As has become my habit, I’m posting a few tunes in celebration of Bonfire Night. I’ve always thought this to be a particularly British celebration, but I know that it is also marked in South Africa, Newfoundland and Labrador, and in some other commonwealth countries. I’ve shared the history before, so please skip this next bit if you don’t need to read it. For newcomers, or the masochistic, this is what we are celebrating.
Last weekend we ‘celebrated’ Hallowe’en, which is largely imported to these shores from the US in its current form, although parts of the British Isles do have a tradition going back many hundreds of years. Our real celebration for this time of year comes today, when we mark what is known as Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night if you prefer. This is still a big night in the UK – understanding of it is perhaps declining, but it marks a momentous event in British history. Bonfires are lit all over the country, and thousands attend to watch them and the accompanying firework displays. Last year those of us in England had just gone back into a national lockdown, which must have tempted a few to think about blowing up Parliament. But it means that big public bonfires were off last year, so I provided a musical compensation for you to enjoy. This year things are returning to a new normal, and I anticipate that there will be many bonfires lit around the country – I’m not sure what they will do for our air quality, though! The eco conscious version is still, I think, to stay in and enjoy the music!
As the majority of readers here are based outside the UK it would be presumptuous of me to assume that you would know why we have our Bonfire Night. Briefly, on 5th November 1605 a man called Guy Fawkes was discovered in the vaults of the House of Lords guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was there to blow the place up during the State Opening of the English Parliament, as part of a plot by Catholics to murder the King, James I of England and VI of Scotland – a Protestant – and install his 9 year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as a Catholic monarch. The details of this are well documented so I won’t bore you with them here, but if you want to know more there is a good article in Wikipedia which draws on a number of authoritative sources to give a full description of the plot and its aftermath, which resulted in trials for those who had not been killed as they tried to make their escape, and subsequent executions by the barbaric method of hanging, drawing and quartering. Perhaps ironically, Guy Fawkes managed to escape this end – weakened by having been tortured during the investigation into the plot he jumped from the gallows and broke his neck.
In the following years the foiling of this plot was celebrated on its anniversary by the ringing of church bells, special sermons and the lighting of bonfires, and it became a part of traditional British culture as a result. This tradition included the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes on top of the bonfire, although in recent times there have been occasions when masks of modern political figures have been put on the guy – we may love our democracy but it doesn’t stop us hating the politicians!
When I was growing up it was commonplace to see groups of children (including me) on the streets transporting their guys in their dads’ wheelbarrow, asking for a ‘Penny for the guy, mister’ but this is seen much less nowadays. In our current Health and Safety conscious era I guess they are most likely to be arrested for begging, even without the requirements for social distancing which interfered with things last year and, to a lesser degree, this year.
To round off my little history lesson there is one video which I’ve shared in previous years and I’m doing so again, as it gives a far better explanation than I could ever provide:
‘Gutted.’ ’You will be.’ Indeed!
Two years ago I gave you a selection of seven ‘fire’ songs and last year, I decided to go for a completely different set, which saw a further six songs. This has left me a problem for this year, though: there are still a lot of ‘fire’ songs out there, so should I go for another new set or mix in some new ones with some previously chosen ones? After all, I may have already shared the best ones, perhaps? I’ve decided on the latter approach, with apologies to anyone who feels I’ve left out one of their favourites: there really are so many to choose from – Bruce Springsteen alone has five that I can think of, one of which I’ve included before. This set comprises four previously shared and four first timers. I hope you enjoy them.
I’m beginning with one which is new to my selections. I like a rousing start, and this is certainly that:
This was the lead single from Pat Benatar’s third album, Precious Time, released in July 1981. The album was a US #1, and reached #30 in the UK. As a single, this track got to #17 in the US but didn’t chart in the UK. Looking back over her career she hasn’t ever done that well in our charts, which I’ve always found surprising: there’s just no accounting for taste, is there?
This next one is one that I shared two years ago. I was 14 when this was released, in January 1968:
This is a typical 60s English pop song, from a band which eventually morphed into two parts – Jeff Lynne (who joined after this song) turned his bit into the ELO, and Roy Wood turned into Wizzard. This is nutty but I love it still – and bought the single when first released. This has absolutely no influence from Guy Fawkes, but it’s still a great song though. In case you were wondering, the clip is from the UK’s Top Of The Pops programme, and the presenter was Dave Cash. This was one of a string of hits The Move had here in the UK, reaching #3, but it didn’t chart in the US. In fact, they only ever broke into the US chart once, with their final single before the band broke up in 1972: this was California Man, which got to the dizzy height of #93!
