With Springsteen's recent performance of "Fire" in Orlando I figured it wouldn't hurt to pull out that old Robert Gordon LP I have laying around. One of the oddest things ever recorded in my mind. The album's quest to recreate the Rockabilly sounds of the fifties sounds dreadfully out of place in the late seventies, the hey day of Disco and Punk. Robert Gordon came out of the Punk scene of CBGB's, performing in a band called the Tuff Darts in the early seventies, before Punk hit big. Gordon's main attraction to Punk might have been how the scene went back to the three minute record core, but stopped there. Gordon wasn't much taken with the scene's nihilistic and decadent aura, certainly not with the way Punk set out to destroy R&R rather than to save it. Gordon was a bona fide R&R revivalist at heart, taken with the rockabilly sounds of mid fifties, of the time before Elvis went to Hollywood. So Gordon left the group after they cut "All for the love of Rock & Roll" for a "Live at CBGB's" compilation, before they would score a recording contract.
Gordon would soon be signed on his own by RCA, Elvis' old home. Though this wasn't the first time Robert Gordon went into the studio to record, this was the first time he would see his work released. In 1967 he had cut some tracks with the Confidentials, but they remained on the shelf until they saw light of day on an obscure compilation released in the Netherlands. If recording at RCA wasn't a dream come true for Gordon, RCA also hooked him up with Rockabilly legend Link Wray as his guitar player. Wray has the dubious distinction of being the only artist that ever had an instrumental banned from the radio in 1958 with "Rumble", as the track was feared to cause juvenile delinquency. On Gordon's second album "Fresh Fish Special", on which "Fire" can be found, The Jordanaires, Elvis' original backing singers, were added to further give him an aura of authenticity. Springsteen had originally written "Fire" with Elvis Presley in mind, when he declined Springsteen was gracious enough to pass it on to Gordon and even play the piano on the studio session. Everybody expected for the song to hit big and it did....For the Pointer Sisters.
Springsteen himself wouldn't release the song until 1986 even though the song was a staple in his sets during the 1978 tour. The song was featured on the "Live '75 - '85" boxed set sliced and diced beyond recognition for those who had seen him perform it on the original December 16th 1978 performance. Quite a bit of the show elements that gave Springsteen's version its sexual tension were cut from the released version. The song was even released as a single but failed to make a dent in the charts, Springsteen mania was starting to come to an end. Oddly enough the accompanying video for the release, featured above, had little to do with the '78 version but was instead recorded at a benefit for the Bridge School in Mountain View California Springsteen performed at Oktober 13th 1986 alongside Neil Young and Tom Petty. Proceeds of the benefit were to go towards vocal computers for disabled kids and was organized by Neil Young, who himself has two severally disabled children. Springsteen's performance proved to be a foreboding for his later solo tours.
But if we are to believe Springsteen the best version of "Fire" is neither his nor Robert's or even the Pointer Sisters for that matter. Nope, its Baby Face's ultra slick rendition of the song. The suave R&B producer, who was once admired by and shared the stage with Eric Clapton, recorded the song with D'esiree. On paper the combination sounds like something that should have sensuality oozing out of your speakers. But as the above YouTube video proves, I think I'd rather stick with Robert Gordon's interpretation of the song. Whatever Springsteen heard that made him run out and buy a new car, sure as he was it would become his biggest hit yet, I'm not hearing it. Neither did the rest of the world. Despite Babyface's popularity at the time of its release in 1998, it failed to make any impression on the charts.
Robert Gordon & Link Wray