Electric Light Orchestra - Fire On High [Album Version]Details

The backwards spoken intro is: "The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back! Turn back!" This, as well as the name of the album, Face The Music, and the image of headphones on the electric chair on the album's cover, was done in response to Christian fanatics who had accused E.L.O. of backwards masking Satanic lyrics on the song Eldorado from the previous album. The message was that those wanting to listen backwards to their recordings should "turn back" the record because they are wasting their time (time is not reversible) and "face the music" that there are no Satanic messages to E.L.O.'s music.

This song was used from 1976 to 1978 as the theme song for the weekend sports show, CBS Sports Spectacular. It was also used in 2000 by the Jersey Devils (hockey team) in an opening ceremony for all its games. They went on to win the Stanley Cup that season.

Backing vocalist Marge Raymond recorded some vocals for Fire On High, singing "fire on high baby" near the end of the song, but apparently Jeff decided to not use them and cut them from the final mix of the song.

The song was also heavily sampled in the original version of the De La Soul song Pease Porridge, but they could not get permission to use the sample, so the song was reworked with a different sample before release.

"...the overblown mysterioso opener, Fire On High, which falls into classic Who thrashing."
PH (December 6, 1975 - Record Mirror)

"[On Face The Music] there is the rather awful Fire On High, which borrows heavily from Schonberg and other 20th Century composers(as well as the odd nod to Handel), but this is more than offset by tunes like Evil Woman, Strange Magic and One Summer Dream."
John Ingham (January 1976 - Sounds)

"Also, there is the catching instrumental opening of Fire On High (with more reversed vocal tracks, Bevan this time)..."
Joel Bellman (December 1976 - Trouser Press #17)

"[The song] Fire On High, some of which CBS-TV uses as background for its CBS Sports Spectacular..."
Gary Nuhn (February 20, 1977 - Dayton Daily News review of the February 18, 1977 show)

"[The song I most enjoy playing on stage is] possibly the opening song of the whole set that we do on stage, it's called Fire On High, which is on Face The Music. That's an exciting song to play."
Bev Bevan (August 8, 1980 - The ELO Story radio show)

"We used to do a song called Fire On High years ago from Face The Music. That was a really good song to play [in concert]."
Bev Bevan (1986 - British radio interview by Paul Sexton)

"Bev drummed for his life on Fire On High. [...] This is especially true [that the Face The Music songs are scary] of the first track, Fire On High, on which Jeff's penchant for gloomy instrumentals is given glorious reign. It is laden with atmospheric sound effects, such as Brian Jones' footstep echoing down a corridor, Bev's backward-running voice (saying: 'The music is reversible - but time isn't - turn back, turn back, turn back'), seagulls, the choir singing (of all things) and excerpt from Handel's Messiah, plus the now obligatory 40-piece string section (strangely enough, after all the troubles with Eldorado, recorded in London - still at least then it was Louis Clark's problem, not ELO's!). Despite all these disparate elements, the track remains coherent, aided by some excellent playing from the rhythm section - Bev and Kelly hit it off immediately in this department - plus some dynamite interplay between Jeff's guitar and Bev's drums. Bev's playing on this track is quite incredible, especially when you consider that he had to double-track it exactly as he played it the first time, in order to obtain his now famous echo. The song isn't only instrumentally ambitious - as a sound picture it conjurs [sic] up powerful images of Hell and Heaven reversed - the Fire On High of the title. Track two [on the Face The Music album] is the lilting Waterfall, a welcome breather after the draining technical wizardy of Fire On High..."
Andrew Whiteside (Early 1989 - Face The Music fanzine #5)

"No doubt, on just hearing A New World Record, UNART [United Artists] executives must have rubbed their hands gleefully, and wondered which of the surefire hits they would release first. In the end, they plumped Livin' Thing (Jet UP 36184), which immediately gave ELO their biggest hit up to that point, reaching No. 4 and remaining in the charts for 3 months. The B-side was a full-length Fire On High. The label design was UNART's usual cream and brown, an improvement on Polydor's but still not much to look at. There was no picture sleeve (the last ELO single for 5 years not to feature one), and it's worth £2.25 today. UA showed a bit of imagination however, and also released a blu vinyl version of the single, the first time (in the UK) and ELO record had been so honoured, and this highly collectable pressing goes for £3.50-£4 today."
Andrew Whiteside (1989 - Face The Music fanzine #6)

"Spring/Summer [1982]: Fire On High played on Radio 4 as an example of the Devil worshipping mania that is sweeping the States, lots of coverage and quoting of lyrics in tabloids."
Rob Caiger (1993 - Face The Music fanzine #15)

