October 31, 2017
Todd plays "Fire" on the piano using the organ setting
THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN - FIRE
A one-hit wonder retrospective
Todd: [laughs evilly to a faint thunderclap, ominous voice] Welcome back, boils and ghouls, it's Halloween! That means it's time for [text appears...] "One Hit Wonderland Spooktacular Edition"! [beat; normally] Look, this is gonna be it.
Todd (VO): I've only done four previous episodes, and for two of them, I was already scraping the barrel trying to find something that fit the theme. This is it, we're done.
Todd: But I got one left in me, and it's a major one. This song is basically the progenitor of horror shock rock, from before [images of...] Rob Zombie, before Ozzy Osbourne, before Alice Cooper, before any of them. In fact, I don't know why I didn't do it earlier. So here we go everyone, and if you know this cheery tune, feel free to sing along. [snaps fingers] A one, a two....
Clip of...wait for it...
Arthur Brown: I am the god of Hellfire...
Todd: [singing along] ...and I bring you...
Arthur Brown: Fire
I'll take you to burn
Todd: [laughing] What the fuck?!
Todd (VO): What even the fuck. What are we even looking at, you ask?
Todd: Well, welcome everyone to the...
Todd (VO): [another clip of "Fire"] Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Yes, that's the full name of the band, which really it had to be. Just the name Arthur Brown alone, it wouldn't nearly convey the weirdness...
Todd: ...of this weird, weird thing we're looking at.
Arthur: I'll see you burn
Todd (VO): You may also ask, "Wait, are you serious, this was a hit?" Yes, this was a hit, a number two hit in the fall of 1968...
Todd: ...just barely kept off the top spot by a little song called....
Todd (VO): ...[clip of The Beatles'...] "Hey Jude." Right, it was almost as big as "Hey Jude". [black and white clip of "Fire"] And yet, I'm not sure I would've ever heard of it, were I not such an obsessive music geek, because, they sure never played it on the oldies stations. I didn't see it on any of my [image of "Greatest Oldies 48" cassette] dad's old cassettes, nope. ["Fire"] And yet, Arthur Brown and his Crazy World were not only successful for one song, they may be one of the most influential one-hit wonders of all-time. Everyone from [images of...] Kiss, to Marilyn Manson to even, Peter Gabriel and George Clinton...
Todd: ...have said that they were inspired by this raving weirdo...
Todd (VO): ...[clip of "Fire"] with the face painting and the flaming metal hula hoop on his head. But as fires go, Arthur Brown's music career was less, raging inferno and more, "Candle in the Wind."
Todd: But for one brief moment, he was a God... of Hellfire!
Todd (VO): And we're gonna figure out why he burnt out so quickly.
Todd: Yeah, you wanted a Halloween episode, here's your goddamn Halloween episode. Burn, baby, burn!
Arthur Brown: Burn, burn, burn, burn, burn, burn [screaming]
Before the hit
Todd (VO): The Crazy World of Arthur Brown was originally known as just Arthur Brown, born in 1942 in North Yorkshire, England. [clip of an Arthur Brown interview] But apparently he was into all sorts of shit as a kid. And his stage act was inspired by all sorts of everything he'd seen everywhere, including [images of...] Viking rituals, Kabuki theater, African tribal dances. [back to clip of interview] Just basically everything mixed into a stew. He does not say that his influences also included heavy illegal drug use.
Todd: But really does he need to?
Todd (VO): Here you can see one of their first singles.
Clip of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown - "Give Him a Flower"
Arthur: Give him a flower
Give him a flower
Todd (VO): As, uh, as you can see, he was... still a bit of a ways off from the Devil's music at that point. It's a song about how when people do bad things to you...
Todd: [sarcastically] ...don't give them a punch, give them a flower.
Arthur: Give him a flower
Give him a flower
Todd (VO): In case you can't tell, this is sarcastic. [image of...] Goddamn hippies.
Todd: And once you get the joke, it's pretty funny, but they decided that's not the direction they wanted to go. They didn't wanna be a joke band, they wanted people to take them seriously.
Clip of Arthur vocally shrieking and dancing erratically while wearing a mask
Todd: For a certain definition of serious.
Clip of Crazy World of Arthur Brown - "Nightmare"
Arthur: Dynamic explosions in my brain, shatter me to drops of rain.
Todd (VO): So instead their music got a little wilder and their costumes got more theatrical. But [scoffs], just listen to this, no one was gonna play this on the radio, obviously.
Todd: Until this man stepped in.
Clip of Jimi Hendrix performing "Purple Haze"
Todd: Yeah, Jimi Hendrix. AKA the guy who released a song in the '60s called "Fire" that people actually remember.
Clip of live performance of The Jimi Hendrix Experience - "Fire"
Hendrix: Let me stand next to your fire!
