Song of the Day Jan 22
January 22, 2024
This month I’m focusing on some great hits from the 60s.
Today our song is: Ring of Fire
Wikipedia tells us this about the song:
"Ring of Fire" is a song made popular by Johnny Cash when it appeared on his 1963 album Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. Written by Cash's eventual second wife, June Carter Cash, and Merle Kilgore, it was originally recorded as "(Love's) Ring of Fire" by June's sister, Anita Carter, on her 1963 album Folk Songs Old and New.
Cash's version became one of the biggest hits of his career, staying at No. 1 on the country chart for seven weeks. It was certified gold by the RIAA on January 21, 2010, and has sold over 1.2 million digital downloads. It was named the fourth greatest country song of all time by Country Music Television, while Rolling Stone listed it as the 87th greatest song of all time and the number one greatest country song of all time.
Some sources claim that Carter had seen the phrase "Love is like a burning ring of fire" underlined in an Elizabethan poetry book owned by her uncle A. P. Carter. She worked with Kilgore on writing a song inspired by this phrase as she had seen her uncle do in the past. She had written: "There is no way to be in that kind of hell, no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns".
The song was originally recorded by June's sister, Anita Carter, on her Mercury Records album Folk Songs Old and New (1963) as "(Love's) Ring of Fire". Mercury released Anita's version as a single and it was a featured "pick hit" in Billboard magazine. After hearing Anita's version, Cash claimed he had a dream where he heard the song accompanied by "Mexican horns". The mariachi horn sound had recently been popularized on American radio with 1962 hit song "The Lonely Bull" by Herb Alpert. Cash said, "[...] I'll give you about five or six more months, and if you don't hit with it, I'm gonna record it the way I feel it." Cash noted that adding trumpets was a change to his basic sound.
When the song failed to become a major hit for Anita, Cash recorded it his own way, adding the mariachi-style horns from his dream. This sound was later used in the song "It Ain't Me Babe", which was recorded around the same time. Mother Maybelle and the Carter sisters are prominently featured in the Cash recording singing harmony. Cash tinkered with a few of the original phrases in Anita Carter's version of the song. Cash's daughter Rosanne said, "The song is about the transformative power of love and that's what it has always meant to me and that's what it will always mean to the Cash children."
In 2004, Merle Kilgore, who shared writing credit for the song with June Carter, proposed licensing the song for a hemorrhoid cream commercial. When performing the song live, Kilgore would often "mock dedicate" the song to the "makers of Preparation H". However, June's heirs were not of a like mind, and they refused to allow the song to be licensed for the ad.
Cash's first wife, Vivian, states, "One day in early 1963, while gardening in the yard, Johnny told me about a song he had just written with Merle Kilgore and Curly while out fishing on Lake Casitas. 'I’m gonna give June half credit on a song I just wrote,' Johnny said. 'It’s called "Ring of Fire."' 'Why?' I asked, wiping dirt from my hands. The mere mention of her name annoyed me. I was sick of hearing about her. 'She needs the money,' he said, avoiding my stare. 'And I feel sorry for her.'" She also says, "To this day, it confounds me to hear the elaborate details June told of writing that song for Johnny. She didn’t write that song any more than I did. The truth is, Johnny wrote that song, while pilled up and drunk, about a certain private female body part. All those years of her claiming she wrote it herself, and she probably never knew what the song was really about."