Today In Music, December 4, 1971: A Tale Of Two Tragic Ditties!


On this date in 1971, during a performance by Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention, the Montreaux Casino in Switzerland burned to the ground after a member of the audience fired a flare gun, which then led the venue's rattan ceiling to catch fire.  Deep Purple had rented the casino, which was to be closed for the season following the Sappa performance, in order to record their new album with the use of the Rolling Stones' Mobile Studio.

With the entire casino destroyed in the fire, Deep Purple were left without a place to record.  After a week's search, they managed to rent the Montreaux Grand Hotel and were finally able to begin recording sessions for that would be their most successful album, Machine Head.

The fire that destroyed the casino would later be immortalized in the song "Smoke On The Water", which would become the biggest hit of their career.

On the same day, a song about a different tragedy - the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper in 1959 - entered the U.S. singles chart.  The song, "American Pie" by Don McLean, had a running length of 8:33, which required it to be split into two four-minute halves and filled both sides of the 7" single.

Despite the running length, radio programmers added the song to heavy rotation and played the song in its entirety.  The song's popularity was such that the single would spend four weeks at #1 in early 1972 and become the biggest hit single of McLean's career.

Despite admitting that the song was inspired by his childhood grief over Buddy Holly's death, the lyrics' cryptic nature have been the subject of much speculation over the years.  When a journalist asked him what the song meant, McLean snappily replied, "It means I don't ever have to work again if I don't want to."

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