Fire crops up a lot in songs, most often metaphorically.
For example, you can have a ‘fire burning inside of you’ or a ‘burning desire’ (passion) for something.
You can be ‘fired up’ (excited), or you can ‘hang fire’ (wait). Or you can be ‘on fire’ for someone as we see in Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’.
So, here for your listening pleasure are some of the best songs about fire ever recorded.
A word of caution….some of them get pretty hot!
‘Play With Fire’ by The Rolling Stones
One of the most famous songs about fire, ‘Play With Fire’ started out life as a B side to ‘The Last Time’ but is now considered a highlight of the Stones’ early period.
The lyrics are about a well-heeled, high society woman (something, one imagines, the socialite Jagger knew all about):
“Well, you’ve got your diamonds and you’ve got your pretty clothes / And the chauffeur drives your car.”
Jagger warns her he’s not her little plaything: “don’t play with me, ’cause you’re playing with fire.”
‘Light My Fire’ by The Doors
A seminal song in the psychedelic rock genre, ‘Light My Fire’ was originally conceived by The Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger, with various embellishments added by the band (such as Ray Manzarek’ the Bach style organ motif).
Interestingly, Krieger’s inspiration for the lyrics came from the Stones’ ‘Play with Fire’ (see above).
When appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, they agreed to change the line to “girl we couldn’t get much better” to appease the show’s sponsors. However, when they performed it live, rebellious lead singer Jim Morrison sang the original line “girl we couldn’t get much higher.”
Ed Sullivan didn’t shake their hand after the performance, and they were never invited back. Morrison said after the show: “we just did the Ed Sullivan Show.”
‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ by Billy Joel
Each generation inherits the issues of previous generations. That’s the gist of this Billy Joel ’80s classic:
“We didn’t start the fire / It was always burning / Since the world’s been turning.”
In a ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style that’s reminscent of Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues,’ Joel lists an array of people, events, and things both good and bad, with various references to the Cold War (the US vs. Russia) that was a big concern in the ’80s.
“JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say.”
‘Fire It Up’ by Modest Mouse
From the superb 2007 album, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, ‘Fire It Up’ is a call to action to get moving in the literal and one suspects figurative way.
There are references to starting up a broken-down vehicle: “our broke down transportation” and “when we fix the carburetor / then we’ll push off once again in an hour or so later.”
In a Rolling Stone interview, singer Isaac Brock was quizzed about the meaning and whether there was a double meaning, as in ‘fire up’ a joint. That wasn’t his intention, he confessed, “But I highly approve of stoners and stoner anthems.”
‘Who By Fire’ by Leonard Cohen
‘Who by fire’ is based on a Hebrew prayer sung on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). According to the tradition, the Book of Life is opened on this day, and in it are inscribed all those who will live or die this year.
The many ways to die are then cataloged: ‘who by water, who by fire, who by barbiturate. Then, finally, it’s over to you. “Who should I say is calling”?
This is a morbid song to some. To others, it’s a song of hope and a moment for self-reflection. What sort of person are you? When you die and stand at the gates of heaven, “who should I say is calling”?
‘Hairdresser on Fire’ by Morrissey
Forever the social commentator, Morrissey’s ‘Hairdresser on Fire’ see him taking a pot shot at those who make their living cutting hair: “You are repressed but you’re remarkably dressed.”
‘On fire’ here translates as ‘fast’ (“Really busy / Busy clippers”) as opposed to being ‘caught on fire’ (I don’t believe he had that much contempt for them!).
One suspects Mozzer has spent a good amount of time at the barbers over the years to keep his signature quiff in check. I love to imagine the small talk he has to endure.
‘Sex on Fire’ by Kings of Leon
This song is about a ‘hot’ encounter with a member of the opposite sex.
In an interview for Q magazine, frontman Caleb Followill said how the song was intended to be “funny” initially: “At first, I was like, ‘That was supposed to be like a funny moment on the album.'”
Good thing they stuck with it. The song’s popularity made them international superstars, earning the band a Grammy and quickly making them festival headliners the world over!
‘Fire and Rain’ by James Taylor
From his 1970 album Sweet Baby James, the hugely autobiographical ‘Fire and Rain’ chronicles Taylor’s response to the suicide of a close friend, Susanne Schnerr, as well as his struggles with substance abuse and celebrity.
“Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone / Susanne the plans they made put an end to you.”
It’s also a great song about regret: “But I always thought that I’d see you, baby, one more time again, now.”
We also include this song on our songs about rain playlist.
‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ by Bob Dylan
Appearing on Bob Dylan and the Bands’ The Basement Tapes and the Music from Big Pink album, ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ was co-written by Rick Danko (the version here is by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity).
“This wheel’s on fire / Rolling down the road / Best notify my next of kin / This wheel shall explode.”
Is the wheel a reference to himself, his life, or even his career? (Remember, he was the ‘spokesperson of a generation’ who had ‘betrayed‘ the folk purists by ‘going electric’ in ’66).
“If your memory serves you well” has parallels with Rimbaud’s poem A Season In Hell (“If I remember correctly, my life was a banquet”).
‘Londons Burning’ by The Clash
Named after the nursery rhyme about the Great Fire of London in 1666, ‘London’s Burning’ appeared on their debut album.
It discusses social and racial tensions of the times, the alienation of youth, as well as disgust with the ‘new religion’ (“everybody’s sitting ’round watching television”).
There’s also a nod to their substance of choice (speed) in the line: “I can’t think of a better way to spend the night / Than speeding around underneath the yellow lights”
‘Burning Down the House’ by The Talking Heads
Talking Heads’ highest-charting hit single in North America, ‘Burning Down the House’ was their only top ten single in the US (it reached #9).
The story goes that Heads’ drummer Chris Frantz has just seen Parliament-Funkadelic in concert and noticed the crowd chanting ‘burn down the house!’. So he took the idea back to the studio, and the song was born.
‘I’m on Fire’ by Bruce Springsteen
With a Johnny Cash style guitar part and vocals that could be Roy Orbison, ‘I’m on Fire’ is a wonderfully evocative song about a guy’s obsession with a girl. He’s literally ‘on fire’ with desire.
In the video, we see blue-collar mechanic Springsteen infatuated with a high-class female customer who’s come to get her car tuned.
‘Firewall’ by Bright Eyes
‘Firewall’ appears as the first song on their ninth studio album, The People’s Key.
It’s definitely the weirdest song about fire here, with a spoken-word opening from ‘Refried Ice Cream’ guitarist Denny Brewer (who’d been hanging out a lot with frontman Conor Oberst).
When we finally get to the song, it’s a superb downtempo number.
‘Fire’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
‘Fire’ (also called ‘Let Me Light Your Fire’ for its UK release) is another psychedelic rock classic with very unusual rhythms. It’s so raucous you could almost fight fire with it!
The line “move over rover, and let Jimi take over” came from when Hendrix was at bass player Noel Redding’s mum’s house in Folkstone, England. Their dog was hogging the fire, and Jimi asked the mutt to move over.
‘Firestarter’ by The Prodigy
A pumping song about fire from the ’90s here.
The video was shot in the disused Aldwych station in London and was criticized by the fire service as encouraging arson.
However, the lyrics, “I’m the Firestarter. Twisted firestarter” is about stirring up the crowd into a frenzy – not starting actual fires – singer Keith Flint told the Melody Maker.
‘Ring of Fire’ by Johnny Cash
Cash’s mistress June Carter (and Merle Kilgore) wrote this song about Cash’s wildman ways (he had a serious drum problem). ‘Ring of Fire’ refers to falling in love. It’s thought she took inspiration from an Elizabethan poetry book in which her uncle (A. P. Carter of The Carter Family) had underlined “Love is like a burning ring of fire.”
The song is categorically not about is hemorrhoids, despite Cash himself sometimes cracking hemorrhoid jokes when introducing the song in concert.
‘Great Balls of Fire’ by Jerry Lee Lewis
Ranked as the 96th greatest song ever by Rolling Stone magazine, it’s one of the best songs about fire (and probably the most well known).
Released in 1957, it sold a million copies in its first 10 days of release in the US.
‘Beds are Burning’ by Midnight Oil
‘Beds are Burning’ is a song about seeking justice for Australian Aboriginies. The lyrics say it’s time to give the lands back to the Pintupi, an Aboriginal group called the ‘lost tribe.’
Midnight Oil performed it at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.