Ring of Fire (song)

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"Ring of Fire"
Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash US picture sleeve A.png
One of picture sleeves for 1963 US vinyl single
Single by Johnny Cash
from the album Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash
B-side"I'd Still Be There"
ReleasedApril 19, 1963
RecordedMarch 25, 1963
LabelColumbia Nashville
Producer(s)Don Law
Johnny Cash singles chronology
"Ring of Fire"
"The Matador"
"Ring of Fire"
Single by Eric Burdon & the Animals
from the album Love Is
B-side"I'm an Animal"
Genre[citation needed]
Length4:58 (album version)
Producer(s)Tom Wilson
Eric Burdon & the Animals singles chronology
"White Houses"
"Ring of Fire"
"River Deep Mountain High"
"Ring of Fire"
Single by Alan Jackson
from the album 34 Number Ones
Released23 October 2010 (2010-10-23)
LabelSony Music Entertainment
Producer(s)Keith Stegall
Alan Jackson singles chronology
"Hard Hat and a Hammer"
"Ring of Fire"
"Long Way to Go"
"Ring of Fire (1988 Version)"
Single by Johnny Cash
from the album Classic Cash: Hall of Fame Series
ReleasedSeptember 19, 1988
RecordedOctober 1987
Producer(s)Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash singles chronology
"I Walk the Line"
"Ring of Fire (1988 Version)"
"Ballad of Ira Hayes"

"Ring of Fire" is a song written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore and popularized by Johnny Cash in 1963. 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 #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. In June 2014, Rolling Stone ranked the song #27 on its list of the 100 greatest country songs of all time.[1]

The song was recorded on March 25, 1963, and became one of the biggest hits 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]


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.[citation needed] Some sources claim that Carter had seen the phrase "Love is like a burning ring of fire," underlined in one of A. P. Carter's—her uncle—Elizabethan poetry books.[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]

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 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."[6] 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 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 Cash 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."[8]

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".[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[edit]

Johnny Cash version[edit]

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[edit]

Chart (1969) Peak
Australian Single Chart[12] 10
Dutch Charts[12] 4
German Singles Chart[12] 24
South Africa (Springbok)[13] 6
UK Singles Chart[12] 35

Sandy Kelly & Johnny Cash version[edit]

Chart (1990) Peak
Ireland (IRMA)[14] 21

Alan Jackson version[edit]

Chart (2010) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[15] 45


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[16] Gold 500,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[17]
Gold 500,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


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 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. In 1991, Frank Zappa released a reggae-style live version on the album The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life, after claiming to have met Johnny Cash in the elevator before the show and inviting him to perform the song with his band that night. Cash did not follow through on the invitation, but the band played the song anyway. 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.[18] It was his last single released by Arista Records. The English power metal band DragonForce recorded a cover as the closing track to the standard edition of their 2014 album, Maximum Overload.

Cash's version of "Ring of Fire" was never released as a single in the UK. However, in 1993 and 1994, it gained significant radio airplay in the UK after it was used in a popular television commercial for Levi's. In 2005, Liverpool FC fans began singing the song at matches during the run-up to that year's Champions League Final, and it has been a staple song for the team's fans ever since.[19]

Wall of Voodoo's cover version was featured in the 1981 avant-garde pornographic film Nightdreams.[20]


  1. ^ "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. 1 June 2014.
  2. ^ Grein, Paul (2010-09-24). "Chart Watch Extra: Songs From The Last Century". Nielsen Business Media. Yahoo! Music. Archived from the original on 2010-10-05. 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. ^ Miller, Stephen (March 10, 2003). Johnny Cash: The Life of an American Icon. Omnibus. p. 117. ISBN 9780711996267 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ "Ring of Fire". RollingStone.com. December 9, 2004. Retrieved on March 23, 2007.
  6. ^ D'Ambrosio, A. (2009). A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears. New York: Nation Books. p. 153. ISBN 9781568586076.
  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. 25 March 2015. Retrieved 2016-09-27.
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944–2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 75.
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: Eighth Edition. Record Research. p. 111.
  12. ^ a b c d e The Animals chart entries, Tsort.info.
  13. ^ "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  14. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Ring of Fire". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  15. ^ "Alan Jackson Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  16. ^ "British single certifications – Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 9 August 2019.Select singles in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Ring of Fire in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  17. ^ "American ringtone certifications – Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  18. ^ Alan Jackson USA chart history, Billboard.com. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  19. ^ "Why do Liverpool fans sing 'Ring of Fire'? Champions League chant explained | Goal.com". www.goal.com.
  20. ^ ""Nightdreams": Filmmaker Rinse Dream's visionary and surreal first foray into the world of X-rated adult films". Nightflight.com.

External links[edit]