The songs in this Top 10 selection are all fire-related, and also happen to include the word ‘Fire’ in their titles – providing a further clue to the fact.
This article reveals the facts, backstories, and lyrical narratives attached to the ten songs and also explores what ‘fire’ symbolizes and represents in each instance. This selection also shows that the subject has been a popular theme for songs across different genres, and across many decades.
The four runners-up mentioned at the end demonstrate just how far-reaching the same topic of ‘Fire’ is, extending to additional music genres and cultural backgrounds that didn’t quite make the cut for this Top 10 list.
#10 Dan Hartman – Relight My Fire
Relight My Fire was originally a disco hit single for American musician and songwriter, Dan Hartman (1950 – 1994) – taken from his 1979 album of the same name. A high-energy song that is well-constructed and expertly arranged. Hartman’s hit includes a soulful, solo break by American singer and songwriter, Loleatta Holloway (1946-2011).
The chorus repeats the words of the title ‘Relight My Fire’ and this phrase is often used as a celebrational chant by people when they sing along to the song at performances, events and nightclubs. The word desire represents the topic of fire in this song, in fact, the word ‘desire’ could replace the word ‘Fire’ and no meaning to the song would be lost. It’s a real feel-good tune.
Several artists have recorded covers of this song, including the British boy band ‘Take That’ (feat. Lulu). Released in October 1993, it reached number 1 in the UK charts.
Trivia Fact: Relight My Fire along with Hartman’s best-selling single Instant Replay have been described as being perfect examples of a disco hit.
#9 Kings of Leon – Sex On Fire
Here is a song about fire that cannot be ignored. Sex On Fire is Kings of Leon’s biggest hit to this day; penned by the band’s lead singer, Caleb Followill. It was the first single to be released from the band’s award-winning studio album Only By The Night (2008) and has all the standard rock style elements, with driving chord sequences giving way to high-pitched, high-tempo electric guitar harmonies (and screech) to up the dynamic.
Followill holds the melody over the top, singing lyrics that are personal and emotionally charged. Therefore, the title and the song should perhaps be taken literally, describing a sexual experience that is hot – like ‘Fire’.
Trivia Fact: the band Kings of Leon is from Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville is known as ‘Music City’.
#8 Bob Dylan/Rick Ranko – This Wheel’s on Fire
Legendary American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan co-wrote This Wheel’s on Fire with Canadian musician Rick Ranko (1943-1999). Dylan was working in collaboration with a rock band, named The Band, with whom Ranko was the bass guitarist and vocalist. This track was taken from The Basement Tapes which were released in June 1975 having been recorded in 1967. Dylan features as the lead vocalist.
The song is a folksy, rock song fusion. Primary chords in Minor and Major alternate and form the pulse, which establishes the beat four times. The song includes piano and accordion accompaniment. The song is a haunting tale of what a lover is about to sacrifice in the name of romantic love, ‘…wheels on fire’ being a metaphor for a situation that has escalated out of control. Others have covered this fabulous song with a dramatic, cautionary message, but the most well-known recorded version has to be that by English singer, Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and The Trinity.
Of course, many will recognize This Wheel’s on Fire as the theme from the popular sit-com Absolutely Fabulous in which Driscoll joins the comedian, actor, and musician Adrian (Ade) Edmondson in this version.
Trivia Fact: The soundtrack for the movie Absolutely Fabulous (2016) featured an exclusive version of This Wheel’s on Fire performed by pop singer, Kylie Minogue.
#7 Ed Sheeran – I See Fire
GENRE: MOVIE SOUNDTRACK
English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s commissioned showpiece I See Fire is part of the soundtrack for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013). The second of film director Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films is based on the famous The Hobbit novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a gentle ballad with vocal harmony and acoustic guitar with folk and Celtic style elements and a beautifully subtle, stringed instrument arrangement.
Sheeran has based the song on the final scenes of the movie, where the dragon, Smaug, leaves his mountain bolthole and takes to the skies on his way to terrorize the townsfolk. The song appears while the closing credits roll, and we do not know the outcome of the dragon attack until the release of the third film in the series. But the dragon is full of ‘fire’ and we worry that the people will ‘all burn together’. Sheeran’s dark but stunning song received worldwide acclaim as demonstrated by its many chart appearances and successes.
Trivia Fact: The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings in their various formats are symbols of popular culture which Sheeran has enjoyed since childhood.
