Great Balls of Fire

Album: Great Balls Of Fire (1957)
Charted: 1 2

Songfacts®:

  • Otis Blackwell, a prolific songwriter who wrote many hits for Elvis Presley, wrote this song with Jack Hammer, who at one point was a member of The Platters. Blackwell died in 2002 at age 70.

    The song became Lewis' signature tune, a perfect fit for his incendiary style. "A person tells at least a little bit about himself in any song he cuts," Lewis said years later.
  • Like Lewis' previous hit, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," this song is filled with sexual innuendo (" let me love you like a lover should..."), which was shocking for a southern musician in 1957. Lewis grew up in a religious household and was conflicted over whether or not he should record this. He and Sun Records owner Sam Phillips argued as Phillips tried to convince him to sing it. Tape was rolling during the spat and the exchange can be heard on some Sun Records collections. "I thought it was funny because I could see both of them," recalled house drummer JM van Eaton to Uncut magazine April 2012. "Sam's as serious as he could be, and Jerry's as heated as he could be."
  • This song made the Top 5 of the Pop, R&B, and Country charts simultaneously with "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." Both hit #1 on the Country charts, and while this sold 5 million copies, which was less then its predecessor, it still charted higher.
  • This was released in England the same month that Lewis married 13-year-old Myra Gale Brown, who was the daughter of his cousin (and bass player) J.W. Brown. At the time, Lewis was headlining shows with Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, but when the UK press found out, public outrage forced Lewis to leave the country. Back in the States, his career faltered as radio stations refused to play his records and stores refused to sell them.
  • In the UK, a similarly raucous version by the female singer Georgia Gibbs was released in 1957 before Lewis' version was issued. It didn't chart, and Jerry Lee's recording became a huge hit, topping the UK chart and becoming the first Sun Records recording to score there.
  • One of the many rock stars this influenced was Eric Clapton, who said: "I remember the first Rock & Roll I ever saw on TV was Jerry Lee Lewis doing 'Great Balls of Fire.' That threw me - it was like seeing someone from outer space." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • In 1989, Dennis Quaid portrayed Lewis in the movie Great Balls Of Fire, which told the story of his life.

    The film took a few liberties, including a scene where Lewis sets his piano on fire while performing this song - a tale often told by Lewis but never verified.
  • In America, the song was released on November 11, 1957, just one day before the movie Jamboree hit theaters. Lewis performed the song in the film, which gave it great exposure. Other singers appearing in the movie were Carl Perkins, Fats Domino and Frankie Avalon.
  • In the movie Top Gun, "Goose" (Anthony Edwards) and "Maverick" (Tom Cruise) sing this while "Goose" plays a piano that still sits at the Kansas City Barbeque Restaurant in San Diego, California where the scene was filmed.
  • Dolly Parton made "Great Balls Of Fire" the title track to her 1979 album. Her cover was used in the 1985 Miami Vice episode "Golden Triangle (Part I)." Other artists to cover the song include Conway Twitty, Sha Na Na, Mae West, Rolf Harris and the Misfits.
  • Jackée Harry and Rodney Dangerfield sang this in the 1992 comedy Ladybugs. Other movies to use the song include:

    Priest (1995)
    Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994)
    BlackJack (1990)
    The Delinquents (1989)
    Stand by Me (1986)
    American Hot Wax (1978)

