Deep Purple: More than ‘Smoke on the Water’

Xuandi implores you to appreciate this classic band.

Whenever someone asks for a classic rock band recommendation, hard rock fans won’t always mention Deep Purple first. Even when the band is noted, the frequently mentioned song is ‘Smoke on the Water’ (1972), inspired by a real fire accident at a Frank Zappa concert in 1971. 

‘Smoke on the Water’ was written in 1972, inspired by a real fire at the Montreal Casino, where the Frank Zappa concert was simultaneously held. Picture from Ultimate Classic Rock.

This song is well-known for Richie Blackmore’s lead guitar riff,  but it’s far from the best song Deep Purple has released throughout their career. 

‘Smoke on the Water’ – Deep Purple – Official Video

I’m not saying this event-inspired song is a lousy rock song – it’s bluesy and a good representation of hard rock music, and it features a classic, simple, yet powerful riff. It has definitely inspired more than several people to pick up their guitars. However, it’s disappointing to see rock music lovers listen only to ‘Smoke on the Water’ or ‘Highway Star’ (1972) and decide they don’t like Deep Purple. Please, I promise that they’re better and have much more to offer than those two tracks. 

As an avid listener of rock music, I’ve explored several sub-genres and multiple different bands. The songs I repeatedly listen to share a few things in common: dynamic vocal performance, brilliant lyrics, fantastic instrumental playing and composition. Deep Purple, by far, is my favourite band because their songs absolutely hit these points. 

Deep Purple has nine line-ups in total, each with at least one remarkable album. The most commercially successful one is their second line-up, which produces the influential Deep Purple in Rock, Fireball, and Machine Head album. Picture from Ultimate Classic Rock

Deep Purple has created such high-quality music in their different line-ups, trying out different genres of music, and some of the members have drawn inspiration from classical music, such as ‘April’ (1969) from their first line-up and ‘Burn’ (1973) from their third line-up. 

Besides a tip of the hat to classical music, their lyrics also show compassion for disadvantaged groups and aren’t just about sex or romance (though these muses have an essential place in music). They are one of the few bands (in my opinion) that utilise the power of hard rock itself and express it artistically in their music. 

‘Child in Time’ (1970) is one of the often-overlooked gems behind the glare of ‘Smoke on the Water’. It’s an anti-war anthem, and to me is a beautiful example of how the heaviness of rock can be combined with artistic and political expression. This song is Purple at its best: deep, realistic lyrics, a heart-wrenching vocal performance, fluent music composition and brilliant instrumental playing. All these elements together compose a song that’s creative and deep-cutting. Spurred by the Vietnam War, lead singer Ian Gillan says the lyrics to ‘Child in Time’ flowed naturally out of his mouth when the band was playing the song Bombay Calling spontaneously in the recording session.

Gillan starts his narration accompanied by a small part on the Hammond organ. Throughout the whole song, his voice is produced with an echoing effect, making him sound like he is gently whispering a bedtime story to the innocent children of the war, using the sweetest tone telling the coldest fact-  bow their heads and wait for the ricochet. 

Sweet child in time

You’ll see the line

The line that’s drawn between

Good and bad

See the blind man

Shooting at the world

Bullets flying

Oh, taking toll

If you’ve been bad

Oh, Lord, I bet you have

And you’ve not been hit

Oh, by flying lead

You’d better close your eyes


Bow your head

Wait for the ricochet

After listening to the whispering, those children start to cry, with their voices shaking – Gillan begins to mimic the children’s crying, which becomes louder and louder, gradually developing into several bawls like the children are helplessly crying when they see the bullets flying. The almost operatic singing technique to achieve the above effect and ensure listeners not musically trained (like me) feel the desperation of war is impressive and touching. 

As the song gradually develops towards the end, the composition and transition from Gillan’s singing to the instrumental solo remain very smooth. I didn’t even realise this was a 10-minute song until I finished listening to it. 

Fun fact: the release of this song prompted famous composer Andrew Webber to invite Gillan to play the role of ‘Judas’ in his musical Jesus Christ Superstar. 

‘Child in Time’ was one of the songs from the album Deep Purple in Rock (1970) and became one of the three albums that inspired the development of the future hard rock songs. 

However, they didn’t receive the same amount of acclaim as their peers. I believe they remain underappreciated in rock music fans’ talks about important contributions to the genre.

So, if you haven’t heard of Deep Purple, please give the album Deep Purple in Rock and the rest of the songs in this article a go. They are a band with more than just smoke on the water!

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