"Bev Bevan could be heard on this album for the first time for nearly half a decade by speaking a backward verse on the prologue: 'The music is reversible; but time [is not]... turn back, turn back, turn back' in the song Fire On High. Their roadie Brian Jones, meanwhile promoted to be the chief roadie, was featured on the song by 'running' through the intro just before the choir started with their out-of-tune version of Händel's Halleluja."
Patrik Guttenbacher, Marc Haines, & Alexander von Petersdorff (1996 Unexpected Messages)

"...The next album created a furor with an extreme faction of religious fanatics who insisted that Face The Music contained satanic messages in the title track when played backwards. Of course, it was utter nonsense. What it actually said was 'The music is reversible, but time is not, Turn back, Turn back,' but the idea tickled Lynne's imagination, inspiring him to add some more secret messages on later albums."
Jaan Uhelszki (April 1, 2003 liner notes for The Essential Electric Light Orchestra)
Editor's note:The backwards message mentioned is not on the title track of the Face The Music album (one does not exist), but rather the song Fire On High. Also, this backwards bit was put on this album due to the religious furor caused by supposed satanic messages on the previous album.

"Fire On High is especially wonderful - lots happening with the string section there."
Rob Caiger (July 2, 2006 - Showdown mailing list)

"Fire On High, from Face The Music, contains the message, 'the music is reversible but time is not/Turn back/Turn back/Turn back.'"
Author Unknown (September, 2006 - Q Magazine Sep 2006)

"Everyone has their opinion as to favourite tracks and certainly Fire On High is one of ELO's very best. There was more notes [on the Face The Music remaster liner notes] on the individual tracks but they got chopped as we decided to fit more photos and memorabilia in. This is one of the paragraphs we lost where I mention Fire On High:

None more so than on One Summer Dream, one of Lynne's finest compositions from any stage of ELO's long career. The dreamy, hypnotic 'protest song' highlighted ELO's lusher and fuller sound but the album also included a wide range of influences and styles to brilliant effect: the menacing classical, choral and rock fusion of instrumental opener Fire On High (complete with drummer Bev Bevan's 'the music is reversible...' backward message); the feel-good country hoe-down of Down Home Town; the dynamic and powerful Nightrider, Lynne's affectionate nod to his pre-Idle Race 'Brum Beat' group; the haunting and almost ethereal ballads Strange Magic and Waterfall; to the heads-down, no-nonsense orchestral boogie of Poker.
It should have been on Flashback - that was the one track everyone felt should have been on there. It was on my list!"
Rob Caiger (October 5, 2006 - Showdown mailing list)

"Face The Music is my personal favorite [of ELO's albums] and Fire On High has one of the most memorable riffs I have ever heard."
MuzikMan (October 6, 2006 - Blogcritics magazine)

"Face the Music, released in 1975 -- featuring Evil Woman and Strange Magic as top 20 singles and non-single track such as Fire on High and Waterfall -- was the most solid release to date."
Rock Cesario (October 16, 2006 - The Daily Sentinal (Grand Junction, Colorado))

"The excellent acoustic guitar-driven instrumental Fire on High was heard all over the TV airwaves as bumper music for years after this [Face The Music] album's release (especially on CBS sports, if memory serves)."
Barry Nothstine (2006 - The Phantom Tollbooth On The Third Day, Face The Music and A New World Record remaster review)

"Fire on High, the highlight-reel-ready instrumental which opens the album, would be just another Daybreaker without the Revolution 9-lite sound collage intro, the Pink Floydish stabs at sweeping majesty and the dramatic tempo shifts."
Rob Horning (February 16, 2007 - On The Third Day, Face The Music and A New World Record reissue review on popmatters.com)

"The composition Fire On High gave a nod back to the early days of the band."
Scott Homewood (February 2, 2007 - On The Third Day, Face The Music and A New World Record reissue review on cdreviews.com)

"I have to tell you that the first tune we did [backing vocals on] was Fire on High. We did alot of background vocals, but, Jeff decided to not use any of it. He kept it strictly orchestral. When I head that track I said to myself..wow,,this is different and quite amazing.gf"
Marge Raymond (February 23, 2009 - Facebook message board for an ELO page)

"I have to tell you that the first tune we did was Fire On High. We did alot of background vocals, but Jeff decided to not use any of it. He kept it strictly orchestral. When I head that track I said to myself... wow, this is different and quite amazing."
Marge Raymond (August 31, 2009 - ELO Secret Messages blog)

