1968: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown - “Fire”

Arthur Brown, who recorded the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ classic “I Put a Spell on You” and once played with British hit soul band The Foundations, is known first and foremost for his association with the element of fire, and secondly for his outstanding soul/R&B growl-to-falsetto. He wore special helmets on stage to resist fire, which only became a problem when he attempted fire-setting while wearing a colander on his head; a fan put out the flame in time to prevent serious damage.

However, if Arthur Brown’s acknowledgment of Screamin’ Jay’s influence is anything to go by, he was more than just an eccentric, he was a seasoned soul/blues performer for whom the devil was an integral part of the act. He inspired Alice Cooper, Kiss, and The Darkness (he appeared in The Darkness’ video as a priest – presumably in homage to his priest role in The Who’s Tommy). Wherever there was a flicker of hell-raising in music, Brown seemed to turn up. His one-hit-wonder “Fire” was heavily sampled by the Prodigy, who led their fans to believe that they were the original twisted fire-starters, when their rave tune owed its ferocity to the man who started fire-starting in the first place (N.B., the Prodigy’s “Fire” should not be confused with their single “Firestarter”, if possible).

Like Screamin’ Jay, Arthur Brown was ambitious and a trouper. Screamin’ Jay had aimed at a career in opera; when it fell short he played blues piano and sang. Brown’s ambitions carried him to Paris, where his band took up residency in the Moulin Rouge, honing their theatrical skills by playing with transvestites and other ‘characters’ of the Paris scene. Brown played with R&B and soul groups too before attracting attention (most notably from Pete Townshend of The Who) with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown band. The second single from the The Crazy World of Arthur Brown album went to Number One in the UK Charts and Number Two in the US during 1968.

As evidenced by live Brown’s live performances, even at his most outrageous his wonderful voice put all high jinx into perspective. Even in 1999, without the aid of fire, he was able to cast his theatrical spell. With his legacy cemented – Kiss’ makeup, invitations to play gigs all over the world – he appeared to have given up fire-starting. Only once in 2007 did he set his hair ablaze again. Another musician caught fire as a result; happily everyone was OK, and Brown remained the exception that proved the rule about playing with fire.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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