The Fire Down Below (1976)

Bob Seger / Silver Bullet Band

Written by Bob Seger
What are DNA Source Songs™? Suggest a source song for inclusion via Rock Populi.

It happens out in Vegas
happens in Moline
HookerOn the blue blood streets
of Boston
Up in Berkeley and
out in Queens
And it went on yesterday
and it’s going on tonight
Somewhere there’s somebody
ain’t treatin’ somebody right

Part ode to streetwalkers, part condemnation, part explanation – however you interpret “The Fire Down Below,” it’s a rockin’, blow-the-doors-off classic. You can start with the snippet of guitar intro that sounds ever so much like a grind song from a strip club.

While the “fire” certainly refers to sexual fire, it also refers to the demimonde that exists right under the surface of normally conducted society. It also contains a sly nod to the hellfire that awaits sinners for their earthly deeds. Although that may be capitulating to the values of a holier-than-thou, moralizing society that hasn’t a clue as to how things really work.

Only one thing in common

“The Fire Down Below” falls deep within the tradition of songs about prostitutes, whorehouses, painted ladies, and the like. You can start with the old traditional, “House Of The Rising Sun,” travel over to the seeming innocence of the Harlem Globetrotters’ theme song “Sweet Georgia Brown” and move to The Velvet Underground’s “There She Goes Again.”

Seger is an astute observer of the behavior of johns who sneak in and out of the other world, hiding their faces, whether rich or poor.

Here come the men faces hidden from the light
All through the shadows they come and they go
With only one thing in common
They got the fire down below

Here comes the rich man in his big long limousine
Here comes the poor man all you got to have is green
Here comes the banker and the lawyer and the cop
One thing for certain it ain’t never gonna stop
When it all gets too heavy
That’s when they come and go
With only one thing in common
They got the fire down below

There is also a direct acknowledgement that the flesh trade has always been with us and always will be, given male proclivities toward power, control issues and, perhaps uneven sexual chemistry levels between “respectable” couples.

Fire down below Seger concert crowd

Seger stirs the fire in the crowd

There’s one sure thing for the john:

And he’s walking the streets for Nancy
And he’ll find her every time

The whole of “The Fire Down Below” is held together by a handful of musical elements: the driving scrotum-celebrating drum beat (with an assist from the bass line); Seger’s barking, snarling vocals; a sinuous, whining lead guitar line, and the honky-tonk piano.

The song has a number of cross-influences working on it. It owes a debt to Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken,” to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s general catalog, to Bo Diddley, and it owes a lot to – no surprise – LaBelle’s classic New Orleans prostitute song, “Lady Marmalade.”

Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band did put their own stamp on the oft-explored subject. If there is a lingering doubt as to their allegiance to “old time rock n’ roll,” the false ending with Seger’s vocals reaching a fevered, hoarse, emotional peak followed by a few bars of a Chuck Berry-like riff should put the matter to rest. After a sharp countdown of 1-2-3, the band heads out playing the same serpentine, sensuous guitar piece that opened the song.

One more final observation on “The Fire Down Below”: the damn band is scorching hot, as hot as they ever were, with a song that is distasteful to not a few people. And best of all, the band seems to like the offensiveness. The open-eared, open-minded listener sure will get a good dose of soulful Detroit grit leavened with a generous pinch of Southern Cock Rock.

 

mangoids
  • “The Fire Down Below” was condemned by “social values” mynahs Ann Landers and Tipper Gore.
  • So controversial was the song in the 1970s that it was routinely banned at high school dances, while “Lady Marmalade,” an unequivocal celebration of prostitution, was not. 

COMMENTS