Play With Fire by The Rolling Stones
by Ron Powers
For this month’s Flashback article, I hope to spark your interest in “Play With Fire” by The Rolling Stones. “Play With Fire” offers a uniquely dark feeling that is both beautiful and eerie. The lyrics focus on the singer’s relationship with a high-society girl who is leading an oblivious and self-centered lifestyle. It was recorded late at night in Los Angeles at the RCA Studios with Phil Spector. The song was originally released in 1965 as the B-side to the song “The Last Time”, and later included on the American release of their 1965 album Out of Our Heads.
“Play With Fire” begins with Keith Richards performing finger-picked acoustic guitar. The music is enchantingly smooth and pulls the ear in with an intriguing and uncommon feeling. After a few bars, the guitar is accompanied by Jagger’s mellow and spooky vocal melody. We hear the lyrics, “Well you’ve got your diamonds / And you’ve got your pretty clothes / And the chauffeur drives your car / You let everybody know”. The minimal instrumentation of this song allows for the detail and micro-emotion of each element to shine through clearly. I particularly enjoy the vocals and the sound of the echo chamber effect used on them.
As the first chorus is introduced, a lovely harpsichord melody is added to the instrumentation. This deepens the feeling established in the verse and adds a touch of sarcasm to the music given the harpsichord’s association with the upper-crust types the lyrics critique. The simple words, “But don’t play with me / Cause you’re playing with fire” are performed with a top-line melody that conveys a quiet fortitude that is somehow inspiring and chilling all at once. Tambourine strikes which resound with open-room reverb also adds a touch of rhythm to the music without disturbing the low-key tone of the song.
Coming in at two minutes and thirteen seconds, “Play With Fire” is a brief yet satisfying number. The Stones prioritize the quality of the song-listening experience over elaborate and long-winded musical arrangement. Yes, serving the song has always taken priority over any one band member attempting to showcase themselves when it comes to The Rolling Stones’ music. “Play With Fire” is a clear example of this mantra in how the band allows the song to remain simple in its “verse to chorus” dynamic. In the exclusion of tempting song elements like bridges, solos, and key changes, “Play With Fire” is allowed to shine in a way that wouldn’t be possible had the band not expressed such tasteful restraint.
If you’d like to listen to “Play With Fire”, you can find it on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and most other places music is streamed or sold. If you’d like to learn more about The Rolling Stones, you can find them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Currently, the Stones are preparing for the release of a live album/film called GRRR Live!. It’s set for release in February of 2023. The release will be available on all audio and video formats and you can find more information at rollingstones.com.
About the Author: Ron Powers is an independent A&R specialist and music industry consultant and is constantly searching for, discovering and writing about new talent.