Saturday, July 27, 2013

50 years ago: Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” hit #1 on country charts

Ring of Fire

Johnny Cash

Writer(s): June Carter, Merle Kilgore (see lyrics here)

Released: April 19, 1963

First Charted: June 1, 1963

Peak: 17 US, 14 CB, 14 GR, 13 HR, 17 US, 12 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.2 US, 0.5 UK

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 62.9 video, 315.81 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

While it has become one of Johnny Cash’s signature hits, “Ring of Fire” wasn’t his originally. June Carter, who Cash married in 1968, wrote the song with Merle Kilgore and her sister Anita originally recorded it. She released it as “(Love’s) Ring of Fire” on her album Folk Songs Old and New and as a single. WK

Cash heard Anita’s version and claimed he had a dream in which the song was accompanied by Mexican horns. He told Anita he’d give her six months and if her version wasn’t a hit, he was going to record it how he felt it. He recorded it the same year with mariachi-style horns. WK His version topped the country charts for seven weeks.

There are claims that Carter saw the phrase “love is like a burning ring of fire” underlined in an Elizabethan poetry book that belonged ot her uncle, A.P. Carter. WK At the time, she and Cash were married to other people, but were friends and singing partners. She was “driving around aimlessly one night, worried about Cash’s wildman ways – and aware that she couldn’t resist him.” RS500 When they married in 1968, Merle Kilgore (the co-writer on “Ring of Fire”) was the best man. SF

Cash’s career had waned slightly in the early ‘60s; he hadn’t hit #1 since 1959’s “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” Cash’s version of “Ring of Fire” was “a forceful blend of his image and musical attitude” AMG which helped develop his image of “The Man in Black.” The phrase “fell into a ring of fire” sounded “intimidating and dangerous” AMG and like “something an outlaw would do.” AMG


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First posted 10/31/2021; last updated 7/12/2023.

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