"Fire On High (Face The Music, 1975): It seems like I have to do a lot of admitting in these Something Else! collaborations. An artist is suggested and I dive right in, all excited to revisit the music — only to discover that my collection contains none of their records. Worse, I do have an album, but it's a greatest-hits thing. (This goes against my long-standing distaste for best-of records, which rip the songs out of their original context. OK, so I'm a nerd. Whatever.) This time around, I'm happy to report that I do own more than ELO's Greatest Hits. But here's the sad admission: I'm almost positive that my first experience with ELO came not from the spectacular Eldorado or its follow up Face The Music, but from the CBS sports magazine show CBS Sports Spectacular. For a few years in the 1970s (76-78), the show's theme song was an edit of Fire On High. Being the pre-Internet era, I didn't even know that it was ELO. That moment came a few years later when some kid from my dorm played me Face The Music. I love those kind of surprises. Honestly though, I didn't really need to associate such a cool song with things like the World's Strongest Man competition. And yes, it is a cool song, full of weird orchestration, violently strummed guitar, fusion-esque violin, and even (in the full version) a backwards masked message. Don't worry, it's kid safe. Plus, it was done to annoy some Fundamentalist Christians. Extra RockAndRollPoints™ right there. Wait, I just realized that Fire On High isn't on ELO's Greatest Hits. What the...? How is that possible? Well, that's OK. I mean, when I first started writing this, I was certain that the song was the theme song to ABC's Wide World of Sports. Insert your favorite 1970s drug joke here."
Mark Saleski (August 2, 2012 - Something Else! website review)

"The other new record [Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra] celebrates the 40th anniversary of the band that gave the pop world such gems as Evil Woman, Livin' Thing, Don't Bring Me Down and the sports-highlights staple Fire on High."
Erik Pedersen (September 13, 2012 - Hollywood Reporter)
Editor's Note: Oddly, the album did not feature Fire On High so it's uncertain where the author got this misinformation.

"Ooh! I wish I knew the answer to [what the inspiration was for Fire On High]. It's a big... It's like a big instrumental. I tried to write, sort of, in a classical style but have rock 'n' roll instruments playing it, you know, and orchestra together. Those were the days when I was trying to do more of that classical stuff on that particular song there especially. I just tried to get it big and fat and classical-type of sound. And, you know, if it works, I'm glad and if it didn't, I'm sorry. [Laughs] Yeah, the guitar part [was used for sports programming]. The guitar break..."
Jeff Lynne (November 7, 2012 - Rockline)

"There are quite a few songs I'm proud of actually but they tend to be some of the more obscure numbers, some of the less-obvious album tracks. If I had to pick on I'd probably go for Fire On High..."
Bev Bevan (December 2012 - Record Collector magazine)

"[Face The Music] opened with an instrumental Fire On High, in which at least one reviewer detected little nods to Schoenberg and Handel, containing a reversed message at the start, ‘The music is reversible, but time is not—turn back—turn back—turn back—turn back,’ spoken by Bev. This was a tongue-in-cheek response to ridiculous satanic allegations which had been made about Eldorado by Fundamentalist Christianity members. They claimed that the line ‘Here it comes, another lonely day, playing the game, I’ll sail away, on a voyage of no return to see’ actually said something along the lines of ‘He is the nasty one—Christ you’re infernal—It is said we’re dead men—Everyone who has the mark will live’ when played backwards. People who believed that would believe anything, and Jeff rightly dismissed the accusation as utter nonsense."
John Van der Kiste (August 2015 - Jeff Lynne: Electric Light Orchestra - Before and After)

"Jeff Lynne crafted some of the ’70s’ hookiest classic rock songs, but people forget he’s also a first-rate artrocker – most ELO LPs feature at least one extended prog excursion, packed with dense arrangements and instrumental fireworks. Face The Music opener Fire On High presents ELO at their most excessive, which is precisely what makes it a forgotten classic. Like Ian Anderson on Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick, Lynne offers a winking, tongue-in-cheek celebration of the genre. The soaring choral voices, the sawing cellos, the breathless tempo shifts, the 'Hallelujah' nods to Handel’s Messiah, Bev Bevan’s pummeling triplet tom-toms: Fire [sic] displays the complexity and widescreen scope of symphonic prog, but with a playfulness that many of the era’s legends often lacked."
Ryan Reed (January 7, 2016 - Stereogum online magazine article entitled 'The 10 Best ELO Songs')