My next song is one that I also shared last year:
I’ve loved that ever since I first heard it, probably some fifty plus years ago – I was nearly 10 when it was released. Nothing says ‘fire’ quite like an invisible mariachi band, does it? And the song is nothing to do with curry either, in case you were wondering. This was released in April 1963, and made #1 in the US Country chart and #17 on the main Billboard listing. It wasn’t a hit here, though – he hasn’t had much chart success with UK singles, though his albums have fared better.
My next ‘fire’ song for this year is only a couple of years younger, and is another that I also shared last year:
That is a fairly recent video for the song, which actually dates back to early 1965. It was the B-side of The Last Time single (UK #1, US #9), and was also included on the US version of their album from later in 1965, Out Of Our Heads, though not on the UK version – we were expected to buy the single too! It subsequently appeared on several compilation albums in the US, but we had to wait until 1971 before we got an album version here.
Time for a new one now, I think. A singer who has broken all kinds of records with the pre-release of her forthcoming new album, but this is an earlier one of hers:
I really don’t know why I haven’t included that one before, as I absolutely love it, and that live performance is simply incredible. This was a track on Adele’s second album, 21, released in January 2011, which was #1 in both the UK and the US, and just about anywhere else you care to look – in more than thirty countries, in fact. It was a massive success, and has sold more than 10m copies. It spent 23 weeks at the top of the UK chart, and 24 at the top in the US. As a single this was also a US #1, and got to #11 in the UK. Her new album, 30, is released in two weeks’ time: prepare for more sales records to be annihilated! The lead single from it came out last month and has already been #1 in the UK, the US, and a further 23 countries. I suspect that this will be her best seller yet, which is saying something!
I mentioned earlier that Bruce Springsteen has at least five songs with Fire in their title, and I shared one of them, I’m On Fire, a couple of years ago. With so many to choose from I thought I’d give you another. Possibly not the most obvious choice, but I like it so here goes:
That is a fairly recent live performance of a song which has been around for a long time, and I think it’s fantastic the way Bruce interacts with the audience and then brings Steve van Zandt in for the final verse. I first came across Bruce’s version of this on the triple cassette album Live/1975-85, and already knew it, as you probably do, from the 1978 hit single cover version by The Pointer Sisters, which reached #1 in several countries, #2 in the US, but only #34 in the UK. You can’t beat an original, though, can you? It has since appeared – at last – on one of his own albums – The Promise – in 2010. That is a double album of previously unreleased tracks from 1977/8, and it reached #16 in the US and #7 in the UK.
This next one is another that I haven’t featured before. It is a 2019 live performance of a song released in 2003, and it is possibly even more relevant today than on release, as Sarah McLachlan explains in her introduction:
That is a stunningly beautiful song, with such an important message. The album it comes from is Afterglow, released in November 2003, reaching #1 in her native Canada, #2 in the US and #33 in the UK. This song was released as a single the following year. it got to #72 in the UK, and reached #14 in the US Adult Pop Songs chart, based on radio airplay. Rather bizarrely, to my mind, it also made #2 on the US Hot Dance Club Play chart – their night clubs must have been pretty sedate, thoughtful places that year! I bought the album at the time, and can recommend it – it is full of equally lovely, intelligent songs like this one.
One final Fire song for you today. I shared this one two years ago, but I think this piece of musical lunacy deserves another airing:
Fire, by the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, was released in June 1968 in the UK, and in September in the US. It reached #1 in the UK and Canada, and #2 in the US. The band’s self-titled debut album got to #2 in the UK and #7 in the US, largely on the strength of this song’s performance as a single. I would say that this is the archetypal one-hit wonder, were it not for the fact that the follow up single made it all the way to #56 in the UK chart. I guess there really was no chance of really following up something as utterly bonkers as this, though. Arthur Brown wore that flaming headdress on stage for live performances, and somehow the BBC let him get away with it for this Top Of The Pops appearance. I think Health and Safety might have a few words to say about it nowadays, but it is a good way to close my selection of songs about Fire, complete with a little bit of the real thing!
If you are out celebrating tonight please take care and be safe. And remember that carbon footprint – I hate to think what all those bonfires will be doing to our air quality, especially at a time when the Cop26 gathering is being held here. And fingers crossed that no one attempts a ‘Guy Fawkes’ on the conference.
Have fun, and I’ll see you again soon.