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Springsteen came up with this song in the studio during recording sessions in early 1982. He was playing around with a slow Johnny Cash rhythm which he put to some lyrics he had already written. The song was recorded in May, 1982, and originally intended for the Nebraska album, but it was not released until Born In The U.S.A. was finished in 1984. (thanks, Torbjorn - Trondheim, Norway)
Springsteen, pianist Roy Bittan, and drummer Max Weinberg recorded the first version of this song themselves because the rest of the band was taking a break when inspiration struck.
The song is about a man who wakes up with night sweats lusting for a woman - he feels like he's on fire when he suddenly awakes. Springsteen writes using the voice of many different characters, and they often have some kind of unpleasant ordeal to endure. The stark lyrics went well with the Johnny Cash-inspired rhythm, and didn't hurt the song commercially, as it made the Top-10 in both the US and UK.
This was the fourth of 7 US Top-10 singles on Born In The U.S.A..
In England, this was released as a double A-side with "Born In The U.S.A."
The lyrics leave a lot of wiggle room for interpretation, but the video lays out a pretty clear story: the singer is an auto mechanic who desires the upper class married woman who keeps bringing her car in to him for service. One night, he drops off her car, considers ringing her bell, then thinks better of it.
This was the first time Springsteen acted in a music video, and it had a similar theme to Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl
" clip, where Christie Brinkley plays the socialite Joel's mechanic is after.
Springsteen was just getting comfortable with music videos, and with the clip's director John Sayles, who he worked with on "Born In The U.S.A.
" The music-less intro worked in part because the song is so short, so adding the dialogue made it about average video length. MTV is based in New York and was run by Rock radio veterans who thought very highly of Springsteen, so it wasn't too surprising when "I'm On Fire" won for Best Male Video at the second MTV Video Music Awards
, held in 1985. It was just the second awards ceremony - "Uptown Girl" was nominated for the award the previous year, but lost to David Bowie's "China Girl
In 2000, Johnny Cash, who inspired this song, covered it on Badlands: A tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska.
Many radio stations stopped playing this after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. The image of fire was considered too sensitive.
Tori Amos covered this in May of 1996, and it appeared on VH1's Crossroads album in October of 1996. (thanks, Marissa-Elena - Montebello, CA)
The New Zealand Rock/Metal band Head Like A Hole (The band name derives from a Nine Inch Nails song) covered this in 1996. (thanks, smokey - Melbourne, Australia)
John Doe of X
With his X-wife Exene, John fronts the band X and writes their songs.
Did they really trade their guitarist to The Doobie Brothers? Are they named after something naughty? And what's up with the band name?
Divided Souls: Musical Alter Egos
Long before Eminem, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj created alternate personas, David Bowie, Bono, Joni Mitchell and even Hank Williams took on characters.
On Glen's résumé: hit songwriter, Facebook dominator, and member of Styx.