"Prog fans might also have noticed the opening track [of Face The Music], Fire On High, with its symphonic grandeur, multiple sections and eerie backwards message, which was drummer Bev Bevan proclaiming, 'The music is reversible but time is not. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back.'"
Paul Lester (April 2016 - Prog magazine)

"I used to get stick for [the backwards message on Fire On High]. These weirdo guys-- pseudo-religious people-- said, 'It's all talking about the Devil!' What a load of crap. If you say something and then play it backwards, it always sounds like that."
Jeff Lynne (April 2016 - Prog magazine)

"When ELO wanted to turn up the volume, they did so effortlessly. Take a listen to the soaring instrumental Fire on High, the adventurous Poker, Ma-Ma-Ma Belle or Do Ya, which rocked hard enough that Ace Frehley took a stab at it on his 1989 album, Trouble Walkin’."
Michael Christopher (November 10, 2016 - Ultimate Classic Rock online magazine)

"Anyone who visited Seabreeze Amusement Park and rode the Gyrosphere probably remembers the song Fire On High playing in the background."
Thom Jennings (December 24, 2016 - The Daily News)

"With ELO, more was always more. As a listener, you either embrace the excess or miss out on the fun. Fire On High, the first track on 1975’s giddy Face The Music — which also includes the classics Evil Woman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s98UgBSNoL4) and Strange Magic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11A8JZ-RDDo) — opens with a drawn out fanfare that includes an allusion to Handel’s Messiah, back-masked messages, and wigged-out synthesizers. It’s like an even more outrageous precursor to modern-day prog-maniacs like Muse. [...] The title track from Secret Messages was Lynne trolling religious fundamentalists who heard Fire On High and accused ELO of being Satanists."
Steven Hyden (April 25, 2017 - Uproxx website)

"E.L.O. frontman and mastermind Jeff Lynne got so sick of hearing questions about the alleged [backward] messages, he planted one in the band’s next album, Face the Music. A bit of gibberish in the intro to Fire on High, when played backward, is revealed to be drummer Bev Bevan saying, 'The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back.'"
Rob Smith (July 13, 2018 - Ultimate Classic Rock online magazine)

"Producers who went digging in the crates found endless dramatic string arrangements on ELO records to turn into head-nodding loops. A particularly bombastic section of the Face the Music deep cut Fire on High has been especially popular with rappers, appearing on tracks by El-P, Joe Budden, Inspectah Deck, and Canibus..."
Al Shipley (July 25, 2019 - City Pages website)

listenThis sample is the backwards vocal section played normally, as heard on the original album, followed by the same section played backward so that the vocal is heard going forward. This sample is actually lifted from the hidden track on the 24KT gold issue of Face The Music.
There is a deliberate and well known backwards message in this song. It was done by the band in response to accusations of accusation of backwards messages put into Eldorado the year before. The message, spoken clearly by drummer Bev Bevan and played backwards is "The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back! Turn back! Turn back!" The idea was to tell those turning the records backwards to not waste their time. This segment, run forwards, actually got an official release in 1995 on the 24KT gold issue of Face The Music as a hidden track. If one puts the CD in their CD player and hits "play" (so that the song plays normally), then immediately hits the rewind button, then the music will back up to zero and beyond zero into the negative times; once the "beginning" of this negative time is hit (about -34 seconds), then let the player play and the spoken part will play forwards.
listenThis sample is the backwards string section as heard in Fire On High, then the same section reversed (so that the strings are heard forwards), then a sample of Evil Woman from where the strings were taken.
Another backwards section in this song, not so obvious, are backwards strings, lifted from the intro of Evil Woman that are flipped and put into the Fire On High intro just after the obvious "music is reversible" bit.

  • Running Time: 5:30
  • Record Date: May and June 1975
  • Record Location: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany (all music except the orchestra and choir which were recorded at De Lane Lea Studios, Wembley, England)
  • Written By: Jeff Lynne
  • Produced By: Jeff Lynne
  • Engineered By: Mack (basic track and orchestra) & Jimmy Iovine (final mix)
  • Performed By: Jeff Lynne (guitar), Bev Bevan (drums, percussion, spoken intro), Richard Tandy (piano, moog synthesizer, guitar, clavinet), Kelly Groucutt (bass), Mik Kaminski (violin; mixed with full orchestra), Hugh McDowell (cello; mixed with full orchestra), Melvyn Gale (cello; mixed with full orchestra), Louis Clark (orchestra conductor), Brian Jones (footsteps)

