Fire is symbolic of passion, purification, destruction, energy, and volatile emotions. Songs about fire represent a range of emotions from negative feelings of anger, regret, and betrayal to more positive feelings such as freedom or intense love. With music selections spanning various decades, we have compiled a list of the top ten songs with references to fire.
“We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel (1989)
From Joel’s 11th album entitled Stormfront, this spoken word song, both written and recorded by Joel, references dozens of different headlines ranging from they years 1949 to 1989, the year Joel was born to the year the song was released. It hit number 1 in the Billboard charts.
“Burning Down the House” by The Talking Heads (1983)
Hitting 9 on the Billboard charts, this song from their Speaking in Tongues album, the band’s fifth, was their most successful in North America.
David Byrne, lead vocals, was part of the songwriting team, and if the lyrics sound more like nonsense to you than something logical or cohesive, it’s not just you and you are also correct.
Byrne admitted that while the title does have some meaning for him, the lyrics are only words and phrases that he felt listeners could connect emotionally with.
3. “Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon (2008)
This song is about and dedicated to the lead singer, Caleb Followill’s, current wife (girlfriend when it was written). It was written by Caleb along with his two brothers and cousin.
It is from their fourth album, Only by the Night, and peaked at number 56 on Billboard.
“Beds are Burning” by Midnight Oil (1987)
From their sixth album, Diesel and Dust, “Beds are Burning” was the Australian band’s most major hit, peaking at number 17.
The song itself discusses the unsafe health and living conditions of Aboriginal communities. It was written by the band after they toured the Australian Outback.
“Lake of Fire” by the Meat Puppets (1984)
This song, written by lead singer and guitarist Curt Kirkwood and featured on the band’s second album, Meat Puppets II, was one of three that Seattle-based grunge band, Nirvana, covered during their 1993 MTV Unplugged performance.
Nirvana later released it as a promotional single for their live album. It peaked at number 22 on the charts in 1995.
“Fire It Up” by Modest Mouse (2007)
While “Fire It Up” as a phrase is commonly connected to smoking marijuana, Modest Mouse claims that this song, written by lead singer Issac Brock and off of their fifth album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, is about something a bit less controversial. The “it” is referring to a car, not an uncommon theme in the band’s work.
“Eternal Flame” by The Bangles” (1989)
Many people use the term “eternal flame” to refer to eternal life; a flame that always lives on no matter if the person does not. This was not the case for this song, which was co-written by one of the vocalists, Susanna Hoffs, and was part of their third album, entitled Everything.
The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” is one of love and the hope that the feeling is both mutual and not just a dream. It rose to number 1 in the Billboards.
“Burning for You” by Blue Oyster Cult (1981)
Not only does the song reference fire, but Blue Oyster Cult’s eighth album was entitled Fire of an Unknown Origin.
The song, written by Richard Meltzer and lead guitarist Buck Dharma, was their third (of only four) songs to get on the Billboard charts, with a peak at number 40, and a spot on the charts for an impressive 23 weeks.
“Sleep Now in the Fire” by Rage Against the Machine (1999)
Never not known for being contentious, Rage Against the Machine released this song from their third album, Battle of Los Angeles. Like the vast majority of their music, it attacks capitalism in the United States.
The accompanying music video was directed by Michael Moore, and features the band performing in front of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, which in turn, led to a mob of people forming and almost storming the building, which actually forced trading to be shut for over 20 minutes, a feat that while not all that common has happened several times before (and after) in its history, which dates all the way back to 1817.
“Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis (1957)
Featured in the movie, Jamboree, Jerry Lee Lewis’ third released single sold a staggering one million copies in the US in just under two weeks, a feat that is still monumental today, let alone over 60 years ago.
Not only was it one of Lewis’s biggest songs, it was also his most controversial, due to its racy lyrics, and the name of his biopic. The song was written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer.
“Fight Fire With Fire”—Metallica
This song discusses the potential end of times referring to Armageddon and its prophetic end of life but specific to nuclear annihilation, a major concern of the times. This song was a track of the Kill ‘Em All (Deluxe Remaster) Album which was released in 1983.
