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Best Songs About Fire: 20 Hot Hits To Set Bonfire Night Alight
Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Best Songs About Fire: 20 Hot Hits To Set Bonfire Night Alight

From explosive political statements to works of psychedelic genius, the best songs about fire are burned into the fabric of our culture.

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Fire is essential to any bonfire night, and pop stars have always taken to its elemental power as a metaphor for both strength and destruction. These 20 best songs about fire provide the perfect soundtrack to your Guy Fawkes Night celebrations.

20: Katy Perry: Firework

Dance-pop doesn’t get much more empowering than when Katy Perry has something to say. Taken from the six-million-selling album Teenage Dream, this paean to showing the world what you’re made of apparently came to her after reading Jack Kerouac’s coming-of-age novel On the Road. While the lyrics don’t always scan, Perry’s heartfelt sentiment is plain to hear as she delivers the soaring melody (it was certainly enough for Hillary Clinton to play it at the 2016 Democratic National Convention). Also crystal clear is the undeniable four-to-the-floor beat that set clubland alight. Referring to this song as a “banger” in this context is most appropriate.

19: Bruce Springsteen: I’m On Fire

“At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet/And a freight train running through the
middle of my head/Only you can cool my desire.” The fourth of seven (!) Top 10 singles from his 1984 masterpiece, Born In The USA, I’m On Fire is Springsteen’s definitive rootsy ballad, marrying that simple country rhythm to a none-more-modern synth wash. Those whispered, yearning lyrics of sexual desire elevate the song to another level, though, giving the high-tension piece an almost cinematic feel. The video is also worth your time, Springsteen offering MTV a confident acting talent.

18: Rage Against The Machine: Sleep Now In The Fire

The LA rap-rockers finished the 90s with heir incendiary third album, The Battle Of Los Angeles, before promptly splitting. This song, released as the album’s second single, expresses all their strengths in one short sharp shock: a funk-rock rhythm, Tom Morello’s Stooges-worshipping riffing, and frontman Zack De La Rocha’s berating of historical and contemporary greed. The accompanying video sees them take down Wall Street with the aid of filmmaker Michael Moore.

17: Tim Buckley: Jungle Fire

Though it also includes the glorious ballad Song To The Siren – widely lauded as one of the best Tim Buckley songs – the Washington, DC-born singer’s fifth album, Starsailor, features much of his most daring, avant-garde-inclined material, and has been pegged by All Music Guide To Rock as “one of the most uncompromising statements ever made by a singer-songwriter”. One of the record’s more gnomic, yet fascinating, cuts, Jungle Fire slips into a heady, repetitive funk groove and provides Buckley with ample opportunity to fling fire and brimstone at the accepted notion of what a “singer-songwriter” supposedly represents.

16: Billy Joel: We Didn’t Start The Fire

Epic pop was still pretty rare in the 80s; radio stations did not care for five-minute singles. Then in steps 40 year-old soft-rock superstar Billy Joel, with his own “list song”, rapidly chronicling world events since his birth. Famously, he hates the song for its anti-melody – a drill-like attack on the senses – but that’s what gives the song its scowling bite. If you can cope with the information overload of the 118 events he references there is plenty of narrative to tap into, incorporating music, film, sport and political elements. One of the best songs about fire, it has been endlessly parodied since, only emphasising its original power.

15: Morrissey: Hairdresser On Fire

Arguably the most metaphorical of these best songs about fire, this inspired early Morrissey solo outing concerns the wider world’s obsession with their looks, rather than a desire to actually set a hairdresser alight. In his book Mozipedia, writer Simon Goddard further elaborates: “Morrissey described this frivolous autobiographical sketch as ‘a very simple song about trying to get hold of a hairdresser’ during the period it was written, when the singer lived in a flat just off Sloane Square in Chelsea. The lyrics betray an erotic fascination with ‘the power’ the hairdresser wields at their fingertips – capable of destroying or saving his physical appearance with a causal snip – tempered only by his exasperation at being unable to book an appointment in their hectic schedule.”

14: James Taylor: Fire And Rain

Earnest folk-rocker Taylor was just 21 when he succinctly wrote of all the heartache he was suffering. Recorded in 1969, Fire And Rain’s first verse follows Taylor’s reaction to the suicide of childhood friend Suzanne Schnerr, while verse two chronicles his experiences with drug addiction and depression. Verse three, meanwhile, references the failure of his 1966 band The Flying Machine. It’s all held together wonderfully by the melodic grace of the chorus. Carole King is there tinkling the piano, and she later felt moved enough by the song’s sentiment to reply with her own, You’ve Got A Friend.

