Unifying America through a Single Riff!
Less than 24 hours ago, I found myself lying in a room with three women, none of which I knew. It’s Election Day, so what better day to get F . . . . well, you know.
The sign on the door said #2, the music blasting through the speakers was Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. It’s riff being one of the first every new aspiring guitar player learns. Some even convince themself this makes them a guitar player, and they dare to continue at it for years, not that I know anyone like that. Most people know the sound of the song. Yet, few know how close the song came to never exist.
Ian Gillan Deep Purple
Singer and lyricist for Deep Purple, Ian Gillan, was faced with two roads diverging in popular music’s lexicon. In 1969, Ian found himself fronting an early incarnation of Deep Purple while also embodying the role of Jesus as the lead singer on an artsy, musical side project.
The project was led by now legendary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. When producers saw no commercial value in a show they called Jesus Christ Superstar, the two decided to make a two-disc concept album in the vein of The Who’s Tommy.
In 1970 while Deep Purple was scratching out a name for themselves as a band, SUPERSTAR featuring Ian on lead vocals was released as a single. It was soon a smash hit. Community theaters and some more open-minded churches were staging local, albeit unauthorized productions.
Jesus Christ Super Star Tour
In July 1971, Webber and Rice responded by mounting their own concert tour of the album-opening in Pittsburgh, PA. Ian was offered the role of Jesus but declined to participate. He wasn’t prepared to lose his spot as the band’s lead vocalist and felt it would be selfish to ask the other members to wait on him.
October of the same year, the show was set for a Broadway run, again without Ian. It was widely panned by critics, fans, and even its co-creator Webber. Yet, it still ran for over 700 performances and was nominated for five Tony’s. None of which it won.
Here is How that Played Out
We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
Lyrics and Explanations
We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
Ian found himself in Montreal, Switzerland, on December 1, 1971, with the rest of Deep Purple. There he collaborated on the lyrics and sang about little more than a journal entry of the day’s events.
To make records with a mobile
The band planned to record a new album using a mobile unit — a portable recording studio in the back of a truck. It could be brought to the location to capture live recordings. Standard now, but novel at the time. More on that in a moment.
We didn’t have much time
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
The band listened on as Frank Zappa and the Mother’s of Invention were completing a rare afternoon concert.
They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
The location was preparing to shut down for the winter after the Mother’s set. Deep Purple was moving into the space to write and record new music.
During The Mother’s performance, keyboardist Don Preston was lighting his keyboards on fire with his playing. Then some idiot in the audience set off a flare gun. Burning the theatre and casino next door to the ground.
With little time to react, musicians and fans alike helped one another escape the fiery blazer. Minimal injuries were incurred, but several places were burned to ash.
Swiss time was running out
It seemed that we would lose the race
With everyone safe, the band found themselves in desperate need of a new location. Recording albums is more than sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It is also suits, budgets, and schedules.
We ended up at the Grand Hotel
It was empty cold, and bare
They quickly relocated to the less than inspiring Grand Hotel with the mobile unit in tow.
But with the Rolling-truck-Stones-thing just outside, ha
Making our music there
The Mobile Unit that band used was an early savvy investment by The Rolling Stones. It has been used for nearly 30 years to record some of the biggest albums of all time, including Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Simple Minds, Iron Maiden, Dire Straits, Buddy Rich, and many more. However, it was Deep Purple that immortalized a taken for granted but integral part of recording equipment into one of the most endearing classic rock songs of all time.
With a few red lights, a few old beds, huh
We made a place to sweat
They didn’t hold back their disgust when describing their new location.
No matter what we get out of this, ha
I know, I know we’ll never forget
That last line is a fantastic reminder that we have no idea what can come from the ashes of the unexpected. The “ha” feels like an inside joke. Like perhaps they thought they were working on a throwaway song. Perhaps a B-Side or a piece buried on side two of the album. Indeed not an enduring rock classic
Believe it or not, this all was going through my mind. Just as Linda, one of the ladies in the room, asked me to roll over to my left side. My empty stomach rumbles. I barely feel the sensation of cold air as the back of my gown is opened by Joy. Yep, that’s her real name! I am instantly asleep, and Colonoscopy number one is underway. That’s how you get familiar, with a capital F, with a stranger, on Election Day.
That’s right! Operating Room Music, three women, each expert in their field, and my first colonoscopy had me not distracted during the 59th quadrennial U.S. presidential election. Not to be confused with The Who’s Quadrophenia, perhaps my favorite concept album.
For anyone struggling to hear the results of the election, let it go. Eventually, one of two people will be President. There are over 328-million people in the United States. If we embrace the uniqueness and diversity within ourselves, our families, our communities, we are unstoppable.
The last thing we need is another excuse not to do our best.
We do NOT need politicians or a political party to tell us how to be better human beings.
We CAN do that regardless of who sits as President.
We ARE our own mobile unit, capable of greatness!
Deep Purple, a rock band, wrote an accidental, unexpected, and enduring hit song by not giving up. Even when their makeshift recording studio burned to the ground. They gave thousands of wanna-be-rock stars hope. They showed a riff simplified and played on one finger could live forever! Even more than Sabbath’s previously released, Iron Man.
Even more than Sabbath’s previously released, Iron Man. Even those that heard Seven Nation Army first, by The White Stripes, eventually go back to discover Smoke on the Water!
Bomp, Bomp, Bomb
Bomp, Bomp, Bomp, Bomb.
Bomp, Bomp, Bomb
Anyone can play, sing, dance, or apparently put on makeup to this riff! My daughters and I are kicking things off with our own versions.
Guitar, TikTok, and Ukelele!
Create and post your own version online. Sing the riff, pound it out on Tupperware, or on trash cans, create an interpretive dance. Whatever you feel!
Be sure to hashtag your performance with #DeepPurpleChallenge and #MakeAmericaRockAgain
Then add a link to your performance in the comments below. Please keep it word free and non-political, unless you use the original lyrics.
Let’s create a viral noise heard worldwide. Show that we do not need permission to do better or to be better and let’s Make America ROCK Again!