Metallica was a band that came together in 1981 who became one of the biggest selling artists in American history. Their initial home playing field was the Bay area but soon the world gained access to their unique sound.
“Light My Fire”—The Doors
The iconic song describing unbridled love and passion, sung by lead singer of the Doors, Jim Morrison, remains a classic to this day. The Doors were a Los Angeles based band who formed in 1965 but went on to be the first American band to realize eight consecutive gold albums.
Rolling Stone magazine recognized The Doors as one of the greatest music artists of all time. Their music fell into the blues rock, acid rock, and psychedelic rock genres and were most popular over an eight-year span from 1965-1973. The Doors were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
“Set Fire to the Rain”—Adele
Adele Laurie Blue Adkins is an English singer and songwriter who at age 18, signed her first recording contract. The lyrics of this single, sung beautifully by Adele, describes passionate love found within her intense relationship and the pain felt upon its breakup and contrast fire and water.
This single reflects Adele’s heartbreak and is but one of many of the tracks focused on the artist’s heartbreaks featured on her album entitled ‘21’ released in 2011. She initially rose to fame in America after her 2008 appearance on Saturday Night Live. The next year, she won the Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 51st Grammy Awards.
“Fire and Rain”—James Taylor
This track is part of James Taylor’s album entitled ‘Sweet Baby James’ released in 1970. The folk song tells the story of Taylor’s reactions to his childhood friend’s suicide and uses the popular theme of competing forces of water and fire.
James Taylor is an American folk singer and songwriter from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and a five-time Grammy Award winner. His worldwide sales of over 100 million records makes him one of the best-selling artists of all time.
This single was a track on the album entitled ‘The People’s Key’ released in 2011 by the Nebraska band, Bright Eyes. This song referenced dreams, mythology, Tesla the inventor, and imbibing of spirits. This acoustic tune was popular among indie-pop fans.
“Fire in the Henhouse”—Our Lady Peace
This single is a track on the 8th album release (2012) entitled “Curve” by Our Lady Peace, a Canadian alternative rock band. The lead singer, Raine Maida, stated that it wasn’t intended to impart a political message but the lyrics definitely are a call to action for societal change.
He further explained that he believed that the last time that society was similar to ‘Shangri-La’, was when the Native Americans were the sole residents of North America. This was in response to his concerns about climate change and its environmental impacts.
“Play With Fire”—The Rolling Stones
The English rock group known as The Rolling Stones took the world by storm. They formed in 1962 and have been touring ever since. This single was part of their album entitled ‘Out of Our Heads’ released in 1965.
Their music style fell within the popular rock and roll and rhythm and blues genre of the 60s era. This album became their first number one on the U.S. Billboard 200.
“I’m on Fire”—Bruce Springsteen
This single was a track on the seventh studio album entitled ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ which was released in 1985. The story behind the lyrics is about a man who wakes up in lust after a woman, feeling on fire and sweating profusely.
Bruce Springsteen, an American rock singer-songwriter went on to sell over 15 million copies in the U.S. and 30 million copies worldwide of ‘Born in the U.S.A.’.
“Fire Water Burn”—Bloodhound Gang
This is the first single on the second album of the Bloodhound Gang entitled ‘One Fierce Beer Coaster’ which was released in 1997.
This rap music mashup references many pop culture icons with random messaging. Bloodhound Gang is an American rock band that formed in 1988 and is still recording. Their music spans pop and hip hop cultures, rapcore and electronic rock genres.
“Just Like Fire”—Pink
Pink, an American singer, co-wrote and recorded this single for the 2016 Disney original motion picture soundtrack entitled ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ on the RCA-Walt Disney label.
Pink cited in a magazine interview that her daughter inspired her during the writing of the song.The story behind the lyrics reflects Pink’s desire to not be controlled by others and to live out her dreams.
Pink attributes her gift to that of fire, uncontrolled but able to ignite the world. This single was nominated for the ‘Best Song Written for Visual Media’ at the 2017 Grammy Awards.