13: Kings Of Leon: Sex On Fire

The Nashville quartet were, up until this 2008 single, nothing more than a credible retro act, and had only truly made any headway in the UK/Ireland. Sex On Fire changed everything, planting them not only at No.1 in those previously clued-up territories, but also in Australia and on the US Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart. Sex On Fire’s slightly risqué lyrics were glossed over by everyone who felt obliged to drunkenly sing along to that ten-story, classic-rock-sounding anthemic chorus. One of the 21st century’s best songs about fire, it won the band a Grammy and they swiftly became festival headliners everywhere. Sometimes it does take four albums to no longer be the bridesmaid, but finally the bride.

12: Chris Rea: Fires Of Spring

Chris Rea enjoyed an early US breakthrough with the Grammy-nominated single Fool (If You Think It’s Over). However, its parent album, Rea’s June 1978 debut, Whatever Happened To Benny Santini?, was released when punk and new wave held sway, and it was viewed as something of an anachronism at the time. The record has since enjoyed a critical renaissance, and that’s no surprise, as it harbours some of the best Chris Rea songs, not least the swaggering Fires Of Spring – Rea’s suitably smouldering tribute to a fiery free spirit whose “Phoenix flies you high on crazy wings”.

11: The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Fire

One of the many stand-outs from The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s epochal debut album, Are You Experienced, the catchy, soul-infused Fire remains one of the songs on which Hendrix’s reputation as one of the world’s best guitarists  rests. Despite its suggestive sexual overtones (“You say your mom ain’t home, it ain’t my concern/Just come play with me, and you won’t get burned”), Fire was inspired by a wholly innocuous incident. When Experience bassist Noel Redding invited Hendrix to his mother’s house on a cold New Year’s Eve in Folkestone, in the English county of Kent, Hendrix asked Redding’s mother if he could stand next to her fireplace to warm himself. She agreed, but her dog (a Great Dane) was in the way, so Hendrix implored the hound to “Move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over” – a line which also made its way into the song.

10: Adele: Set Fire To The Rain

The third single from her gargantuan hit album, 21, the London singer rips her heart out delivering this power ballad, while Fraser T Smith’s production provided the lush orchestration template that would later work so effectively on Adele’s Bond theme, Skyfall. Alluding to the lies that have caused her to end a toxic relationship, she details how breaking free from a man she loved was overwhelmingly difficult, but necessary. The singer’s internal battle is fully expressed with pure melodramatic force as her voice soars up and down the scales, making it tricky for the listener not to emotionally succumb to her audible torment.

9: Iron Maiden: Quest For Fire

Inspired by French-Canadian director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1981 movie of the same name (an adaptation of the novel of the same name by J-H Rosny aîné), Quest For Fire told of the loss of the precious element by a tribe of early prehistoric hominids after a fight; during their attempt to regain it, they end up in an unforgiving land where great predators roam. This grandiose storyline has “Iron Maiden”  written all over it, so it’s no surprise that their own Quest For Fire became one of the most incendiary tracks on the titanic metal outfit’s 1983 classic, Piece Of Mind.

8: Tina Turner: Fire Down Below

Though technically her third solo album, 1978’s Rough was Tina Turner[https://shop.thisisdig.com/uk/artists/tina-turner.html]’s first outing following her divorce from Ike Turner, and it has all the urgency and spirit of a great shackles-off debut. The “Queen Of Rock’n’Roll” makes sparks fly with her inimitable versions of songs supplied by stars as diverse as Willie Nelson, Willie Dixon and Allen Toussaint, but she truly combusts during her irresistibly raunchy version of Bob Seger’s Fire Down Below.

7: Johnny Cash: Ring Of Fire

This song has some pedigree. Written by his soon-to-be wife June Carter Cash and fellow country star Merle Kilgore in 1962, Ring Of Fire was first recorded by June’s sister Anita Carter. Johnny loved it and soon recorded his own version in early 1963, immediately turning it into one of the best songs about fire. America fell for its easy charm, and it spent seven weeks at No.1 on the country charts. Cash claims to have dreamt the song with mariachi horns in place, even though his music never usually contains such elements. June later reflected that she was thinking of Johnny when she constructed the words, as she was falling inescapably in love with him.