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Let me stand...
Todd (VO): And Arthur Brown went on tour with him once. And Hendrix liked him so much that he would go into the radio stations and tell them to start playing The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
Todd: And when Jimi Hendrix tells you to do something, you do it.
Todd (VO): [as Hendrix] Hey, jump out of this plane! [normal; image of man falling out of an airplane] Yes sir, Mr. Hendrix!
Todd: So, even though the first single didn't take off, Arthur Brown had a surefire cracker with his second single, which he described as, quote, "the worst song on the album".
The big hit
Arthur: I am the God of Hellfire
And I bring you...
I'll take you to burn
I'll take you to learn
Todd: [shrugging] I don't even really know what to say here.
Arthur: I'll see you burn
Todd (VO): I mean, if you don't like it in the first five seconds, you're not gonna like it, period. I remember just being blown away...
Todd: ...because the song doesn't ease you into it or anything, it just immediately punches you in the face!
Todd (VO): Just nothing and then suddenly screaming and "FIRE!"
Todd: Or more accurately, "FIYAH!"
Todd (VO): Arthur Brown is not the first person to write a song about fire, obviously. But he was the first to discover that, you don't actually need much else.
Todd: Just say "FIRE!" loud enough and you have a full song. A discovery that's lasted to this day!
Todd: Even so, I cannot believe this got big.
Arthur: You've worked hard and you saved and earned...
Todd (VO): This is the kind of gonzo rock that could've only been popular during the [footage of the '68 Chicago riots] late '60s when everything was falling to shit, right?
Todd: And, yeah, it was, but the '60s weren't all riots and LSD.
Todd (VO): [screen capture of the Billboard Hot 100 from that year] If you look at the songs that were charting at the exact same time...
Todd: ...it's not exactly Woodstock.
Montage clips of The Okaysions - "Girl Watcher"; Mary Hopkin - "Those Were the Days"; O.C. Smith - "Green Little Apples"
Donnie Weaver: I'm a girl watcher
I'm a girl watcher...
Mary Hopkin: Those were the days, my friend, we thought they...
O.C. Smith: God didn't make little green apples
And it don't snow in Minneapolis...
Todd: So having this play in the hit parade next to [single cover for...] "My Special Angel" by the Vogues, that must've felt like a...
Todd (VO): ...full-on shotgun blast of bad acid.
Todd: Now what's it about? On the surface...
Todd (VO): ...at least, "Fire" is not a very complicated or subtle song. It's about complete and total destruction of everything you value and love.
Clip of "Fire"
Arthur: You've worked hard and you saved and earned
But all of it's going to burn
Todd: Which is funny because, the actual idea of the song is apparently, the exact opposite.
Todd (VO): Arthur Brown was super into meditation. And the idea is that, fire is not the torment of hell, but the way to inner peace. The God of Hellfire is here to burn away all the things that are holding you back.
Todd: It's a very, [images of...] Zen, Buddhist, Fight Club-ish idea: the things you own end up owning you. And the only way to set yourself free is to let it all [picture of a Buddhism symbol] burn so that you can find your true self.
Todd: [pause] Suffice to say that's not what I ever took from it. What I got from it is...
Todd (VO): FIRE!! FIRE!!! And additionally, in the album, the God of Hellfire has an opposite twin brother, [recent image of Arthur in his trademark garb] the God of Purefire, who brings you into enlightenment after the God of Hellfire has burned everything.
Todd: This all does sound a bit familiar to me.
Clip of "The Dayman" from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Charlie Kelly: Dayman
Dennis Reynolds: Ah-ah-ah
Kelly: Fighter of the Nightman
Both: Champion of the sun...
Clip of "Fire"
Todd (VO): And despite the huge influence this band has had on music, "Fire" doesn't seem to be, like, a commonly known song. It's in that dead zone where it's too old and not metal enough to be played on hard rock stations and it's too weird and unpleasant to be played on oldies stations.
Todd: And if I'm honest, I won't quite call it a favorite song of mine either.
Todd (VO): I mean, I do like it a lot, but once you got the first ten seconds of it, you basically got the entire thing. I mean, it does get louder from there, but that's about it. It's really not much of a song, I guess, but it's one of those things that's just so bizarre and so wonderful that you can't help but appreciate it.
Todd: Huh, but boy, if you thought this was crazy, you ain't seen nothing yet.
The failed follow-up
Todd: I'm not sure the follow-up single is even a fair way to assess Arthur Brown. He seems to have been more of an album artist. I mean, can you properly understand "Fire" [clip of live performance of...] if you don't hear the "Fire Poem" that precedes it? It just adds so much more. But he did release a second single. It's, it's...
