Today in 1958, one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever released, Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls Of Fire” hit #1 on the US Billboard Chart. It’s the very first single I ever bought with my own money, after hearing the song once in 1976 on CHUM AM while in the car with my parents. 1 minute, 52 seconds. That’s the entire length of the song, and the length of time it took me to really understand the power of rock and roll.
To celebrate the chart-topping time, here are 5 fun facts about the song:
1. Even though it will forever be Jerry Lee Lewis’, he didn’t write the song. It was written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer. Blackwell was no stranger to success by the time he was done in music – he wrote Little Willie John’s “Fever”, Jerry Lee Lewis “Breathless”, Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”, and “All Shook Up”. Hammer didn’t fare so well, even though he wrote many songs during the “Twist” fad of 50’s and 60’s, including an album released under his main stage name, Jack Hammer, under the title “Twistin’ King” released in France.
2. “Great Balls Of Fire” was an instant hit. 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.
3. 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.
4. The song title comes from a Southern expression, which some Christians consider blasphemous, that refers to the Pentecost’s defining moment when the Holy Spirit manifested as “cloven tongues as of fire” and the Apostles spoke in tongues.
5. Among the artists who have covered the song? Let’s see…There’s The Kingsmen, The Crickets, Electric Light Orchestra recorded a version for their 1974 The Night the Light Went On in Long Beach, Fleetwood Mac, who included the track on the 1999 release of the Shrine ’69 album, even Tiny Tim recorded a version as his b-side to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Garth Brooks did a version for his Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences album, and Ronnie James Dio & the Prophets recorded this song for the Live at Domino’s album.