switzerland – the song is a thing called Smoke on the Water…  This was 'Title #1' that the band recorded at Le Pavilion.  Ritchie came up with the riff, one of the most simple, indestructible and unforgettable riffs in rock history.  It is such an insistent riff that when you hear it you can't get it out of your head.  People used to tease Ritchie about the riff's simplicity, but his comeback to that was always 'what about Beethoven's Fifth?'  Then his teasers would shut up.  As for the riff itself, don't strum it - pluck it.  Roger came up with the title in a dream.  The words are mostly Gillan's.  He tells the entire story of the recording of Machine Head all in one song.  On the deluxe version of Machine Head, as the song is ending you can hear Gillan say "ah, break a leg, Frank..."  The show Frank Zappa did after the disaster in Montreux was at London's Rainbow Theatre.  For some reason, a member of the audience who was jealous of FZ, was jealous of him, leaped on stage and pushed him into the orchestra pit.  He broke his leg, his pelvis and fractured his larynx.   This incident nearly killed him.   It was not a good week for FZ.  Of note, the fire in Montreux and the assault on him in London happened during the same song [King Kong].

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

They burned down the gamblin' house,
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…

Lazy – Deep Purple plays the blues with a long introduction from Jon Lord.  Ritchie’s riff sounds like Steppin’ Out, an old blues song Cream used to play in concert.  The guitar/organ back and forth went on for over four minutes until Gillan started to sing.  He didn’t sing much – he didn’t have to because the soloists were driving the song.  In concert, Jon Lord’s long intro got even longer.  His Hammond would be so overdriven and distorted it sounded like a spaceship about to land.

Space Truckin' - Ian Gillan thought it might be cool to combine the ideas of rock and roll and space travel in one song.  He was inspired somewhat by the old "Keep on Truckin'" cartoon from the early '70s.  Gillan demonstrates why he was one of the greatest hard rock singers of his generation.  He could do a scream and sing at the same time, and you could understand him when he did it.  My son and I still don’t know how he did that without losing his voice for a week.  [Note:  he’s 67 now and can’t do it like that anymore…]  Ian Paice got to show off for about 30 seconds before the whole band comes back full throttle with Gillan screaming at the top of his lungs.  In concert, this 4 and a half minute song stretched out to over twenty minutes.  They added the instrumental part from Mandrake Root onto the end of Space Truckin’, where both Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore would solo their brains out.  I saw them do this in ’85 – most excellent!

When a Blind Man Cries – This is the song that didn’t make Machine Head.  It ended up as the B-side of the single Never Before.  It’s a ballad that Ritchie didn’t like.  They never played it live when he was around.  I don’t know why he didn’t like it because his playing is very emotional, like any good blues player.  Someone else must have written it.  Immediately after Ritchie left the band for the final time in 1993, this song has been a staple of the band’s setlists.

DP recorded Machine Head in two weeks in December 1971.  They just went in, wrote the songs on the spot, banged them out, and they were done.  That kind of efficiency is unheard of these days.  It cost them £8,000 to make the album, £5,000 of which was rent for the Mobile.  Machine Head ended up becoming a good chunk of DP’s setlist until this particular line-up [Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, & Paice] broke up in June 1973.  A live document of the tour that supported Machine Head was released as Made In Japan [December 1972 – UK, April 1973 – US].

DP had been on the constant album/tour/album/tour treadmill since these five guys came together in 1969.  The cracks were starting to appear, and you can find them in Ian Gillan’s lyrics.

Here in this prison
Of my own making
Year after day I have grown
Into a hero
But there's no worship
Where have they hidden my thrown...
Pictures of Home

Had a friend once in a room
Had a good time but it ended much too soon
In a cold month in that room
We found a reason for the things we had to do… When a Blind Man Cries

This is foreshadowing of the problems that led to this line-up disintegrating.  The problems apparently began during the making of Fireball.  Blackmore wanted to continue in the heavy rock direction of Deep Purple In Rock, while Gillan wanted to experiment, be more “progressive” [whatever that means].  Blackmore and Gillan didn’t see eye-to-eye, and the overwork from constant touring didn’t help.  The DP Mark II lineup wouldn’t last long after Machine Head.

Machine Head is a very good album.  With Highway Star, Lazy, Space Truckin’ and Smoke on the Water, it’s a bonafide classic.  If you’re a serious hard rock fan, you need a copy.  Absolutely essential.

As a postscript, I read that Claude Nobs died at age 76 last week from injuries he sustained in a Nordic skiing accident.  It is not an understatement to say that were it not for him, Machine Head wouldn’t have been made.  Rock in peace, Funky Claude.

Claude Nobs
February 4, 1936 – January 10, 2013

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