Throwback Thursday: Happy Anniversary, Montreux Casino Fire!

So I’m sure, this week’s Throwback Thursday topic SOUNDS pretty morbid–celebrating the 43rd birthday of a casino fire? Come on. But let’s get some real talk here: the Montreux Casino–destroyed by a fan with a flare gun during a Frank Zappa concert on this night in 1971–did not cause any deaths, only a few injuries. This was not 1871 Chicago, folks. (And the place was rebuilt in a couple of years anyway, so the only real casualty was a temporary loss of economic activity. Shock. Horror.)

The fire did, however, lead to the creation of one of the most recognizable classic hard rock songs in history. If you like metal–or, more broadly, have ever attempted to learn how to play guitar–you’ll know the tune: it’s Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”, off 1972’s Machine Head.


The band had flown to Montreux and was set to start recording the album at the Casino a couple of days later, using a mobile studio borrowed from the Rolling Stones. But obviously, plans changed and the band ended up setting up shop at a hotel on the edge of town. And consequently, the lyrics to “Smoke on the Water” do little more than recount these events.

“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, fire in the sky

They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
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, fire in the sky

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 we’ll never forget
Smoke on the water, fire in the sky”

(Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice–1971)

(Side note: is anyone else curious as to who, or what, Funky Claude is? I’m picturing something like Disco Stu from The Simpsons playing fire marshal and moon-walking people to safety and suddenly laughing uncontrollably as I type.)

Photoshopping by Yours Truly
Photoshopping by Yours Truly

Anyway, the casino was eventually rebuilt, but not before Deep Purple put out what would become one of the most revered albums in hard rock and metal history. So there you have it–happy anniversary, Montreux casino fire! For the requisite #tbt video clip, let’s do “Smoke on the Water,” shall we?


Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.

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