Friday, July 09, 2004

Fire in the Sky . . . and Chimps
So I am driving around the other day with an oldies tape playing, and Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" comes on. To those who grew up with it, "Smoke on the Water" is as familiar as breathing--and more evocative of the blacklight-poster era than almost anything else you could name. Absolutely everybody who ever picked up a guitar in the 1970s would, sooner or later, try to figure out how to play the main riff of that song.

"Smoke on the Water" made it to number 4 on the Billboard singles chart in the summer of 1973. Although the live and studio versions both got airplay, the version you want is the live one. (But beware: Deep Purple put the song on nearly every live album they ever did, so make sure you get the version from Made in Japan.) The song is about a hotel fire that happened while the band was recording their 1972 album Machine Head in Switzerland. The studio version (which actually appears on Machine Head), although it's a competent rock song, merely tells the story. The live version puts you right there in the middle of the fire and the ensuing panic by cranking up the signature riff to pure menace. Where the bass line of the studio version merely trundles along and the drums pop, the bass line of the live version moves the Earth and the drums explode. And the live version concludes with a screeching organ cadenza not heard on the studio version. If you've ever been to a concert where the band changes up a familiar tune with a new twist, you know how exciting it can be when it works, and this is one of the most exciting rock moments of the 1970s.

So it's probably just coincidence that I would come across a cover version of "Smoke on the Water"--specifically, a Latin-tinged version of it that must be heard to be believed. It's on a website called Bubblegum Machine, an MP3 blog site like those featured in a Reuters story that appeared yesterday. The site seems to be based in England, and its definition of bubblegum is pretty eclectic. As the site's proprietor says, "If it's ever been on K-Tel or Ronco, it's in. If it features hand claps, cow bells, syrupy orchestration, walls of sound, wrecking crews, sha-la-las, toothy teen idols or candy-based metaphors for carnal acts, it's in." You might want to start with Sammy Davis Jr.'s vocal version of the Hawaii Five-O theme, proceed to "Sha La Love You" by Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution (from the kid show Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp, and a fairly competent bubblegum tune as long as you don't visualize chimpanzees lip-synching to it), and then browse your brains out from there.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?