Comments: 29

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 17, 1957, Georgia Gibbs performed her covered version of "Great Balls of Fire" on the CBS-TV musical variety program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    Her version did not make Billboard's Top 100 chart...
    Between 1950 and 1958 she had thirty records on the Top 100 chart; six made the Top 10 with two reaching #1*, "Kiss of Fire" in 1952 and "Dance With Me Henry (Wallflower)" in 1955…
    Ms. Gibbs, born Frieda Lipschitz, passed away at the age of 87 on December 9th, 2006...
    *She just missed having a third #1 record when "Tweedle Dee" peaked at #2 {for 1 week} on March 17th, 1955 on Billboard's Most Played by Jockeys chart, the week it was at #2, the #1 record for that week was "Sincerely" by the McGuire Sisters.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 20th 1958, the debut show of the six-date, 12 show 'Big Gold Stars' tour opened in Orlando, Florida...
    One of the acts* on the bill was Jerry Lee Lewis; and at the time he had two records on Billboard's Top 100 chart, "Great Balls of Fire" at #44 and "Breathless" at #89, and this was its first week on the chart...
    * Other acts were the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Jimmie Rodgers, and Bill Haley & the Comets...
    {Note: The week before "Great Balls of Fire" was at #26, see next post below...
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 15th 1958, "The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beechnut Show" debuted on the ABC-TV network...
    The show ran until September 10th, 1960 with a total of 104 original episodes...
    Guests on the first show were Connie Francis, Pat Boone, Chuck Willis, the Royal Teens, Johnnie Ray and Jerry Lee Lewis...
    At the time Jerry Lee's "Great Ball of Fire"* was at #26 on Billboard's Hot Top chart...
    {See next two posts below}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 7th 1957, the Vanguard Productions movie, 'Jamboree!', had its world premiere in Los Angeles, CA...
    Jerry Lee Lewis was featured in the film; he performed "Great Balls of Fire", at the time it was at #14 on Billboard's Top 100 chart; and twenty-two days later on December 29th, 1957 it peaked at #2 for four weeks......
    {See the next post below}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 4th 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis performed "Great Balls of Fire" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    Six days later on November 10th, 1957 it entered Billboard's Top 100 chart at position #89*; and six weeks later on December 22nd, 1957 it peaked at #2 {for 4 weeks} and spent 21 weeks on the Top 100...
    And on December 31st, 1957 it reached #1 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart; it peaked at #3 on the R&B Singles chart...
    The four weeks it was at #2 on the Top 100; the #1 record for those 4 weeks was "At the Hop" by Danny and the Juniors...
    'The Killer' celebrated his 79th birthday thirty-seven days ago on September 29th {2014}...
    * That week there was a 3-way tied at #89; the other records were "Lips of Wine" by Andy Williams and "Oh! Boy" by the Crickets.
  • Randy from Fayettevile, ArI've loved this Jerry Lee Lewis hit since its release in 1957 when I was 10 yrs. old. Here in 2014, I still love it! Back in late 1957, I went to see the movie "Jamboree" with my 4 brothers and 6 cousins & saw Jerry Lee and other early rock & roll stars in that movie. I believe it featured "Great Balls" too. I can remember some radio stations around Fayetteville & in eastern Oklahoma wouldn't play it because the word was out that the song was about male genitalia! Well, that sparked fans interests even more. Haaaa! But other radio stations would play it. Those were such different times back then. When rock & roll was young. I even think that the movie sex symbol, Mae West, had an album out a bit later entitled "Great Balls on Fire!" or something like that. A wild album! My uncle bought it and wouldn't let any of us kids hear it. But Jerry Lee's hit was so rockin' good----and still is.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 1st, 1969, Tiny Tim performed "Great Balls of Fire" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    Ten months earlier on February 8th, 1969 his covered version entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart for a three week stay, peaking at #85...
    R.I.P. Tiny Tim, born Herbert Khaury, 1932 - 1996 and Mr. Sullivan (1901 - 1974).
  • Diann from San Francisco, CaGreat Balls of Fire was written in 1957 by Otis Blackwall and JACK HAMMER, Jack being my uncle-in-law, alive and kicking in Los Angeles. Jack's 1987 BRIGHT RED Mercedes-Benz SL CONVERTIBLE is on e-Bay for sale. I use to babysit his kids in San Francisco, way back when. So, let's give credit where credit is due.
  • Dj from Minneapolis, MnAt the end of the VHS version of the movie there is a very excellent version of the song with an extra minute during the instrumental break but this video was not added to the DVD version. The video has both Jerry Lee and Dennis Quaid with the backup band. It's hard to find so we uploaded to YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kKMOAr4iA8
  • Tim from Bovey, MnActually, in the movie Dennis Quaid said "Follow that, killer".

    there was no bass on those Sun singles, except for Jerry's left hand.

