Fire, the hottest of the four natural elements, always leaves behind evidence of its presence the moment it manifests from what used to be a calm state. When someone or something is “on fire” this can either be literal or metaphorical. When hell is referenced as a place or condition, the heat that comes with it is always associated with some kind of destructive fire that leaves victims in its wake. When it comes to classic rock, some of the coolest songs ever recorded will have something to do with this natural heat source.
Among the top ten classic rock songs about fire in this list, the choices are clearly based on perspective. No two people share the exact same opinion on everything, just like no two fires are exactly the same. Those flames seem to dance about as if they were showing off for a music video.
Top 10 Classic Rock Songs About Fire
#10 – Heaven’s on Fire (performed by Kiss)
“Heaven’s on Fire” was a song that had a reinvented Kiss shift from sporting face paint to behaving like glam rockers. Released in 1984 from Animalize, this single became a number eleven hit on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and a number forty-nine hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. This was one of the few hit songs from Kiss that had them perform without their black-and-white makeup.
In the song, Paul Stanley and his bandmates felt the heat as they burned with a desire that had enough intensity to set heaven on fire. This was a feisty number that demonstrated Kiss still had enough fire in their bellies to bring forth at least a few more fan favorites.
#9 – Fire and Ice (performed by Pat Benatar)
On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Fire and Ice” became a number seventeen hit after it was released as a single in 1981. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it peaked at number two. It was also incredibly popular in Canada at number four, as well as in New Zealand at number three, and in Australia at number thirty. Just like Benatar’s “All Fired Up,” “Fire and Ice” was an explosive song that featured the songstress at her fiery best.
“Fire and Ice” heard Pat Benatar letting her man have it as someone whom she was aware would turn up the heat just to get the girl, only to leave her in the cold once he turns to ice. From the album Precious Time, she was already riding the height of her career after the success of Crimes of Passion.
As a song about fire, Pat Benatar’s narrative laid out the reality that not even hell itself cannot outdo the fury of a woman once she’s been scorned.
#8 – Beds Are Burning (performed by Midnight Oil)
Australia’s Midnight Oil performed “Beds Are Burning” as a protest song against the Australian administration as it held land that belonged to the nation’s Pintupi People. If it sounded like lead singer Peter Garrett was hot with anger as he sang the lyrics that’s because he was. After setting his music career aside, Garrett’s passion for politics had him hold a seat in the country’s House of Representatives for nine years.
The inspiration behind the song came after Midnight Oil toured the Outback in 1986. They played in remote aboriginal communities and saw firsthand how bad the health and living standards were for communities of people that were forced from their lands. Feeling the fire in their bellies spark the need to speak up, Midnight Oil recorded and released “Beds are Burning” in 1987. At the time, what started off as a national issue became an international phenomenon.
Australia’s Kent Music Report peaked “Beds Are Burning” at number six, which was also the case on the UK Singles Chart, and the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. On the US Billboard Hot 100, this fiery number became a number seventeen hit. In Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa, “Beds Are Burning” reached the top of their respective music charts. The album, Diesel and Dust, was ranked as the number one Australian album of all time in a 2010 publication that placed AC/DC’s Back in Black second.
What “Beds are Burning” did was flare up the awareness of a sensitive issue that needed to be addressed. Although this song won Best Single and Best Song at the 1988 Australian Recording Industry Association Awards, the real winners were the Pintupi. These were the last people to come in from the hot Gibson Desert into settlements and missions during the 1930s. Most were forcibly removed in the 1950s and 1960s to the Papunya Settlement. In 1981, they left to return to their own country so they could establish the Kintore Community, which is located in the Kintore Ranges.
During the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Midnight Oil sported black outfits that had “sorry” written on them. Still fired up as they performed “Beds Are Burning,” this was their slap in the face to the nation’s prime minister at the time, John Howard, who was in the audience. Even as awareness of over two centuries worth of mistreatment against the Aboriginal Australians rose, he refused to apologize on the nation’s behalf.
In addition to serving as a protest song, “Beds Are Burning” was also recorded as a celebration of the aboriginal spirit. Despite getting burned by a population that wronged them, the Pintupi still found joy as a people capable of enduring so much hardship.
Since “Bed Are Burning,” it has been used as a favorite song among activists pushing for political and social change. If one wants to fire up a cause, Midnight Oil’s signature song is one good way to go about it.