#6 The Prodigy – Firestarter
Over a quarter of a century since The Prodigy released Firestarter, a digital song that falls under the Dance/Electronic music category. It is vigorous and mind-blowingly fresh to this day. Part of the band’s high-ranking studio album, The Fat of The Land (1997), the popularity of the song and its iconic, black-and-white music video by director Walter Stern never wanes. The song has vocals that follow a repeated pattern, and has the high-energy of electronic synth sounds and sampled sound production.
The ‘Fire’ reference comes from the unhinged perspective of a ‘twisted’, arsonist (a fire starter) who is the protagonist of the song. Its repeated lines reveal that much.
Firestarter has appeared in other media formats: films, advertisements and video games both as soundtracks and as instrumental only.
Trivia Fact: In 1993 The Prodigy had recorded another popular rave song that fits nicely under the theme of fire, the title of that song was Fire no less. The ‘I am the god of hellfire’ sample was taken from the song Fire by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, which happens to be number #3 in this Top 10 list.
#5 James Taylor – Fire and Rain
Singer-songwriter James Taylor could be described as an American icon in the truest sense. Fire and Rain was one of Taylor’s earliest successful, acoustic guitar singles in which Taylor demonstrates his masterful fingerpicking skills. It encompasses Taylor’s signature blend of country, blues and folk- soft rock. From the studio album Sweet Baby James (1970), it is a somber song that is now deemed a classic.
Fire and Rain is deeply personal and tells of Taylor’s real-life heartbreak and personal struggles at the time of writing. It is understood that Taylor found Fire and Rain cathartic to write and that it was a tension buster at the time.
What ‘Fire’ signifies in this instance is, perhaps, less identifiable. Taylor repeats the line throughout ‘I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain’ .Does ‘Fire’ mean that Taylor experienced something that he describes as being close to ‘Hell’ (Fire)? And what about rain? Is it an emotion he is describing that is designed to contrast? Rain is a metaphor for sadness and tears maybe. Despite this song’s painful lyrics, it has endured. Taylor’s audiences still love to hear it.
Trivia Fact: In May 2022 James Taylor received the honorary degree – Doctor of Music at the New England Conservatory of Music’s graduation ceremony.
#4 The Doors – Light My Fire
GENRE: PSYCHEDELIC ROCK
It could be argued that Light My Fire may, for many, be the first that comes to mind when considering songs about fire. It is the first (of two) fire songs in this list that falls under the psychedelic rock/rock blues category. A popular music genre during the mid-1960s and early 1970s. Light My Fire was released in 1967 and was an edited version taken from the American band The Doors’ eponymous debut album. Light My Fire is quintessential to the sound and feel of the music genre in which it sits.
The drum, bass, and keyboard playing are the timbre we attach to the song. The tone is maintained consistently throughout the song’s seven-minute play time which includes a mix, and a crossover of rhythmic patterns that defines it. Light My Fire is a clever composition, strangely chaotic yet structured at the same time. The melody of the song appears in the distinctive spoken-sung phrasing and the sometimes raw bluesy, lead vocals of Jim Morrison (1943-1971).
The word ‘Fire’ appears thirteen times in the poetic structure of the repetitive lyrics of this song. Fire represents the protagonist’s plea to another and is an urgent calling to light up former passions which have dulled, and to fulfill desperation to reignite some fire, or in other words vitality and energy, back into life.
In 1979, American Soul singer Amii Stewart enjoyed success with a disco version of Light My Fire.
Trivia Fact: The band’s mainstay producer, Paul Allen Rothchild (1935-1995), also produced the soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie The Doors and played a cameo role in the film.
#3 The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – Fire
GENRE: PSYCHEDELIC ROCK
Burning hell fire is the central theme of the second psychedelic hit single to appear in this Top 10 selection. The song ‘Fire’ is taken from the album The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, written and performed by a band of the same name. The band was formed by its compelling lead singer, Arthur Brown. The band and its producers enjoyed transatlantic success with the album and its single ‘Fire’ in 1968.
The sound of the Hammond organ is very distinctive in this track, and Arthur Brown’s artistic contribution was a crucial element to the success of the song ‘Fire’. In this fabulously energetic and fast-paced song, Brown demonstrates his incredible vocal range. A couple of the verses are a light contrast to the darker, deeper and heavier tone of the chorus lines. Eventually, in the final bars of the song the dynamic builds with Brown repeating the word ‘burn’ over and over, and in menacing tones until he’s screaming. After all, he is ‘…the god of hell fire’, he tells us so in the song’s opening line.
Trivia Fact: in the BBCTV @ TOTP 1968 performance footage, Arthur Brown appears performing with flames burning inside a vessel that is attached to his head.
