Top 10 Fire Songs
Of all the elements, fire is the one that shows up in songs the most. It’s used both literally and, more commonly, as a symbol of love (‘I’m on Fire’) or something decidedly more carnal (‘The Fire Down Below’). Because of its various stages — from comforting heat to scarring burns — it’s also the most flexible of the elements. (Take that, wind — you blow.) Our list of the Top 10 Fire Songs mixes it up. Some are about love and some are about sex. But others burn in more literal ways.
With musical and lyrical themes lifted from R.E.M.‘s ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),’ Billy Joel’s No. 1 hit storms through the second half of the 20th century in a condensed history lesson. Like almost all of the other songs in our list of the Top 10 Fire Songs, Joel’s fire is metaphorical. But he’s not talking about love.
We really can’t tell if the woman Cult frontman Ian Astbury is singing about is really on fire or if she’s some sort of witch or what. Lines like “Smoke, she is a rising fire” and “Come on and burn it” really don’t clear things up. Either way, Astbury seems a bit riled by this woman’s fiery presence. Shake, shake, shake indeed.
These New Yorkers were heating up in 1981. Not only was the hit single from their eighth album all about licking the flames of lust, the album itself was called ‘Fire of an Unknown Origin.’ ‘Burnin’ for You’ is pretty much a my-heart-and-other-parts-of-my-body-are-on-fire-for-you-baby love song. The killer hook emphasizes the intensity.
John Lennon‘s old drinking and carousing buddy Harry Nilsson doesn’t get nearly as much love as he deserves. ‘Nilsson Schmilsson,’ his best album, swings from pristine pop to note-perfect nostalgia to psychedelic world music without missing a beat. The sturdy rocker ‘Jump Into the Fire’ basically repeats the same verse for seven minutes. It might be about a stalker. Or maybe something else. We’re not sure. But a plunge into a fiery pit, Nilsson’s advice, won’t help much.
It’s pretty obvious where that fire is raging, isn’t it? Like other tracks on our list of the Top 10 Fire Songs,’ Seger’s ‘The Fire Down Below’ is all about desire. Doesn’t matter who (a cop, some rich dude in a limo) or where (Vegas, Moline) you are, says Seger, people get horned up and often without warning. And there’s only one way to put out that fire. Wink, wink.
Like Bob Seger (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Fire Songs), Bruce Springsteen has a fire raging down below in his Elvis-like ballad from ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ But the Boss’ desire is bad — he says so himself. And it gives this smoldering song a sense of hopelessness. Like that fire will consume him any minute now.
Taylor’s classic hit song is a devastating autobiographical account of his time spent in a mental institution, where he battled various demons, including depression, addiction and the suicide of a friend. There’s varying accounts just what the fire represents (Taylor went through shock-therapy treatments during his recovery; he also emerged with some serious mental scars). Whatever the case, the flames aren’t inviting ones.
Don’t let the acoustic guitars and gentle pace deceive you; ‘Play With Fire’ is a sinister song. Mick Jagger warns a spoiled rich girl not to mess with him. Her diamonds, chauffeur-driven cars and fancy clothes don’t impress him. Neither does her slumming with folks below her class level. Mess with me, he says, and you’ll get burned. Because he’s Mick Jagger.
According to at least one biographer, ‘Fire’ isn’t about what you think it is. Or at least it didn’t start out that way. Supposedly. Hendrix and bassist Noel Redding were at Redding’s mom’s house, and Hendrix tried to warm himself near her fireplace, but her dog wouldn’t move out of the way. But most people hear ‘Fire’ as a song about sex. Which it most likely is.
Of course ‘Light My Fire’ is about sex. What else would the Lizard King be singing about? His fondue pot? The Doors’ breakthrough hit got them in trouble (with Ed Sullivan and others) for its alleged drug reference. But ‘Light My Fire’ has other things in mind. Spark my flame, Jim Morrison practically begs, and I’ll take you to a whole other place. Then again, we wouldn’t put drug references past him either.