Clip of Arthur performing "I Put a Spell on You"
Todd (VO): ...a cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You".
Arthur: I put a spell on you, yeah
Because you're mine
Todd: I don't know...
Todd (VO): I mean, I know I called Arthur Brown the original shock rocker, but Screamin' Jay Hawkins was probably like the original original.
Screamin' Jay Hawkins: Because you're mine!!! OH!!!
So if ,you know, like the first song, I don't feel like there's a whole lot that Arthur Brown's gonna add to his version.
Arthur: ...don't care if you don't want me...
Todd (VO): It kinda reminds me of [image of...] Tim Burton saying "why don't I do a remake of [images of...] Willy Wonka or Alice in Wonderland or... Todd: ...I don't know, [image of cast of...] The Munsters. I'm sure he's working on that next.
Clip of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown - "I Put a Spell on You"
Todd (VO): "Won't that be clever and new? I can update it and, you know, make it all creepy." It's like no, it's too obvious. It's not really an update, we already knew it was creepy.
Todd: There is a better cover on that album, for the record, of James Brown's "I've Got Money".
Clip of "I've Got Money" to the background of James performing "Night Train" on The T.A.M.I. Show
James Brown: I need your love now
I need your love so bad
Clip of Crazy World of Arthur Brown - "I've Got Money"
Your love's what I need
Todd (VO): See? Now that's the kind of song that would appreciate an acid rock remake.
Todd: But, if you want a follow-up that really failed, you got to check out the Crazy World's second album...
Todd (VO): ...[album cover for...] Strange Lands.
Todd: I dare say that you would be hard-pressed to find any album that ever failed harder. Why? Because the record company...
Todd (VO): [album cover with the word "UNRELEASED"] ...didn't even release it. [clip of a later performance] It did not surface until the late '80s. And if you listen to it, you can see why. Arthur Brown's Crazy World wasn't fun-weird anymore, it was just weird. I don't know, it's just a lot of noise to me.
Todd: If you really like [images of...] Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart, you might be into it, but it was just too odd for the label.
Todd (VO): Also, the band was finding it hard to tour because, with all the pyrotechnics and everything, most venues were worried that they were gonna accidentally burn the whole place down. So they had no record, they couldn't tour...
Todd: ...they broke up. [shrugs] Surprise.
Did he do anything else?
Todd: Yeah, yeah. Arthur Brown started a new band, Kingdom Come.
Clip of Kingdom Come - "Internal Messenger"
Arthur: Nooooobody's here to help you now!
Todd (VO): They were a psychedelic, progressive rock band. They released three albums in the early '70s. Uh, I'm not much of a prog rock guy, but, uh, if you like King Crimson, you might enjoy this. The first album is called Galactic Zoo Dossier because, uh, all the songs are about...alien zoo animals. Uh.. yeah it's, uh, it's an intense record. But i-it... [sigh], it's all a little, uh, short of hooks.
Todd: And after that ended, pfft, Arthur Brown just did a whole mess of weird things.
Todd (VO): [clip from...] He was in the movie Tommy based on The Who album. [image of a map of Africa with Burundi located] He moved to Burundi and started a nine-piece rock band called...
Todd: ...The Burundi National Orchestra.
Recent concert footage of Arthur Brown
Todd (VO): He released new music off and on for the course of four decades. He moved to Austin, Texas where he started a carpentry business with one of Frank Zappa's [image of...] Mothers of Invention.
Video for The Darkness - "Is It Just Me?"
And he still pops up every now and then in random places.
Snippet of Arthur lip syncing the lyrics
Justin Hawkins: 'Til death us do part...
Todd: And get this: He's still touring!
Clip of recent live performance of "Fire"
Todd (VO): At age 75, in 2017, he is still touring. And I'll tell you, I can only hope this is the man I am at that age.
Todd: Hell, this is the man I wish I was at my current age! Pfft! Fuck yeah, we should all age so well!
Did he deserve better?
Todd: Yes! Yes! Absolutely!
Clip of "Fire"
I'll take you to burn
Todd (VO): This man is so goddamn influential and an inspiration to so many weirdos. So many much more famous and successful rock stars owe so much to him, that I'm pretty sure they all try to buy him lunch every day. He's just that impressive.
Todd: And yeah, okay, maybe he was too weird to gain any traction. I can't really imagine a world where Kingdom Come or Strange Lands go platinum or anything.
Todd (VO): But still, this man was an absolute original. He shaped rock 'n roll. A genuine oddball imitated for decades since.
Todd: I mean he set his head aflame and shouted, "FIYAH!" What more could you possibly ask for?!
Video for "Fire" ends
Closing Tag Song: Lizzy Mercier Descloux - "Fire"
"Fire" is owned by Atlantic Records
This video is owned by me
THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!