    In the movie Jerry is in Sam Phillips office talking contracts and makes reference to "he's my manager, he's family, hell he's my bass player" (that's not an exact quote) and of course there's a bass player in most of the music playing shots in that movie (electric bass) but they did NOT use one in the recording sessions.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyA great song; I also really liked the flip-side; "You Win Again", a real good ballet!!!
  • Sean from Collinsville, Ilit's interesting to note that his FIRST three singles for SUN have no Bassist listed on the session. I've heard the original of this song and am not convinced that there isn't a bass, but the first two singles definitely have no bass. Kind of strange that sessions back then didn't have to have a bassist to have a #1 record! And a dance song at that! Like the joke goes "how many bassist does it take to change a lightbulb?" None! the pianist just does it with his left hand!
  • Lester from New York City, NyTo me, this is the first Hard Rock song.
  • Linc from Beaumont, TxAfter that infamous concert in New York - Chuck Berry asked not to go on after Lewis again.
  • Linc from Beaumont, TxIn most States it is only illegal to marry your first cousin - and that is mostly because of the DNA similarities being high enough to actually cause mental retardation and health risks. But up until genetics were more readily known, it was very common especially among the royal and upper classes to keep the money in the family so to speak or produce a "pure-blood" heir.
  • Steve Dotstar from Los Angeles, Caamazing piano playing by Jerry Lee!
    a real classic!
  • Johnny from Carroll, IaI like the song,but I like the movie better. Great stuff.
  • Bianca Sanchez from Alburquerque, NmHE MARRIED HIS COUSIN???????

    eeeeeeewwwwwww
  • Ali from Wine, CaActually...marrying a cousin is pretty much legal. People always make fun of the south, and there are always conversations and arguments about it, but if you look into it, some people do. Of course, its never their first or second cousins. They pretty much take the 3rd cousin twice removed thing and go with it. Some of them never even knew they were cousins. Though im from California...either way, Igor was just trying to make the whole "omg they marry their COUSIN" thing happen.
  • Paul from Cincinnati, OhI can't believe there ever was a time when such a marriage would be legal anyway...we must've lived in an even more hick country than we do now O.o
  • Paul from Cincinnati, OhThat's disturbing Igor...and besides, it apparently wasn't written by him anyway so I don't see how you could be sure about that. No thanks for the image.
  • Joe from Bellingham, Wathis songwas on a restaurant commercial not too long ago. Applebees? or was it TGI Fridays?
  • Dave from Scottsdale, AzTiny Tim recorded this as his follow-up to "Tiptoe Thru the Tulips".
  • Jeff from Toronto, Canadathis is a freakin sweet song yo
  • Ken from Louisville, KyJerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry were on the same bill in New York in 1957. They argued about who would go on the featured last set, and since Berry had more hit songs, he won. So Jerry Lee did his set and closed with an absolute WILD version of this song, ending by setting his piano on fire. The crowd was going crazy. As he passed Chuck backstage, legend has it that Jerry Lee said "Top THAT, ni--er!" In the Great Balls Of Fire movie made in 1989, this was cleaned up by having Lewis (played by Dennis Quaid) saying "Top THAT, cat!"
  • Doug from Tempe, AzWhen I saw Jerry perform in Portland, Ore. in 1969, he only sang for about half an hour, and he did not do Great Balls of Fire. When he appeared in Phoenix in 1986, her did a perfunctory, rinky-tink, novelty version of the song, which irritated the audience greatly.
  • Elliott from Douglassville, PaOh, before you go any farther, I'm not saying it's actually ABOUT VD. It's a joke. Ha ha.
  • Elliott from Douglassville, PaThe great joke about this song is that it's about venereal disease - great balls of fire!
  • Igor from Miami, FlThis song was actually inspired by his upcoming marriage to his cousin.

    Work it out for yourself!
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