REVIEW: Rock Aid Armenia – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions

ROCK AID ARMENIA – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions (2010 Edel CD/DVD set)

When some of the biggest names in both British and Canadian rock combined together to re-record “Smoke on the Water”, as a mega-collaboration charity track, I don’t care who you are:  You gotta listen!   Originally released as “Smoke on the Water ’90” on The Earthquake Album, it didn’t garner the attention of, say, a Hear N’ Aid, but it’s definitely a noteworthy track.  The Earthquake Album contained just the radio mix, which was an edited down version lacking Paul Rodgers.  This package on the other hand is a CD/DVD combo set including all 4 versions of “Smoke ’90” and a documentary.

The region 0 encoded DVD is 40 minutes long, and filled with incredible behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews.  First, an explanation of the cause:  rebuilding a children’s music school in Armenia, destroyed in a 1988 earthquake.  Then, the musicians arrive!  Roger Taylor (Queen) is first in the door.  Can’t do anything without the drums!  He shows off his considerable chops while warming up.  Chris Squire (Yes) is next, who reveals that all egos have been dealt with in advance of the recording.  Brian May turns up with a broken arm (skateboarding accident) to offer his support; he would return to record after the arm has healed.  The recording takes place over five separate sessions.  One benefit of this arrangement was that it enabled Ritchie Blackmore to show up, without having to see Ian Gillan!

IOMMI MAYOh, to be in that room…

Soon to arrive:  Tony Iommi.  Paul Rodgers.  Bruce Dickinson.  David Gilmour.  Alex Lifeson.  Two keyboardists:  Keith Emerson and Geoff Downes.  Even Bryan Adams sings some backing vocals, after he turned up just to check out the recording studio!  (Gilmour can’t help but take a stab at Rogers Waters during the interview segments.)  Incidentally, I found it cool that Rodgers recorded his vocals with a hand-held mike.

I’ve always been a fan of this version of “Smoke”; in fact this was the first version of that I ever heard, 23 years ago.  The band was dubbed Rock Aid Armenia.  They got together in late ’89, and recorded this updated sounding cover.  Gillan, Dickinson and Rodgers handled the lead vocals, in that order.  It’s great to hear Iommi playing those chunky chords again.  Chris Squire’s bass work is fairly simple, but perfect.

The CD includes an updated 2010 remix that cuts down a lot of Keith Emerson’s cheesey keyboards.  Emerson stated that he wanted to put his own stamp on his parts, based on ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”.  He probably wouldn’t be happy to be mixed down on this version, but his keys always stood out like a sore thumb to me.  The 2010 mix adds in a lot more previously unheard guitar fills instead. Other extras include a previously unreleased version of the song, with an entire Ian Gillan vocal take.

This is a great little-known recording, and I’m glad an obscurity like this has finally been reissued properly.

4/5 stars

Footnote:  In 2011 and 2012, Gillan and Iommi followed this with a single and compilation album under the name WhoCares; also featuring Nicko McBrain, Jon Lord and Jason Newsted!

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41 comments

        1. At least they’ve been making fun of them on the radio a lot lately!

          I honestly do like Avril’s second album. A lot. It’s a solid 4 or 4.5 for me, and I’m being totally serious. But if Chad started writing with her, well, I would have to say fuck that.

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        2. You never know, Mike. Maybe Avril and Chad really love each other. Star cross’d lovers, meant to be. It could happen. Even in Canada. I know there’s a big hate on for Nickelback and, well, everything they do, say and stand for, but maybe… just maybe…

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      1. Yep. I’m glad Roger didn’t try to copy Paice’s original rhythm but put his own stamp on the song instead.

        Even though Zeppelin is my favorite band of all time and Jimmy Page my favorite guitarist, if I could ever play guitar there are two players I would most want to sound like: David Gilmour and Brian May. To have them on the same record is pretty cool. I think they played together once before, possibly on a single in the 80s, but I never got it and can’t remember what it was.

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  1. I’ve always heard references to this and I remember it being talked about at the time. Still never heard it! That’s a shame Emerson’s keyboards didn’t fit well. I’m a fan of his but he’s kind of the odd-one-out in that group.

    All the facts of this story, however, pale into insignificance next to the fact that Brian May had a skateboard accident!

    Brian May.

    On a skateboard.

    My mind is blown.

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    1. I had such a unique perspective on this, thanks to the fact that Canada’s MuchMusic used to kick ass. July or August 1990, they had Bruce Dickinson on for an extended live segment. This was one of the videos they played. Since it was Bruce I was paying attention and recorded it.

      I was like, “What the hell is this?” I recognized the riff!

      And you know why? Again, because MuchMusic kicked ass! A long time ago (about 28 or 29 years) Deep Purple recorded a quick segment for them. Gillan says, “You’re watching the Power Hour, and we are Deep Purple.” Then the rest of the guys start singing, “Da da da, da da daaaa da, da da da, da da!”

      So I had my riff in my head from that segment earlier. But since Deep Purple didn’t have an actual “video” for Smoke, I had never heard the actual song until this cover!!

      Whew.

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      1. That’s interesting. I knew other Deep Purple songs before I ever heard Smoke on the Water too. The one clip that always gets shown here is Black Night because they did that on Top of the Pops and that clip always gets used every time Deep Purple are mentioned. I’d say that’s probably the first song most people in the UK are exposed to for that reason!

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  2. That was brilliant – I’d never seen it before. Two thoughts:
    1. Everyone looks so damn young!
    2. I’ve never seen Gilmour have so much fun
    3. I’ve always wanted to see taylor/may play much harder stuff (bonus thought there!)

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  3. One of the better covers out there….I always dug this version !
    Mike,I checked out Kim mitchell here on the weekend and well he came out said his voice was blown out (which it was ) and his sidekick Peter Fredette handled all the lead vocals and pulled it off and Doyle from Great Big Sea came out and sung Patio Lanterns …man Mitchell can play ….

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    1. WOW. Dude, it’s that kind of thing that I love. A rare concert that could have been a cancellation, but ended up being a special event. Mitchell CAN play. He is a huge influence on Paul Gilbert, for one.

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  4. We talked about this, a long while back. You sent me a preview disc of this, right? Man I can’t wait to unpack all my CDs from the move to the new house. I’ll be looking for that one, for sure.

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  5. Rock Aid Armenia (this time consisting of Roger Daltrey, Steve Harris, Nicko McBrain, John McEnroe, Pat Cash, and Andy Barnett) did the same thing to Rock and Roll, just not with a reissue.

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