#7 – We Didn’t Start the Fire (performed by Billy Joel)
1989’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was Billy Joel’s way of giving fans a lesson in world history. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it was a number-one hit. It was also at least a top twenty hit among a multitude of nations. For Billy Joel, the song was technically about his own perception of the world’s current state. As news brought out stories that seemed like new fires were fanning flames of confusion and chaos, Billy Joel, pointed out this has been mankind’s legacy since the beginning of time.
Over time, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” has been a favorite song to use in parodies, as well as for advertising purposes. In 2006, Coca-Cola sampled this song for its anthem behind the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The lyrics were changed in order to accommodate the Latin American countries that held the championship.
The fire behind ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire” saw this song become certified platinum three times by the Recording Industry Association. It was also certified platinum in Australia and the U.K. It was certified gold with Music Canada.
#6 – The Flame (performed by Cheap Trick)
At first, Cheap Trick’s lead singer Rick Nielsen hated “The Flame” when he first heard the demo. Reluctantly, the band recorded this power ballad and it became a major hit for a band that desperately needed a comeback. Written by Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham, this song was released by Cheap Trick as the first single from their tenth album, Lap of Luxury. On the US Billboard, the Canada Top Singles chart, and Australia’s Kent Report, “The Flame” burned its way straight to the top.
Originally, “The Flame” was supposed to be a blues rock number for Elkie Brooks but it was turned down. Epic Records then offered the song as one of two options Cheap Trick was asked to choose from. Whichever one they didn’t choose was to be offered to Chicago. Cheap Trick chose “The Flame” over what became Chicago’s big hit, “Look Away.”
For Cheap Trick, they needed to rebound from the disastrous 1986 album, The Doctor. “The Flame” served as the first of three top-forty-hit singles that would put some spark back into the band’s career. This was also Cheap Trick’s first number-one hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
“The Flame” was a lyrical promise made that the narrator will always be there for his lost love interest, even though they’re not together at the moment. In the song, the promise of a fire that will remain lit even after it rains was delivered so beautifully. That’s why this song about a fire that promises to never die is so cherished among fans who love it too much to be snuffed out.
#5 – Fight Fire with Fire (performed by Metallica)
From Metallica’s second studio album, Ride the Lightning, “Fight Fire with Fire” was a 1984 musical reminder against the Apocalypse. The starting embers of a slow guitar intro quickly bursts into a chaotic tailspin of warnings that made this song a fiery heavy metal favorite. On a personal note, listening to this song felt like a biblical experience, which was exactly what Metallica seemed to be after. That was made evident as the band included SCRIPTURE into the grim lyrics that made this an unforgettable listening experience.
The acoustic introduction of “Fight Fire with Fire” displayed Metallica’s evolution as a songwriter. This was the fastest Metallica song as far as speed goes as it was driven by riffs in the verses and chorus. The solo sent off the sound effect of a nuclear explosion while the main riff was actually taped during the band’s Kill ‘Em All Tour. “Fight Fire with Fire” was designed to think twice about answering a wrong with another wrong. In a world that always seems to be at war with itself, the real pandemic that claims most amounts of lives comes from the flames of wrath waved by the overly prideful.
#4 – Fire (performed by Bruce Springsteen)
While Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” could easily make this list, “Fire” was also a great tune that came from this incredibly gifted talent. Bruce Springsteen watched his idol Elvis Presley perform in concert in May 1977 in Philadelphia. Inspired, Bruce Springsteen wrote “Fire” with the hope that Elvis Presley would perform it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as The King died before he could receive it. Instead, Robert Gordon would be the first to record this song as a rockabilly number as Bruce Springsteen handed the song after watching him at a live gig.
Bruce Springsteen played the piano while Robert Gordon recorded “Fire,” which was released in 1978 on Robert Gordon’s album, Fresh Fish Special. His version, however, was toppled by the cover version performed by The Pointer Sisters. Theirs became the biggest hit of their career as it peaked at number two on the US Billboard Hot 100. Bruce Springsteen was apparently upset that the Pointer Sisters’ version of “Fire” became such a huge hit in 1979. While it wasn’t the Pointer Sisters that were the issue. It was how “Fire” was handled as a song.
