Fire – Five Ways

English words are like onions, when you sing. Chop them, roast them whole, caramelise them, scatter them as crunchy red raw rings on a salad. They never stop being onions, but you’re in charge of the flavour and the texture they provide.

Fire is a classic onion. We all know what fire is. It’s the singer’s job to make us feel what fire ‘is’ in their song.

Arthur Brown sings a powerful, all-encompassing fire. The fire of myth. Wicker Man, Hell-fire, Prometheus. Fire as pure element. Fi-ya:

Arthur Brown sings fire as creation and myth, not sex.  Mick dissolves fire. He breathes it smooth and steady, ending in a warm whisper. Enticing and dangerous. A private offer. Just you and Mick. Fiiah:

Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand sings fire efficiently and matter-of-factly. He’s not the source of the fire. His fire isn’t Mick or Arthur’s. It defeats him. Alex isn’t offering any promises for a shared future; he’s not going to draw you into his personal flame. He’s burning up, not smouldering with passion:

Jim Morrison sings fire as longing, invitation and a slow, slow burn. Black leather trousers and pointy boots. He splits the word on a central hinge, just like Arthur Brown, but where Arthur ends with a powerful, exultantya’, Jim purrs into his luxurious ending, like a tiger. Fi-yuur:

Jim pours his soul into fire in the chorus. In the verse he sings fire as a straightforward, practical word. A camping trip request: Did you bring the matches, darling? That set-up makes us notice the fire of the chorus even more. Change pushes us to pay close attention.

Whenever a word is repeated in a song, you make a choice each and every time. Painting shades of difference into the same word, especially when it’s a small word, is one of the most powerful things you can do. Like this or this.

Sing in English, and you’ll sing with fire. That’s guaranteed. The life of the word is the life you sing into it. You choose. Each time.

By the way: even when you’re singing a cover, you always have a choice. What does the word mean to you, in this song? How does it weave into the music? Watch First Aid Kit, the Swedish sisters, cover Jagger’s Play With Fire. Their fire ripples softly. They’re not parroting Mick. They’ve captured the meaning of the song in their swaying, luxurious singing of the words:

The best covers respect the original, understand the original and bring something new to the song.

© Sing Better English, 2016


2 thoughts on “Fire – Five Ways”

  1. Who would have thought such a simple, monosyllabic word be so full of meaning? Thank you for opening my eyes (and ears) to nuances I’d never noticed before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Heather – I think it’s like a passionate argument. The small words are where tiny changes have the biggest impact. All the ways to say “Of course I still love you” and all the meaning to be ‘found’ in tiny changes in each word over time.

      Teenagers are in the process of perfecting their ability to ‘load’ tiny words with meaning. Like learner drivers, they take a while to get the accelerator under control.

      The tiny words seem to be the hardest for non-native speakers of English to moderate. That leap from classroom to adult, layered communication is harder to make if you’ve never slammed doors, felt terribly misunderstood or left wet towels all over the bathroom floor. Students of English never get a chance to ‘justify themselves’ in English. They sometimes need a nudge to imagine the language close to their hearts when they sing. Permission to bend tiny words outside their dictionary shape.

      Liked by 1 person

We'd love to know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.