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Song Stories

“Smoke on the Water”

Deep Purple | 1973

On the evening of December 4, 1971, Deep Purple were watching a Frank Zappa concert at the Montreux Casino in Switzerland, when someone shot a flare gun and set fire to the ceiling of the venue -- completely destroying it. This served as the inspiration behind their hit "Smoke on the Water." "That was a riff I made up on the spur of the moment, in Switzerland," explained Ritchie Blackmore. "It was a case of keeping it incredibly simple. I remember Pete Townsend saying to me, 'You've got to keep things simple and take the audience with you.'" Purple were planning on recording their next album, Machine Head, at the Casino but had to move the sessions to the nearby Grand Hotel.

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

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