Bruce Springsteen’s live performance of “Fire” became a number forty-six hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 after it was released as a single in 1987. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it peaked at number fourteen. Featured on the album Live/1975-85, the studio recording of this song actually took place in 1977. It was one of the tracks that didn’t make the cut for his 1978 album, Darkness on the Edge of Town. The label felt it didn’t match the thematic vision of the album. However, it was pointed out that Bruce Springsteen likely had a special concern that if “Fire” was included in Darkness on the Edge of Town it would have been Columbia Records’ single of choice to be released.
“Fire” was written by an inspired Bruce Springsteen whose songwriting talent demonstrated why he became a legendary rock star himself. Now, imagine if fate had it Elvis Presley received “Fire” and made Springsteen’s dream come true by recording it himself. What makes “Fire” stand out is this was more than just some song. It was a piece of an ignited Springsteen to become a household name just like his favorite idol.
#3 – Light My Fire (performed by The Doors)
When Jim Morrison from The Doors performed “Light My Fire,” there were scores of female (and maybe even male) fans who were more than happy to take him up on the invite. The organ solo ignited this song even further before the guitar fanned down the flames to make this classic an irresistible favorite.
In 1967, “Light My Fire” spent three weeks on top of the US Billboard Hot 100. When it was performed live on The Ed Sullivan Show, Morrison refused to alter the line, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” just to satisfy the host’s wishes. A fuming Ed Sullivan refused to shake the band’s frontman because of it. However, the audience was lit up like a bunch of firecrackers who couldn’t get enough.
“Light My Fire” was the band’s breakout hit that was released in 1967. What started out as a single verse written by Robby Krieger became a lyrical masterpiece once Jim Morrison was given the opportunity to build the song into the smoldering hit that would become the band’s signature song. It also became one of the biggest cult classics of all time.
Originally, this hot number was seven minutes long before it was shortened to just under three minutes.
#2 – Smoke on the Water (performed by Deep Purple)
Released in 1973 as a single, “Smoke on the Water” became one of Deep Purple’s signature tunes. From the album, Machine Head, this song became a number four hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. On the Canada Top Singles chart, it peaked even higher at number two.
“Smoke on the Water” is so much more than a classic rock favorite. This smoldering song is epic. It’s also based on a true story. When Deep Purple was in Montreux, Switzerland in 1971, they used a mobile recording studio rented from the Rolling Stones. On the eve of the band’s recording session, there was a concert with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention that was held at the Montreux Casino theater. It was the final concert before it was set to close down for annual winter renovations. The plan was Deep Purple would record there while the renovations took place.
However, while Don Preston began to play his solo for “King Kong,” a member of the audience fired a flare gun toward the rattan-covered ceiling. This caused the venue to catch fire and everybody had to be evacuated. Although there were no major injuries, the entire casino complex was destroyed. So was the equipment belonging to the Mothers of Invention. The “Smoke on the Water” became the official song title after witnessing how the smoke and fire spread over Lake Geneva.
The incident left Deep Purple having to find another location to make good use of the expensive mobile recording unit. At first, they went to a local theater but were forced to shut down as neighbors found the music too noisy. Eventually, the band was able to record Machine Head, as well as “Smoke on the Water,” in the converted hallways and stairwells of a nearly empty Grand Hotel de Territet.
“Smoke on the Water” became Deep Purple’s signature song. It also became one of the biggest cult classics in rock music history.
#1 – Great Balls of Fire (performed by Jerry Lee Lewis)
As a guy experiencing love with such a profound impact, Jerry Lee Lewis shouts “Great Balls of Fire” with so much energy that it suggests the man really has burst into flames. This 1957 classic sold one million copies in just ten days after it was released. Now that’s a musical fireball! It was also the fastest-selling single at the time. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it became a number two hit. It likely would have become number one but some radio stations refused to play the song because of the sexually suggestive lyrics.
On the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it became a number three hit. Oddly enough, it was a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, making this crazy rock classic one of the most successful crossover hits of all time. It also topped the UK Singles Chart. What helped spike the popularity of “Great Balls of Fire” was his performance in the 1957 movie, Jamboree.
The legacy of “Great Balls of Fire” has been immense. When rock n’ roll was still young as a genre, it was the fiery energy Jerry Lee Lewis put into ‘Great Balls of Fire” that literally turned up the heat in the music industry. It has never been the same since then and that’s a good thing. Where would classic rock be today if nobody bothered to scorch the audience with such great music? Rest in Peace Jerry.
Top 10 Classic Rock Songs About Fire article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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