It’s unsurprising that there are so many songs about fire. One of the four classical elements, it’s been a fascination as long as humans have been around. Every genre you care to name has a classic that references fire in some way: Soul, rock ‘n’ roll, hip-hop, electronic music, country, and many more besides. Below, we round up just a few of the greatest songs to ever reference fire in some way.
Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire
While the phrase “Great Balls of Fire” was used by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1957 to hyperbolize being in love, the attention-grabbing song title has stuck around in the decades since. The track sold an incredible one million copies within the first ten days of its release.
Bruce Springsteen – I’m on Fire
Springsteen’s 1985 single “I’m on Fire” included lyrical references to fire, as well as the singer posing in front of flames for the cover artwork. The song, off his critically-acclaimed album Born in the U.S.A., was also one of the earliest examples of him using synthesizers for an instrumental.
Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start the Fire
Joel’s fast-paced song of various historical events is immediately recognizable. Using fire as an allusion to the fact that bad times happen across most generations, he had written it after meeting a dismayed, 21-year-old friend of Sean Lennon. In the music video, Joel appears with flames burning behind him.
Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire
“Ring of Fire” is known to many fans as one of Johnny Cash’s biggest hits, as he uses the motif to chronicle his passionate feelings of love. However, what many might not know is that the song was first released by his wife’s sister, Anita Carter, with the title, “(Love’s) Ring of Fire.” Cash eventually re-recorded the song, and it hit No.1 on the country charts.
Metallica – Fight Fire With Fire
The opening track on Metallica’s 1984 album Ride the Lightning, “Fight Fire With Fire” details flames as a reference to nuclear warfare and apocalyptic chaos. The band’s lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett, revealed in a 2020 interview that he first heard the start of the song’s eventual acoustic intro riff on tour.
Joni Mitchell – Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire
Mitchell’s “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” is a heartbreaking tale about addiction, with references throughout. The track was written as she coped with the end of her relationship to fellow singer-songwriter James Taylor.
James Taylor – Fire and Rain
The highlight of James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James sees Taylor detailing his personal addiction, the loss of a friend, depression, and struggling with fame. In short, it’s one of the heaviest songs ever recorded. (Little known fact: Carole King plays piano on the track.)
Pink – Just Like Fire
Pop performer Pink recorded “Just Like Fire” for the 2016 movie, Alice Through the Looking Glass. The song isn’t about fire, but perseverance, as Pink noted that her daughter was an inspiration behind the lyrics. It went on to be nominated for a Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media, as well as reaching No.1 in Australia.
The Doors – Light My Fire
“Light My Fire” by Jim Morrison and The Doors was originally influenced by another fire-themed song: The Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire.” The track’s seven-minute album version was eventually cut down for radio, with an instrumental break removed, despite the band’s objections. The psychedelic rock anthem from their debut album proved to be one of their biggest hits, reaching No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Adele – Set Fire to the Rain
While Adele can’t exactly do what the title of her 2011 ballad “Set Fire to the Rain” implies, the song does use the concept of fire to chronicle the various aspects of a relationship. Her live performance of the song at Royal Albert Hall earned a Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance. It also marked Adele’s third consecutive No.1 from her critically-acclaimed album, 21.
Halsey – Angel on Fire
Halsey’s 2017 song, “Angel on Fire,” appeared as a bonus track on their sophomore album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, which was loosely inspired by director Baz Luhrmann’s film interpretation of Romeo & Juliet. The song itself alludes to the mythology of Icarus flying too close to the sun, as they reflect on feeling lost among friends at a party.
Rage Against the Machine – Sleep Now in the Fire
Rock band Rage Against the Machine caused mayhem during the music video shoot for their 1999 song, “Sleep Now in the Fire.” Filmed in front of the New York Stock Exchange, the video’s director was arrested. The themes of fire in the song’s lyrics allude to greed and societal breakdown.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Fire
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s hit song “Fire” (also known as “Let Me Light Your Fire”) was written after the famed guitar icon spent a night at the band’s bass player Noel Redding’s house on New Year’s Eve. Hendrix tried to warm up by the fireplace, but Redding’s mom’s dog was blocking the way. His reply, “Aw, move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over,” served as the lyrical inspiration.
