“The World’s On Fire” is the first track on Strawberry Alarm Clock‘s 1967 LP Incense And Peppermints. At over eight minutes, it is the band’s longest-ever track and is one of the better “long” psychedelic grooves of the era.
“The World’s On Fire” was presumably conceived in the spirit of other mid- and late-60s tracks that stretched far beyond regular single length, such as Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” and “Desolation Row”, The Rolling Stones’ “Going Home”, Love’s “Revelation”, and The Who’s “A Quick One (While He’s Away)”, albeit more psychedelic and noisy than those examples. With its dark, fiery feel and unwavering forward-throttle, “The World’s On Fire” hearkens back to the band’s single “In The Building”, released when they still went by the name of Thee Sixpence.
Musically, “The World’s On Fire” is a relentless attack based on a simple, punchy organ and guitar riff that is repeated throughout, sounding very dark and sinister. The lyrics, sung by a rather nightmarish chorus of the band’s vocalists, are simple and chaotic, matching the uncomfortable feeling of the music and manic drumming:
“The world is on fire tonight
And this flame that glows is too hot for me to fight
Dancing flames, twisting turning out of sight
Smoke-filled eyes crying hold me, hold me tight”
Elsewhere, the singers wail about “sad, smiling faces” as lengthy organ, guitar, and echo-y xylophone solos stretch out across the song’s eight minutes, creating a sense of randomness and calamity well in keeping with the dark paranoia of the track. “The World’s On Fire” is an audacious and daring way to begin an album, especially one meant to hype the hit eponymous single (which was in fact buried towards the end of side 2).
If you consider Strawberry Alarm Clock’s oft-repeated reputation as a key progenitor of bubblegum-psych an epithet, “The World’s On Fire” should be Exhibit A in your defense of the band. Genuinely ballsy and creepy, it’s a trip, with the musicianship loose enough to be exciting, and masterful enough to be riveting.
“The World’s On Fire”, along with a few others by Strawberry Alarm Clock, was featured in the psychedelic exploitation film Psych-Out, well-chosen as the accompaniment to a bad-trip scene by one of the film’s characters who hallucinates being attacked by a knight on horseback. The Psych-Out soundtrack album features a three-minute edit of the original song alongside the full-length version.
LP: Incense And Peppermints (1967)
LP: Psych-Out soundtrack (1968) – both the full-length track and a shorter edit from the middle of the song
CD: Strawberries Mean Love (1992 compilation)
CD: The Strawberry Alarm Clock Anthology (1993 compilation)
LP: Step By Step (1998 Thee Sixpence compilation)