Everybody does Halloween playlists, right? So just to be different here’s one themed around November 5th, known in the UK as Bonfire Night. Who knew there were so many great Bonfire Night songs out there? And some of the stories behind them might surprise you…
Jimi Hendrix: Fire. “Let me stand next to your fire.” You can’t say it clearer than that, can you? This song is incontrovertibly about Bonfire Night, and here Jimi is lamenting the fact that he is cold because it is November and he has unwisely arrived wearing just a paisley waistcoat with no jumper underneath. It’s a little-known fact that, in addition to setting light to flags and guitars, Jimi was also partial to burning effigies of Catholic revolutionaries.
Sonic Youth: Silver Rocket. Not many people are aware of the subtext behind this one. When Thurston sings “I can’t stop it, from burning a hole in your pocket,” he’s talking about the time Lee Ranaldo lit a firework outside Dunkin’ Donuts on Broadway, but then the cops arrived so he stuffed it into his trouser pocket, causing extensive fire damage to the arse of his snow-washed Wranglers when the offending projectile exploded.
Parliament: One Nation under a Groove: George Clinton famously named his band after Guy Fawkes’s thwarted attempt to stick a rocket under the Houses of Parliament and assassinate King James I. This track was, of course, originally entitled “One Nation under a Catholic Monarchy, Answering Only to the Papal Hegemony”.
The Fall: Fiery Jack. Is a Fiery Jack a type of firework? It should be. Either way, it’s an excuse to play The Fall at their peak, and that’s good enough for me. Mark E Smith is said to be a big fan of fireworks. And, naturally, fireworks are big fans of The Fall.
Moon Duo: Sparks. All beardy, psychedelic post-rock bands love Bonfire Night because flashing lights in the sky are the perfect accompaniment to magic mushrooms. Apparently this track was originally named “Sparklers” in honour of those hot, dangerous metal things people give to kids on 5th November.
The Byrds/Sebadoh: Everybody’s Been Burned. “Everybody knows the pain.” A stark warning about the dangers of picking up a hot sparkler. If you’ve even done it, you’ll understand the deeper meaning behind this song. Always urinate on them first, kids, just to be safe. Here’s the Sebadoh version, just to be contrary (and because it’s good).
Public Enemy: Louder Than a Bomb. Here, Flava Flav muses “Picture us cooling out on the 4th of July”. If you read between the lines, you’ll realise he really means the 5th of November. The revolution will not be televised, boyeee (because it happened in 1605, well before the invention of the cathode ray tube).
The Velvet Underground: White Heat/White Light. Many people assume this is about drugs; they are obviously deluded. If they’d bothered to read Lou Reed’s autobiography they would know it’s actually about the intense pain Lou experienced when biting into a hot jacket potato. On Bonfire Night.
Galaxie 500: Temperature’s Rising. “My temperature’s rising, my fingers are tingling, I’m starting to shake”. This track details singer Dean Wareham’s aborted attempt to ignite a bonfire in his back yard, using leaves that were 20 per cent too damp to fit the purpose. Then it started to rain. Then they ran out of beer and Damon and Naomi went home in a huff. Everything just went wrong, basically. It was tragic, but he got a good song out of it.
Grandmaster Flash: The Message: Having named himself after his favourite type of firework, Grandmaster Flash penned this classic jam containing the immortal lyrics “Don’t push me cos I’m close to the edge of a fucking great bonfire, and I’m really high on coke; I’m trying not to lose my head. Like Guy Fawkes”.