The Trammps – Disco Inferno
“Disco Inferno” by The Trammps was a major hit, reaching No.1 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs in 1977. The title is believed to have been inspired by the 1974 award-winning action film, The Towering Inferno. Combined with the disco craze, the song found further success after being included on Saturday Night Fever’s film soundtrack. It has since gone on to be covered by the likes of Tina Turner and Cyndi Lauper.
Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire
R&B star Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” was the title track from her fifth album. Keys found the song’s inspiration not from actual fire. Instead, it’s about giving birth to her son. She went on to record an “Inferno” remix with Nicki Minaj, and the duo performed it together at MTV’s Video Music Awards that year.
Willow Smith feat. Nicki Minaj – Fireball
Willow Smith also brought in Nicki Minaj for a blazing performance of her song, “Fireball.” Back in 2011, before Willow became a pop-punk powerhouse, she was claiming to be the “fireball at the party.” She would go on to play the song solo during an episode of the US version of The X Factor.
The Rolling Stones – Play With Fire
Originally released as a B-side, The Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire” was written in 1965 by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Jagger also plays tambourine on the track, as he details a tense relationship with a wealthy woman.
Bob Dylan – This Wheel’s on Fire
Bob Dylan and The Band first recorded “This Wheel’s on Fire” together in 1967, but it would take a few more years until it appeared on Dylan’s 1975 album, The Basement Tapes. The somber song’s title references biblical, apocalyptic imagery. Both Dylan and The Band’s Rick Danko kept the song alive decades after initial release through countless live performances.
Harry Nilsson – Jump Into The Fire
“Jump Into The Fire” by Harry Nilsson found the singer-songwriter getting almost funky. Originally peaking at No.27 on Billboard’s Hot 100, the song saw a resurgence in popularity, after appearing in the 1990 gangster blockbuster, Goodfellas.
Katy Perry – Firework
Katy Perry’s “Firework” became a massive hit in 2010, as even the most casual music listener couldn’t escape the song’s empowering message. It has since been certified 12x Platinum. What many might not know, however, is that “Firework” wasn’t necessarily inspired by the July 4th holiday, but by Perry’s fascination with a paragraph from Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road.
David Bowie – Set the World on Fire
Bowie’s 2013 song, “(You Will) Set the World on Fire” details a moment where you witness someone truly powerful. The verses allude to Joni Mitchell, as well as various musicians of the 1960s New York scene like Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. It was featured on The Next Day Extra EP.
Andy Shauf – Fire Truck
In the case of indie musician Andy Shauf’s “Fire Truck,” the song’s lyrics are just as the title reads. “I wrote this one just because my studio is right by a fire station and every cigarette break I had, there was a fire truck that kept going by,” Shauf said, according to Genius.
Lil Wayne – Fireman
Rapper Lil Wayne’s “Fireman” was the first single from his fifth studio album, Tha Carter II. In this case, the lyrics about a fireman reference drug dealing, as well as doubling for various innuendos. The hip hop song was produced by the duo Doe Boyz and peaked at No.10 in 2005.
Ed Sheeran – I See Fire
Written for the film soundtrack of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2013, Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” appeared during the closing credits. Most of the track was written and recorded in just one day, after the daughter of film director Peter Jackson suggested letting Sheeran add a song. Lyrically, “I See Fire” is about seeing destruction happening around the narrator.
Blue Öyster Cult – Burnin’ for You
The fire-related content of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Burnin’ For You” is a classic passion metaphor. What makes this song special, though, is one of its co-writers is rock critic Richard Meltzer, proving that – in some cases at least – critics can indeed write tunes just as good as the professionals.