Fire On High

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"Fire On High"
Single by Electric Light Orchestra
from the album Face the Music
A-side "Livin' Thing" (UK)
"Sweet Talkin' Woman" (US)
Released 29 October 1976 (UK)
February 1978 (US)
Format 7"
Recorded 1975
Genre Symphonic rock, progressive rock
Length 5:31
4:01 (US single version)
Label Jet/United Artists (UK)
United Artists (US)
Writer(s) Jeff Lynne
Producer(s) Jeff Lynne
Electric Light Orchestra singles chronology
"Livin' Thing/Fire on High"
Face the Music track listing

"Fire on High" is the opening instrumental track from the 1975 Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) album Face the Music.

The song was the UK B-side to the band's worldwide hit single "Livin' Thing", issued in blue vinyl. It was also later included — in an edited form minus the backwards vocals — as the flip side of the United States hit single "Sweet Talkin' Woman" in 1978.

The album version contains an opening with a backwards message. When the song is played in reverse, the message, in a masked heavy voice (performed by ELO drummer, Bev Bevan), can be heard stating, "The music is reversible but time is not. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back." — ostensibly Jeff Lynne's shot at backmasking hysteria, after satanic allegations were made against their song "Eldorado" by Fundamentalist Christianity members.[1] Snippets of Messiah by Handel can be heard during the album opening as well.

Although one of his most misunderstood and reviled arrangements, Lynne is simply retelling an old story. In 1667, John Milton wrote 'Paradise Lost' and mirrored the Biblical story of man's fall and redemption. The concept was that we have all begun in our own hell, hoping to be redeemed to heaven, happiness, bliss, El Dorado, or our own Xanadu. In 'Fire on High', as with Milton, the song starts in Hell. From the very beginning of the song [time stamp 0:01], there is tension with the violins and the backward-masking giving us the illusion of a demonic language, however, it is simply the drummer saying the words, "The music is reversible, but time isn't... turn back... turn back..." (recorded backwards). After this ominous beginning, we hear doors slamming, running footsteps, and other haunted-house staples but, interestingly, at [time stamp] 1:01, off in the distance, we hear Handel's Messiah being sung by angels indicating that there is hope and there is a way out. But that hope is snuffed out with atonal and asymmetrical violins [1:21] that try to overshadow Hope. At [1:30], a triumphant drum-beat begins followed by joy and hope mixed with confusion [1:34] of the lost. The cadence continues and the confusion fades away. At [2:00] the Way Out appears and you, the Lost, begin walking out of your hell... slowly at first, but with more and more confidence. At [2:43], the guitar ushers in Happiness to the traveler for the first time, giving the listener permission to smile. At [2:56], the drums then give us permission to dance and at [3:15], the violins proclaim 'Fire on High!' just before the Angel Choir actually says it. At [3:28], the violins of confusion that we heard earlier are transformed into violins of confidence and strength while still telling you that something Big is about to happen. The listener must now enter their Heaven with the 'Walk of the Redeemed' that begins at [3:51]. Choirs of Angels line the path and the cadence is set. Finally, after a clear walk from hell, we have made our way here and [4:22] tells us that we have arrived with guitars, drums, dancing, satisfaction, and happiness as we repeat an anthem of salvation... "Fire on High!, Fire on High!

"Fire on High" was used as the opening theme for the CBS Sports Spectacular TV show in the Mid-1970s. In 2000, The New Jersey Devils used the song, accompanied by visuals, in the opening ceremony for all their home games. Much of the song was also played prior to every Atlanta Thrashers home game.

Despite being almost entirely instrumental, the song's title can be faintly heard near the end of the track by the chanting chorus.

A forward version of the start of "Fire on High"

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A reversed version of the start of "Fire on High"

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  1. ^ Big Secrets: Chapter 26, pages 200, 203, 204, 205 & 206. 0-688-04830-7