Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire!

After much debate on on Oct. 8, 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis poured his divided soul into recording “Great Balls of Fire” at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. The song was released on November 11 of that year, and it went on to enter the top ten on the U.S. country, pop, and R&B charts, as well as number one on the U.K. pop charts.

A “Blasphemous” Song?

But Lewis initially refused to record the song. Lewis grew up in the Assemblies of God church and had attended Southwest Bible College in Texas before getting expelled for playing rock and roll music.

Lewis was tortured about whether or not to record this song. Many in the church considered the southern expression “Great Balls of Fire” to be blasphemous, as it refers to the Holy Spirit appearing as fire.

Argument with Sam Phillips

Before the recording of the song in October 1957, Lewis argued with Sun Studio’s Sam Phillips about whether or not he could bring himself to record the song. Phillips encouraged Lewis, telling him that he could save souls.

Lewis responded, “How can the devil save souls?…I got the devil in me!” The tape was rolling during the argument, so you may hear Lewis and Phillips discussing the song in the clip below:

Jerry Lee Lewis & Sam Phillips Argue

The argument continued in a dialogue that appears somewhat disjointed. But after awhile, Lewis came around and recorded the song.

After the Recording of “Great Balls of Fire”

Lewis, who is cousins with preacher Jimmy Swaggart, would continue to be tortured by the divide between his upbringing and his rock and roll lifestyle. As recounted in a book and movie about his life, after his rise to fame, audiences deserted him because he married his 13-year-old cousin. Lewis’s career would be resurrected eventually, and he continues to record and perform.

Lewis must have found peace with the blasphemous song, which he continued to perform. But he could not have predicted in 1957 that he would become so associated with the phrase “Great Balls of Fire.” It would become the title for his biography and the movie about his life, starring Dennis Quaid in an interesting, over-the-top performance.

What do you think of the song and the movie “Great Balls of Fire”? Leave a comment.

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