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Great Balls of Fire

"Great Balls of Fire" is a 1957 popular song recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis on Sun Records and featured in the 1957 movie Jamboree. It was written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer. The Jerry Lee Lewis 1957 recording was ranked as the 96th greatest song ever by Rolling Stone. The song is in AABA form. The song sold one million copies in its first 10 days of release in the United States and sold over five million copies, making it both one of the best-selling singles in the United States, as well as one of the world's best-selling singles of all time.

Song information

The song is best known for Jerry Lee Lewis's original recording, which was recorded in the Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, on October 8, 1957, using three personnel: Lewis (piano/vocals), Sidney Stokes (bass), and a session drummer, Larry Linn, instead of the usual Sun backups Jimmy Van Eaton (drums) and Roland Janes (guitar). Lewis was quoted in the book JLL: His Own Story by Rick Bragg, (pg 133), as saying "I knew Sidney Stokes but I didn't know him that well either, and I don't know what happened to them people. That's the last time I ever seen 'em. That's strange isn't it?" It was released as a 45rpm single on Sun 281 in November 1957. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts, No. 3 on the R&B charts, and No. 1 on the country charts. It also reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, appeared on the New Zealand Singles Chart, and the Dutch Top 40.

The song was featured in a performance by Jerry Lee Lewis and his band in the 1957 Warner Brothers rock and roll film Jamboree, which also featured Carl Perkins, Fats Domino, Buddy Knox, and Dick Clark. The recording was also released in the UK on London Records.

The tune opens up side 2 of Lewis' 1962 album Live at the Star Club, Hamburg.

Chart performance

Legacy

  • Monty Python references the song's title in the "World Forum" sketch, a fake game show, as heard on the live album Monty Python Live at City Center. Terry Gilliam, portraying Mao Zedong, says the song title as the only correct answer the "distinguished panel" offers in the early rounds. The song was used for the New York City audience in place of "Sing, Little Birdie," which was the song title used in the original sketch.
  • The song was performed by Levi Kreis in the 2010 musical Million Dollar Quartet, portraying Jerry Lee Lewis.
  • In the 1986 film Top Gun, LTJG Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (portrayed by Anthony Edwards) plays the song in a bar with his family and Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise). The song is available on the Top Gun soundtrack special edition released in 1999.
  • The title of the 1989 biopic, Great Balls of Fire! about Lewis, played by Dennis Quaid, is derived from the song title.
  • One of the Detours on the first leg of The Amazing Race 28 is named "Great Bulls of Fire", a play on the song's title.
  • In 2017, WWE held a professional wrestling event titled Great Balls of Fire, referencing the song. Jerry Lawler's personal attorney, who also represents Jerry Lee Lewis, informed him that the singer had actually trademarked the phrase, prompting Lawler to inform them of this. He stated that he "put him in touch with the WWE people, gave him a name. Apparently he called them and got everything worked out. Not only are they using the name, they are using Jerry Lee's song, which is awesome."
  • Ric Flair revealed he started using his iconic "Wooo!" catchphrase in 1974 after he heard Jerry Lee Lewis sing the lyric, “Goodness gracious, great balls of fire, woo!”

    Other recordings

  • The Crickets released their version of the song in 1960 on their album, In Style with the Crickets.
  • A version by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas was on the "Little Children" album in 1964.
  • The Kingsmen released a version on their 1964 LP The Kingsmen Volume II.
  • Tiny Tim recorded a version as the b-side to "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" in 1968. As an a-side it reached #45 in the British charts in February 1969.
  • The Newbeats released a version as the B-side to their 1969 single, "Thou Shalt Not Steal".
  • The Hassles (featuring a then unknown Billy Joel) released their version as a single in 1969.
  • Gary Lewis and the Playboys released a cover of this song in 1970 as the B-Side to the song "I'm On The Right Road Now."
  • Aerosmith performed a cover of this song at Nipmuc Regional High School's prom on Nov. 6, 1970.
  • New Grass Revival recorded a high-speed bluegrass version of the song on their 1972 album The Arrival of the New Grass Revival.
  • Electric Light Orchestra recorded a version for their 1974 The Night the Light Went On in Long Beach live album.
  • Dolly Parton recorded a version in 1979, releasing her cover as the title song of her Great Ball of Fire album; her recording was released as the "B" side of her "Sweet Summer Lovin'" single, and it received a moderate amount of radio airplay during the fall of 1979. Parton still often includes the song in her concert set lists.
  • Amii Stewart recorded a version on her 1981 album Images.
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks recorded a version for "The Amazing Chipmunks," a 1988 episode of their TV series.
  • OV7 made a version in Spanish called "Grandes luces de fuego" in 1989.
  • Fleetwood Mac included the track on the 1999 release of the Shrine '69 live album which was recorded at the Shrine Auditorium in 1969
  • The Misfits recorded a version in 2003 for their Project 1950 album.
  • Teitur recorded a version in 2006, released on the Stay Under the Stars album.
  • The French singer Dorothée recorded a duet with Jerry Lee Lewis in 1992, released on the Une histoire d'amour album.
  • Offenbach included the song on the live DVD of the album Ultime (2007).
  • Dean Delannoit recorded the song for his debut album (2007).
  • Alan Merrill recorded a version on his "Double Shot Rocks" album in 2003.
  • American doo-wop band The Flamingos recorded a version on their album "Unspoken Emotions".
  • Johnny Winter recorded a version on the album "Live Johnny Winter And."
  • Seamus, a stereotyped pirate from the animated show Family Guy, performed the song in a church organist audition as seen on the episode "Boys Do Cry" (season 5).
  • Mae West did a version on the album titled with the same name Great Balls of Fire.
  • The Jolly Boys covered this song for the Old Jamaica Ginger Beer advert in 2010 and is also on their album Great Expectation.
  • Top Gun "Goose" and "Maverick" perform this song while Goose plays the piano.
  • Ronnie Dio & the Prophets recorded this song for the Live at Domino's album on February 24, 1963.
  • In 1986 the first episode of the Madballs TV show, Freakella and The Madballs band sing a cover of "Great Balls of Fire".
  • In 2011, Chris Isaak in the covers album Beyond the Sun.
  • Garth Brooks for the 2013 album Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences.
  • Take That performed the song live with Gary Barlow on lead vocal as a part of "Rock 'N' Roll Medley" during their Everything Changes Tour (1993–1994).