255. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

1968 strikes again! Our next #1 kicks off with a yell straight from the sulphurous pits. I am the God of hell-fire, And I bring you…! Well, they do say that rock ‘n’ roll is the devil’s music…

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Fire, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 14th – 21st August 1968

Fire, I’ll take you to burn…! As an opening statement, it’s pretty aggressive…. Fire, I’ll take you to learn…! Demonic horns and a Satanic organ, playing as if it were possessed, join in with the fun as the ground splits in two below our feet and we tumble into the roasting furnace. I’ll see you burn…

This is, and I mean this in the best possible way, a crazy record. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown certainly live up to their name. That it hit the top of the singles chart for a week in the summer of ’68 is something to be marvelled at, and enjoyed. It’s harsh, it’s angry… It’s an anthem dedicated to nihilism and arson: You fought hard, And you saved and earned, But all of it’s going to burn… Arthur Brown then launches into an Ohhh Noooo and a series of yelps and squawks that Axl Rose in his prime would have been proud of. Wiki lists ‘Fire’ as ‘psychedelic’, which it is… But that’s only telling a tiny part of the story. This is hair metal and shock-rock, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden, before any of that was a thing. Fire… To destroy all you’ve done…

The second verse slows down, like the soundtrack to an eerie, cheapo haunted mansion ride, before the grinding organ and horns snap back in and we head relentlessly towards the finish. We get crazed laughter, shrieks, the horns blasting ever stronger, before the winds of hell blow us on our way. You’re gonna burn…burn burn burn burnburnburn…! Apparently Brown used to perform this track while wearing a helmet that had been doused in fuel and set alight (see the pic above). Because of course he did…

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They also say that the devil has the best tunes, but I’m not so sure about that being the case here. This is an amazing record, an experience; but not one that I’m desperate to repeat many more times. Perhaps it’s a truly awesome record… ‘Awesome’ in the literal sense of inspiring fear, as in the ‘awesome’ power of an atomic bomb.

I am convinced that there must have been some controversy around this disc hitting the top of the charts – that at least Mary Whitehouse and the Archbishop of Canterbury got their knickers in a twist over it – but can’t find much evidence online. It shows how far society had come in the decade or so since Elvis was getting cropped at the waist, I guess.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, largely Brown and organist Vincent Crane, are one-hit wonders in the truest sense. None of their other singles – either before or after – managed to chart in the UK. But their legacy lives on –  all the metal stars I listed above count them as an influence, while ‘Fire’ has been sampled by The Prodigy and Marilyn Manson. Arthur Brown still performs, aged seventy-seven, and still sets his helmet on fire…

I feel like I’ve been writing this at the end of nearly every recent post, but it bears repeating… What else has 1968 got in store for us? Surely it can’t get any weirder than this…?

10 thoughts on “255. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

  1. I was just reading about Brown, a bit. Considering Alice Cooper pre-dated him, I suspect that he was influenced by Cooper. A Polly Marshall did a biography of Brown. Per her book:

    “The helmet was improvised with a leather skull cap onto which was bolted a metal dish that held lighter fluid or petrol. As the cap was not insulated, the heat from the burning fuel quickly conducted through the fixing bolt to the top of Brown’s head, causing him considerable pain.”

    The things one does for glory.

    • I suppose they were contemporaries… Seems that Brown hit it big with this song while it would be a few years before Cooper really breaks through.

      I love that quote. Maybe that’s how he manages to yowl so convincingly on the record…?

      • Well, Cooper was active in ’64 but, was a teen. In a documentary, in talking about changing his band’s name (Nazz) because they found out Rundgren had one, too, he stated that they also needed a gimmick. His black eyes came from watching Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”. And, those changes took place in 1968. That’s when “Alice Cooper” showed up as a band name. He didn’t officially adopt the name, personally, until 1975. That being said, as a band, they didn’t release an album until 1969 and that took Zappa’s help. Brown’s studio album was released in 1968 and he is six years older than Fornier.

        Their face paint is very similar but, Vincent never set his head on fire…that I know of. Hell, I’d yowl, too!

        Guess they had their own ideas, independently. Suspicion…denied. 😎😁

  2. What a song… it’s one I cannot repeat on too much but it’s a great one when the mood is right.
    It’s different and I like it. It sounds like chaos at the beginning… it’s a conversation starter that is for sure.

  3. Yes I don’t recall it being that controversial at the time either – it was certainly wild, but I think it was more seen as gimmicky because of the distracting head-gear. Us kids all knew it anyway, so it can’t have been regarded as ban-able.

    One of my Christian friends was asked to do a eulogy and got a bit concerned that this was the chosen record as the coffin sauntered off to the furnace. “He’s having a laugh” I reassured him (not knowing the other person at all) optimistically….

    • Haha. Yes, I can see this as a joke funeral song. Along with ‘Deeper Underground’, ‘Going Underground’, ‘Burn Baby Burn’…

      That, or they were simply massive Satanists, who knows?

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