Pop music being about youth and excitement a lot of the time, it’s not surprising that fire crops up. Not in the literal sense, that is, but as an indication of emotion.
One that did purport to be about the real thing was 1968’s Fire by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, a rabble-rouser if ever there was one, and appealing to teenagers even now. Sadly for Arthur, he burned brightly for a very short time and that was his only hit, although he has recorded plenty of music over the years and is apparently still at it. Incidentally, his band originally contained keyboardist Vincent Crane, who went on to form Atomic Rooster, into which drummer Carl Palmer later followed him before becoming part of Emerson Lake and Palmer.
Brown toured with Jimi Hendrix and managed to get thrown off the tour for safety reasons, in spite of Hendrix’s own predilection for squirting lighter fluid on his guitar and setting fire to it. And of course Hendrix had his own song called Fire, in which he urged the object of his affections to let him stand next to her “fire”. A figure of speech, no doubt.
Jerry Lee Lewis’s contribution to the theme came merely as part of an exclamation, goodness gracious, Great Balls of Fire, again as a result of an incendiary woman.
The Rolling Stones were also just playing with words when they wrote and recorded Play With Fire, a warning by the singer to a girl not to mess with him.
Deep Purple’s perennial favourite, Smoke on the Water, was about a real incident when Montreux Casino burned down after a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. As the song tells us, “some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground”. This mattered to Deep Purple because, for whatever reason, they had intended to record an album in the casino, using the Rolling Stones’s mobile recording equipment.
And so was born a guitar riff that sounds easier to play than it really is, as fledgling rockers have been finding out for almost 50 years.
Many years later, Saturday Night Fever included Disco Inferno, in which the writers (no, not the BeeGees) imagined a blaze, so hot was the atmosphere in this particular palais de dance.
The Pointer Sisters, during their 1980s heyday, claimed to burst into flames courtesy of a kiss, although science has for centuries failed to prove or disprove the phenomenon of spontaneous combustion.
Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire is supposedly an attempt to absolve his rock’n’roll generation of the blame for the world’s ills – although it sounds more as if he’s just enjoying a bit of a reminisce and trying to make it sound like a rock song.
Possibly the most gentle fire song is Jose Feliciano’s acoustic guitar-powered version of Light My Fire, which was written by the Doors and recorded by them with a rampant organ… err, a driving, organ-based accompaniment.
Self-indulgent as ever, I must mention The Fire by one of New York’s new wave bands of the 70s, Television. A dead-slow, basically nonsensical but emotional-sounding piece of poignant fantasy, I won’t bother you with a track to listen to, but if you ever come across their second album, Adventure, it’s on there. And tell them I sent you.
One that has always made me quite angry is The Prodigy’s firestarter, a vile and puerile piece of vitriol that makes me want to go round their house and lob a Molotov cocktail into the shed, if they think it’s so damn funny. It’s only a pop song, of course, but does this add to the beauty of human existence?
Current world favourite Adele mixed her metaphors with reckless abandon on Set Fire To The Rain, but then she could sing the Koran in Greek and it would be a hit.
On one final note of self-indulgence, I give you Etta James (real name Jamesetta Hawkins – that’s what it says on Wikipedia, anyway), perpetual bridesmaid in the pantheon of female soul singers. Well known in certain circles in the 1960s with songs such as I Just Want To Make Love To You, she faded badly before re-emerging in 1986 with an album called Seven Year Itch, on which she breaks your heart one minute and rocks like a bitch the next on tracks like Jump Into My Fire.