Ring of Fire (song)

"Ring of Fire"
Single by Johnny Cash
from the album Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash
B-side "I'd Still Be There"
Released April 19, 1963
Format Vinyl
Recorded March 25, 1963
Length 2:38
Label Columbia
Producer(s) Don Law
Johnny Cash singles chronology
"Ring of Fire"
(1963, 1968)
"The Matador"
"Ring of Fire"
Single by Eric Burdon & the Animals
from the album Love Is
B-side "I'm an Animal"
Released 1969
Format 7" single
Length 4:58 (album version)
Label MGM
Producer(s) Tom Wilson
Eric Burdon & the Animals singles chronology
"White Houses"
"Ring of Fire"
"River Deep Mountain High"
"Ring of Fire"
Single by Social Distortion
from the album Social Distortion
B-side "Story of My Life"
Released 1989
Format 10" single
Genre Punk rock
Length 3:51
Label Epic
Producer(s) Dave Jerden
Social Distortion singles chronology
"Ball and Chain"
"Ring of Fire"
"Ring of Fire"
Single by DragonForce
from the album Maximum Overload
Released 18 August 2014 (2014-08-18)
Recorded 2013–14
Length 3:15
Producer(s) Jens Bogren

"Ring of Fire", or "The Ring of Fire", is a song written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore and recorded by Johnny Cash.[1] The single appears on Cash's 1963 album, Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. 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". "Ring of Fire" was ranked No. 4 on CMT's 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music in 2003 and #87 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The song was recorded on March 25, 1963, and became the biggest hit of Cash's career, staying at number one on the country chart for seven weeks. It was certified Gold on January 21, 2010, by the RIAA and has also sold over 1.2 million digital downloads.[2]


"Ring of Fire" excerpt
From the album Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. This sample a portion of the chorus. Flourishes from the mariachi are also featured.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Although "Ring of Fire" sounds ominous, the term refers to falling in love – which is what June Carter was experiencing with Johnny Cash at the time. Some sources claim that Carter had seen the phrase "Love is like a burning ring of fire," underlined in one of her uncle A. P. Carter's Elizabethan books of poetry.[3][4] 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".[5]

Cash's first wife, Vivian Liberto, offers a different conception of "Ring of Fire" in her book I Walked the Line. She contends that June Carter Cash was not a co-writer of the song: "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." Liberto claims that Cash decided to give Carter co-writer status because "She needs the money".[6]

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". Cash stated, "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.[7]

When the song failed to become a major hit for Anita, Cash recorded it his own way, adding the mariachi-style horns. 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 has stated, "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."[8]

In 2004, Merle Kilgore, who shared writing credit for the song with June Carter Cash, 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".[9] However, June's heirs were not of a like mind, and they refused to allow the song to be licensed for the ad.

Chart performance

Johnny Cash version

Chart (1963–68) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles[10] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[11] 17
German Singles Chart 27
Swiss Singles Chart 77

Eric Burdon and the Animals version

Chart (1969) Peak
Australian Single Chart[12] 10
Dutch Charts[12] 4
German Singles Chart[12] 24
UK Singles Chart[12] 35

Alan Jackson version

Chart (2010) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[13] 45


Numerous cover versions of "Ring of Fire" have been produced, the most commercially successful version being by Eric Burdon & the Animals. Their version was recorded at the end of 1968, and made the top 40 in four different countries.[12] In late 1974, the Eric Burdon Band released a hard rock version. Wall of Voodoo debuted with a cover of the song on their self-titled 1980 EP and featured a pulsing synthesizer. Dwight Yoakam covered it on his debut album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Punk rock band Social Distortion covered it on their 1990 self-titled LP. A cover of the song by Alan Jackson with guest vocals from Lee Ann Womack was released as a single on December 6, 2010. It served as the lead-off single to his 34 Number Ones compilation album, and peaked at #45 in the Hot Country Songs, becoming his first single to miss the top 40 since "Just Put a Ribbon in Your Hair" peaked at #51 in 2004.[14] It was his last single released by Arista Records.

In 2014, British band DragonForce released a power metal version of the song on their sixth album Maximum Overload.

Madonna sang a cover version of Cash's song on the Nashville date of her Rebel Heart Tour on 8 January 2016.


  1. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash". AllMusic. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  2. Grein, Paul (2010-09-24). "Chart Watch Extra: Songs From The Last Century". Nielsen Business Media. Yahoo! Music. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
  3. "Obituary: Anita Carter". The poem was "Love's Ring Of Fire by Bob Johnston, according to Johnny Cash by Stephen Miller. The (London) Independent. August 4, 1999. Retrieved on March 23, 2007.
  4. "Google Books Search, Johnny Cash, by Steve Miller".
  5. "Ring of Fire". RollingStone.com. December 9, 2004. Retrieved on March 23, 2007.
  6. Vivian Cash; Ann Sharpsteen (4 September 2007). I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny. Simon and Schuster. p. 294. ISBN 978-1-4165-3292-7. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  7. Johnny Cash interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  8. "Cash family blocks haemorrhoid ad". BBC.com. February 18, 2004. Retrieved on March 23, 2007.
  9. "Cash Family Draws Line Around 'Ring of Fire'". Fox News. Retrieved 2016-09-27.
  10. Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 19442006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 75.
  11. Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: Eighth Edition. Record Research. p. 111.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 The Animals chart entries, tsort.info.
  13. "Alan Jackson – Chart history" Billboard Hot Country Songs for Alan Jackson.
  14. Alan Jackson USA chart history, Billboard.com. Retrieved June 11, 2012.

External links

Preceded by
"Act Naturally" by Buck Owens
Billboard Hot Country Singles number-one single
July 27, 1963 (7 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Abilene" by George Hamilton IV
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