“Fire and Smoke”
Written by Earl Thomas Coney
#1 (1 week)
July 11, 1981
Earl Thomas Conley finally scored a No. 1 single with the self-penned “Fire and Smoke,” kicking off a red hot career that had been a slow burn up until its release.
Conley was in his late thirties by the time he broke through on country radio. He’d fallen in love with country music while serving in the army, and once his service was complete, he worked at a steel mill in Huntsville, Alabama. It was there that he met publisher Nelson Larkin, who signed him to an independent record deal and brought him on as a songwriter.
He found his first success writing big hits for other artists, including classics like Conway Twitty’s “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More (Than She Loves Me.)” A major label deal with Warner Bros. proved largely fruitless, but switching to Sunbird Records, he broke through with his first top ten single in 1980, “Silent Treatment.” His next single, “Fire and Smoke,” did so well that RCA picked up his contract.
“Fire and Smoke” benefits from being the work of a fully realized artist who had long since established a signature sound and a radio friendly writing style. It’s one of those country songs that makes you wonder why nobody had ever written it before. It contrasts the fiery passion of a love affair with the storm of heartache that extinguishes it:
But if there’s fire and smokeOoh, what a rush I got when your love was hot Oh, but I couldn’t see that when the flame burned out You’d leave a cold dark cloud, a raining down on me
It’s an early highlight from an artist who had a much stronger catalog than he’s been given credit for. His next three singles produced two top ten entries – “Tell Me Why” and “Heavenly Bodies.” He wouldn’t miss the top five again until 1989. We’ll see him again in 1982 with the title track and second single from his album, Somewhere Between Right and Wrong.
“Fire and Smoke” gets an A.
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