Bruce Springsteen - "Fire"
Bruce Springsteen’s songwriting vault is something that I’d like to break into like I was in Oceans 11. I’d likely use an elaborate machine to simulate an earthquake in Colt’s Neck, New Jersey, dodge the incoming stampede of prized show horses, and then make off with an armful of notebooks, studio tapes, and Sony MiniDiscs.
Every so often though, without any sort of nail-biting heist, Springsteen fans are gifted with a song that escapes through leaked demo recordings, live performances, or hushed whispers on internet forums. Springsteen’s “Fire” broke out and launched it’s own career as a modern standard.
Springsteen originally wrote “Fire” after seeing Elvis Presley perform at the Philadelphia Spectrum on May 28, 1977 with the hopes that The King himself might record it. Bruce cut a demo in the following months and shipped it to Presley’s mansion, but the package arrived too late. Elvis passed away in August 1977.
A year later, Springsteen was in the midst of the legendary recording sessions that would produce 1978’s punk-fueled Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s rumored that more than 75 songs were written for the album--with 52 of those being fully or partially recorded during the sessions.
“Fire” didn’t really fit the bill for what Bruce was going for with Darkness, though. While the songs he had written ranged from jaunty doo-wop like “Ain’t Good Enough for You” to riff heavy rockers like “Talk To Me,” Springsteen--as he always does--had a thematic vision. Neither of those songs would make the cut. This album would be darker than anything he’d done, so “Fire” wouldn’t fit either. Bruce was also scared that, if included on the album, Columbia Records would select it as the lead single despite being incongruous with the rest of the record. After effectively shelving the song, The Pointer Sisters would cut a cover version that rocketed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
The Pointer Sisters relaunched their career with “Fire” after lineup troubles in the mid-70s. Reforming as a trio, The Pointer Sisters went on to score multiple hits with their 1979 album Energy-- undoubtedly aided by session guitarist Waddy Wachtel. (There he is again!)
The first recorded version, though, was cut by rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon for his 1978 album Fresh Fish Special. According to Gordon, Springsteen offered him the choice between two of his Darkness-era songs, but Bruce wound up keeping the other for himself and locking it away in that damn vault of his.
Of course, if a song was popular in the 1970s, Cher had to sing it at some point in her career. The Spector Survivor performed “Fire” during her 1970s stand at the Monte Carlo with the aid of a harmonica solo and a dress made mostly of sequins and feathers.
Enrique Iglesias and Tom Jones teamed up for “Fire” to combat misandry, I guess, during VH1’s Men Strike Back television event in 2000. Their version is-- um-- here for the sake of completion.
“Fire” has since gone on to be finished and released by Springsteen for his 2010 box set, The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story. It was also featured on Bruce’s landmark 4-disc Live 1975-1985 album, although that version is a mish-mash of a spoken intro from a show in Los Angeles in July 1978 and a performance from later that year at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom.
Nobody knows when songs will escape Springsteen’s hoard, but “Fire” symbolizes the depth of Bruce’s writing and vision. For Bruce, a song that might be good enough for another artist to take to No. 2 isn’t good enough if it doesn’t fit his theme. His creative control and charity to other artists are sometimes warring factors in what has made his discography, both released and unreleased, so vibrant as the years pass.