Friday, November 23, 2007

“Great Balls of Fire” charted 50 years ago (11/23/1957)

Last updated 4/15/2020.

Great Balls of Fire

Jerry Lee Lewis

Writer(s): Otis Blackwell, Jack Hammer (see lyrics here)


First Charted: November 23, 1957


Peak: 2 US, 2 CB, 2 HR, 12 CW, 3 RB, 12 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 5.0 world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 0.51 video, -- streaming

Awards:

About the Song:

Some of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest architects walked a fine line between their religious Southern upbringings and the shockingly sexual and aggressive style that defined early rock music. With a musical prowess birthed as much from the black honky-tonks as the Assembly of God Church, CL Lewis concocted an uncomfortable blend of music inspired by God and the devil. His “onstage terrorization of the piano” FR earned him the nickname “The Killer.” It also got him booted out of Bible college. CL

Nowhere was Lewis’ musical dichotomy more on display than with “Great Balls of Fire.” Jerry Lee’s signature song was “full of Southern Baptist hellfire turned into a near-blasphemous ode to pure lust.” RS500 Lewis realized the shock in 1957 of such sexual innuendo coming from a Southern music man SF and initially refused to sing the song. RS500 He and Sun Records’ founder Sam Phillips delved into a theological argument which was eventually swayed Sam’s way by the ever-flowing liquor during the session. RS500

Sam Phillips turned to Otis Blackwell to pen the song as a follow-up to Lewis’ first hit, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Blackwell had a proven track record, having written “the biggest record of the rock ‘n’ roll era” with Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel.” CL This poor kid from Brooklyn, New York, was the first black man to really tap into the Nashville sound, dominating the country and rock charts in the mid to late-‘50s. CL

As for Blackwell’s writing partner, Jack Hammer, there are contradictory stories. One account says his sole contribution is coming up with the title and selling it to Otis Blackwell, LW while another account says the name is a pseudonym for Blackwell. AMG


Resources and Related Links:

  • Jerry Lee Lewis’ DMDB Encyclopedia entry
  • AMG All Music Guide review by Cub Koda
  • CL Ace Collins (1996). The Stories Behind Country Music’s All-Time Greatest 100 Songs. New York, NY; The Berkley Publishing Group. Pages 114-6.
  • FR Paul Friedlander (1996). Rock and Roll: A Social History. Boulder, Colorado; Westview Press, Inc. Page 50.
  • LW Alan Lewens (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 118.
  • RS500 RollingStone.com (2011). “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
  • SF Songfacts

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