#2 Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire
American country singers and songwriters Merle Kilgour (1934 –2005) and June Carter (later to be June Carter Cash) co-wrote the song Ring of Fire. Ironically, Ring of Fire was recorded and performed by the man who Carter had in mind when she wrote the lyrics, Johnny Cash; one of the most celebrated figures in the world of country music.
Ring of Fire possibly refers to Cash’s volatility, which was well documented at the time, and how Carter found Cash, her husband to be, all-consuming. Like being inside a ‘burning ring of ‘fire’ – as she describes in the lyrics.
A made-for-TV movie based on the lives and the relationship of the couple, ‘Ring of Fire’ directed by Allison Anders, was released in 2013. Both protagonists had passed away ten years previous.
The song has a mariachi-style introduction with trumpets playing and the same trumpet sounds are used throughout as a call and response sequence. The unmistakable baritone voice of Cash tells the narrative from a first-person perspective. Cash is another who adopted spoken-sung phrasing while playing rhythm guitar with a boom-chuck beat. Released in 1963, Ring of Fire was one of Cash’s biggest hits.
Trivia Fact: Johnny Cash’s popularity crossed to other music genres, and no other recording artist has been able to match his wide-ranging success in that regard. His induction into five separate ‘Halls of Fame’, before and after his death, is a testament to the fact.
#1 Adele – Set Fire To The Rain
Set Fire To The Rain is a soulful power ballad. A single released in 2011, the song was written and performed by the multiple Grammy award-winning Adele in collaboration with Fraser T. Smith. Taken from her second studio album, 21, it achieved chart-topping success internationally.
The studio-created elements of Set Fire to The Rain are evident. This song is a fine example of the layering and digital techniques adopted by modern-day music production, and it has everything of that vein rolled into one. With Adele’s perfectly pitched and emotionally charged vocals, it is an incredible song.
Set Fire to The Rain mirrors the recurring themes that run through the album ’21’. A romantic relationship is ending and the injured party (the narrator) did not foresee it happening. The song questions the honesty of one individual while the other reflects on this deceit. Setting fire to rain is a wonderful analogy, but an impossibility in reality. Perhaps that is the point being made; that the crying and upset cannot be burned away by hopes and denials of the heart and mind.
Trivia Fact: British Indie label XL Recordings released Adele’s ’21’ but also released another album mentioned in this Top 10, The Prodigy’s Fat of the Land album
- Aztec Fire by Jay Bocook – A concert band favorite
- Disco Inferno by James T Ellis (Jimmy Ellis) – Recorded by the soul group The Trammps, of which he was a member
- Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil – A song about the plight of the Aboriginal people of Australia
- Fire by Bruce Springsteen – This song was written by Springsteen, however, the highest profile it achieved was a cover version released in 1978 by the R&B group The Pointer Sisters
The profiling of each of the songs mentioned has focused less on statistical information, and more on how every song is tremendously unique, each one telling a story. In every case, the artists and the creative and technical processes involved in making the songs, explore the subject of ‘Fire’.
Fire is the result of a chemical reaction that is always explosive, so there is huge potential to match the qualities of fire with what is associated with it. In poetic verse, fire helps to better convey human emotions and the dramas of life. It is a repeated format used in the majority of our Top 10 songs. Themes like passion, energy, desire, and love for life feature consistently in both the lyrics and the timbre of these songs about fire.
There are examples in the list where the danger attached to fire is used metaphorically, as a way of conveying cautionary warnings or to describe unpredictability and destructive behavior. These all add complexity to the narrative, drawing comparisons with people who fit the context of a song that seems, on the surface, to be only about fire. Some have explored the subject of fire in their songs rather differently, focusing on the fact that ‘fire’ is absent and missed by the protagonist. These songs scream out for ‘fire’ to be life-affirmingly present once again.
All musicians in this list have incredible voices and you may be interested to check which one, if any, made it to our ranking of best singers of all time.
Here’s hoping that you have enjoyed the exploration of ‘fire’ and agree that it is a fascinating song topic which will surely continue to inspire artists long in to the future.
Top 10 Best Songs About Fire (2023 Update)
|1||Set Fire To The Rain||Adele|
|2||Ring of Fire||Johnny Cash|
|3||Fire||The Crazy World of Arthur Brown|
|4||Light My Fire||The Doors|
|5||Fire and Rain||James Taylor|
|7||I See Fire||Ed Sheeran|
|8||This Wheel’s on Fire||Bob Dylan/Rick Ranko|
|9||Sex On Fire||Kings of Leon|
|10||Relight My Fire||Dan Hartman|