6: Talking Heads: Burning Down The House

Though it rewarded them with a US Top 10 hit in the summer of 1983, the basic premise behind Talking Heads’ anthemic Burning Down The House is traceable back to 1979, when the group’s husband-and-wife rhythm section, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz, saw George Clinton’s Parliament live at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. In an attempt to urge the band on that night, the crowd began shouting “Burn down the house!” As Frantz later told The Wall Street Journal, “That phrase stuck with me.”

In the same interview, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne also took pains to point out that while Burning Down The House, which appeared on the group’s Speaking In Tongues album, is superficially one of the best songs about fire, it wasn’t actually about arson. “When I wrote the lyrics in 1982, the title phrase was a metaphor for destroying something safe that entrapped you,” he revealed. “I envisioned the song as an expression of liberation, to break free from whatever was holding you back… I simply combined aphorisms and non sequiturs that had an emotional connection.”

5: The Prodigy: Firestarter

“I’m the trouble starter/Punkin’ instigator.” Oh, Keith, you really were a one-off. Taking the Johnny Rotten route of in-your-face confrontation, dancer and vocalist Keith Flint snarled his way into the nation’s heart, and scored the dance outfit their first homegrown No.1 single. Firestarter also saw them finally make headway in the US, eventually meaning almost three million American fans purchased the song’s parent album, The Fat Of The Land. In a very mid-90s way, Firestarter melds industrial metal with beats, sampling The Breeders, Ten City and Art Of Noise along the way. It continues to be a dancefloor winner, earning its place among the best songs about fire thanks to its ability to unite all the tribes in one glorious rave moment.

4: David Bowie: Cat People (Putting Out Fire)

David Bowie‘s first recorded Cat People (Putting Out Fire) with electro-pop maestro Giorgio Moroder in 1982, and it served as the title song for director Paul Schrader’s erotic horror film Cat People. That version was released as a standalone single and became an international hit, but Bowie was never entirely happy with it, and he re-recorded the song with producer Nile Rodgers for the following year’s global smash album Let’s Dance. Fan opinion is still divided as to which is the superior version (this writer prefers the strident, atmospheric, Moroder-helmed take), but whichever way you lean, Cat People (Putting Out Fire) is grade-A flammable material that burns bright among the best songs about fire.

3: Jerry Lee Lewis: Great Balls Of Fire

The 96th greatest song of all time, according to Rolling Stone magazine (who called it a “near blasphemous ode to pure lust”), this 1957 piano rocker was written by Otis Blackwell and recorded at the famous Sun Studios. “The Killer” from Louisiana sounded revolutionary throughout the lyrical hellfire, but the Bible-college student felt he probably should not be singing such filth. Cue more liquor from producer Sam Phillips and Lewis finally relenting. A wise decision: Great Balls Of Fire sold five million copies at a time when such sales were unheard of. He performed the song memorably in Warner Bros’ rock’n’roll film Jamboree, which helped take rockabilly overground in the process.

2: The Doors: Light My Fire

The second single by the Californian psychedelic rock quartet led by Jim Morrison was a million-seller in the US, far outstripping the success of almost all their contemporaries while asserting itself as one of the best songs about fire. Cut down from seven minutes to a more radio-friendly two minutes 52 seconds for single release, much of the floral Bach-style keyboard workouts from Ray Manzarek were lost to the wider public. The distinctive riff remained, however, as did the addictive pop chorus, and The Doors’ Light My Fire is now synonymous with the Summer Of Love of 1967 and the wider hippie movement. That it’s a work of genius in the rock format can almost seem irrelevant compared to its cultural impact.

1: The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown: Fire

“I am the god of hellfire!” As opening gambits go they don’t get much more attention-grabbing than that, especially back in 1968. While shock-rock wasn’t exactly brand new (hello there, Screaming Lord Sutch, the psychedelic attack of Fire created a sense of shock and awe on the senses. Crucially, it is Hammond organ and stabbing brass that lead the charge, with not a guitar in earshot. Topping our list of the best songs about fire, Fire ends with Brown’s banshee screams – probably as he starts to suffer third-degree burns from that fire helmet he still insists on wearing onstage. The whole enterprise was worth it, as the song hit No.1 in the UK and No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

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