  • Released On:
    • Face The Music LP album (1975 September — USA — United Artists UL-LA 546-G)
    • Face The Music LP album (1975 November — UK — Jet JET LP 11)
    • Face The Music LP album (1976 February — UK — Jet/United Artists UAG 30034)
    • Livin' Thing blue vinyl 7" single (1976 November 13 — UK — United Artists JET UP 36184)
    • Livin' Thing black vinyl 7" single (1976 November 13 — UK — United Artists JET UP 36184)
    • Face The Music LP album (1978 — UK — Jet JET LP 201)
    • Three Light Years LP album (1978 December 1 — UK — Jet JET BX1)
    • Face The Music LP album (1978 May — USA — Jet JZ 35527)
    • Face The Music LP album (1980 — USA — Jet PZ 35527)
    • Face The Music LP album (1985 — UK — Epic EPC 32544)
    • Face The Music CD album (1987 — USA — ZK 35527)
    • Face The Music CD album (1991 — UK — UK 982648-2)
    • Burning Bright CD album (1992 — USA — Sony Music Special Products A22639)
    • Face The Music 24KT Gold CD album (1995 August 15 — USA — Epic/Legacy ZK 57184)
    • Face The Music Remaster CD album (2006 September 11 — UK — Epic/Legacy 82796942782)
    • Face The Music Remaster digital album (2006 September 11 — UK — Epic/Legacy 827969427828)
    • Face The Music Remaster CD album (2006 September 12 — USA — Legacy EK 94271)
    • Face The Music Remaster digital album (2006 September 12 — USA — Legacy 827969427828)
    • Face The Music/A New World Record CD album (2007 September 17 — UK — Sony/BMG 88697162062)
    • Platinum CD album (2007 October 23 — USA — Sony/BMG MEG2 53449)
    • Original Album Classics CD album (2010 October 25 — Europe — Sony 886997873423)
    • Eldorado/Face The Music CD album (2011 August 29 — USA — Epic 886979304024)
    • The Classic Albums Collection CD boxed set (2011 November — USA — Epic 8 89978 73262 0)
    • The Classic Albums Collection CD boxed set (2011 November 14 — UK — Epic 8 89978 73262 0)
    • The Classic Albums Collection digital album (2014 June 10 — UK — Epic/Legacy 886444622653)
    • The Classic Albums Collection digital album (2014 June 10 — USA — Epic/Legacy 886444622660)
    • The Collection digital album (2015 November 27 — USA — Legacy Recordings 5099751866527)
    • Studio Albums 1973 - 1977 CD boxed set (2016 June 10 — UK — Epic 88985324162)
    • Face The Music digital album (2015 November 13 — Europe — Epic/Legacy 886445593853)
    • Face The Music digital album (2015 November 13 — USA — Epic/Legacy 886445593884)
    • Face The Music LP album (2016 July 1 — UK — Sony 88985312341)
    • The UK Singles Volume One 1972-1978 7" single box set (2018 September 28 — Worldwide — Epic Records 88985424617)
      [Livin' Thing blue vinyl 7" single (United Artists JET UP 36184)]

  • Used in the Film or TV Program:
    • Ecstacy In Blue (1976)
    • The Thief Of Bagdad reimagined film (2011)

  • Cover Versions: Kenobit on the ELO: The Video Game OST album (2014)
  • Used as a Sample in the Songs:
    • Pease Porridge by De La Soul (unreleased)
    • The Pheonix (River and Rain) by God Within on the The Phoenix album (1994)
    • The Pheonix by Hardkiss (1995)
    • Los Puerbos by The Two Amigos (2000s)
    • Jed the Humanoid by Grandaddy (2000)
    • Handle That by Inspectah Deck feat. U-God and Hue Hefna on the The Resident Patient album (2006)
    • Tasmanian Pain Coaster by El-P feat. The Mars Volta on the I'll Sleep When You're Dead album (2007)
    • Olde English (Remix) by Dilated Peoples feat. Defari on the The Release Party album (2007)
    • 5th Gear by Joe Budden on the Mood Muzik III: For Better or for Worse album (2007)
    • The King & I by Jise One feat. IDE on the Lt. Worf Chronicles album (2008)
    • Nothin To Lose by Styles P and DJ Green Lantern on the The Green Ghost Project album (2010)
    • The Sound Of Burning People by 14Kt on the 14Killa Tape album (2011)
    • Nie Chce Spadac W Dól by Temate feat. Sitek and Stochu on the Tematycznie album (2013)
    • Fire by Shad and DJ T.LO on the Boarding Pass album (2014)