Wildfire (Michael Martin Murphey song)

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"Wildfire"
Single by Michael Murphey
from the album Blue Sky – Night Thunder
Released February, 1975
Format 7" (45 rpm)
Genre Country, Adult Contemporary[1]
Length 4:47
Label Epic
Writer(s) Michael Murphey, Larry Cansler
Producer(s) Bob Johnston
Michael Murphey singles chronology
"Fort Worth I Love You"
(1974)
"Wildfire"
(1975)
"Carolina in the Pines"
(1975)

"Wildfire" is a classic song written by Michael Martin Murphey and Larry Cansler. It was originally recorded by Murphey, who had yet to add his middle name to his recorded work, and appears on his gold-plus 1975 album Blue Sky – Night Thunder.

Released in February 1975 as the album's lead single, "Wildfire" became Murphey's highest-charting Pop hit in the United States. The somber story song hit #2 in Cash Box and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in June 1975. In addition, it reached the top position of the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.[2]

The single continued to sell, eventually receiving platinum certification from the RIAA, signifying sales of over two million US copies. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[3]

Background[edit]

Murphey and Cansler co-wrote "Wildfire" in 1968, shortly after Murphey emerged as a solo artist. Earlier in the decade he had been part of a duo known as the Lewis & Clark Expedition (which had appeared and performed in an episode of I Dream of Jeannie) in 1968 with his fellow singer-songwriter Boomer Castleman. When Murphey rerecorded "Wildfire" for a new album in 1997, he was quoted by Billboard as saying that what many consider his signature song "broke my career wide open and, on some level, still keeps it fresh. Because that song appeals to kids, and always has, it's kept my career fresh."[4]

In a 2008 interview, Murphey talked about the origins of the song and the context in which in was written.

I was working on a concept album called The Ballad of Calico for Kenny Rogers with my friend Larry Cansler. I was in my third year of college at UCLA, but I was living in the mountains in California. I would drive down to Larry's apartment in Los Angeles and sleep on his floor, because we would work sometimes 22 hours a day on the album.

The night "Wildfire" came to me, Larry went to bed, and I went to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor. I dreamed the song in its entirety. I woke up and pounded on Larry's door and said, "Can you come down and help me with this song?" His wife got up and made us coffee, and we finished it in two or three hours.

The song came from deep down in my subconsciousness. My grandfather told me a story when I was a little boy about a legendary ghost horse that the Indians talked about. In 1936, the author J. Frank Dobie identified this ghost horse story as the most prominent one in the lore of the Southwest. We were working on my album Blue Sky – Night Thunder at the time, and my producer Bob Johnston said, "I don't see how that song will fit in with the rest of the material for that album." I asked him if I could record it as an album cut, because I felt very strongly about it.

We recorded the song at Caribou Ranch in Colorado, ten thousand feet up in the Rocky Mountains. After we recorded the song, Bob said, "You know it came out better than I thought it would. Let's play it for the kitchen staff here and see what they think." They loved it, so Bob said, "OK, we'll release it as the first single."

It came out, took off in Chicago and Milwaukee, and public demand made it a hit, which proves that those of us in music have no clue about anything when it comes to what will be a hit song. It came out in the disco era in 1975, and was a pop hit, going to No. 1 in R&R and No. 2 in Billboard. It was one of the last gold singles before they stopped releasing songs as singles. It's still in the Top 20 songs for airplay for BMI.

I can't tell you that I understand what the song means, but I think it's about getting above the hard times. I've had people tell me they wish they could ride that mystical horse and get away from their hard times, whatever they are. I also think a lot of it is wrapped up in my Christian upbringing. In the Biblical Book of Revelation, it talks about Jesus coming back on a white horse. I came to be a Christian when I was five or six years old, and I was a cowboy kid with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, so when the preacher told me that Jesus would come back for me on a white horse, I was all wrapped up in that.

In the ghost story, the horse is a symbol of the Savior, in the same way C.S. Lewis used animals in The Chronicles of Narnia. When I lived in California in the late 60s, a lot of my friends were into the culture of the day—drugs and free sex—and I felt out of place there. After "Wildfire" came out and was a hit for me, I was able to move back to Texas. So not only was a song I dreamed my most famous song, it also helped me get back to my native state.

People always ask me if I have a horse named Wildfire, and up until a few years ago I did not. I always said I'd never name a horse after the song. But when I got my palomino mare, she was exactly what I always dreamed Wildfire to be, so gave her the name to my most famous song.[5]

Content[edit]

The lyrics are the ruminations of a homesteader who has become much disillusioned with farming and obsessed with the ghost of a young woman said to have died searching for her pony, "Wildfire", during a blizzard. The homesteader hopes to catch up with the ghost mounted on her pony, and with them to escape from farming, which he bitterly calls "sodbusting".

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1975) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 3
U.S. Billboard Easy Listening 1
Canadian RPM Top Singles 1
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary Tracks 1
New Zealand Singles Chart 12

In popular culture[edit]

In 2007, the host of The Late Show, David Letterman, developed a sudden fascination with "Wildfire", discussing the song and its lyrics—particularly the line about "leave sodbustin' behind"—with the bandleader Paul Shaffer over the course of several weeks. This ultimately led to Murphey's being invited on the show to perform "Wildfire". Letterman described the song as "haunting and disturbingly mysterious, but always lovely," and surmised that the performance would leave the studio audience with "a palpable sense of ... mysticism, melancholy ... and uplifting well-being."[6]

In a third season episode of The Simpsons named "Lisa's Pony", Lisa played the song for her pony with her saxophone. She introduced the song by saying "This next song is also about a girl and her pony. It's called 'Wildfire' "

The song has occasionally appeared in "bad song" surveys, such as one by the humor columnist Dave Barry during the 1990s. He quoted one reader who, referring to the song's tale of the loss of a woman and a pony in a "killing frost", pointed out that "'killing' in 'killing frost' refers to your flowers and your garden vegetables, and when one is forecast you should cover your tomatoes ... Nobody ever got lost in a killing frost who wouldn't get lost in July as well." [7] But it could also be pointed out that the song is written from the perspective of a farmer, in which a killing frost would be a memorable event. The song goes on to say "in a blizzard she was lost," so obviously the killing frost continued on to be a significant winter storm.

Covers[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tim Sendra (1998-06-16). "Highway Rock: Southern Nights - Various Artists | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-26. 
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 6th Edition (Billboard Publications)
  3. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. 
  4. ^ Hyatt, Wesley (1999). The Billboard Book of #1 Adult Contemporary Hits (Billboard Publications)
  5. ^ Hackett, Vernell. "Story Behind the Song: Wildfire, Michael Martin Murphey". The Boot. Retrieved May 26, 2012. 
  6. ^ Letterman, David (2007). Late Show with David Letterman, May 22, 2007.
  7. ^ Barry, Dave (1995). "Bad Song Survey, Part One". Dave Barry is Not Making This Up. Random House, Inc. p. 189. ISBN 0-449-90973-5. Retrieved June 15, 2009.