Ring of Fire (song)

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"Ring of Fire"
Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash US picture sleeve A.png
Picture sleeve for the 1963 U.S. 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
A-side"Get Rhythm"
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 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.[1] 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 27th greatest country song of all time.[2]


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.[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". 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."[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.

Cash's first wife Vivian Cash (Liberto) states in her autobiography: "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.' Vivian Cash also states: "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."[10]

Chart performance[edit]

Johnny Cash version[edit]

Chart (1963–68) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles[11] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[12] 17
German Singles Chart 27
Swiss Singles Chart 77

Eric Burdon and the Animals version[edit]

Chart (1969) Peak
Australian Single Chart[13] 10
Dutch Charts[13] 4
German Singles Chart[13] 24
South Africa (Springbok)[14] 6
UK Singles Chart[13] 35

Sandy Kelly & Johnny Cash version[edit]

Chart (1990) Peak
Ireland (IRMA)[15] 21

Social Distortion version[edit]

Chart (1990) Peak
US Alternative Airplay (Billboard)[16] 25

Alan Jackson version[edit]

Chart (2010) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[17] 45


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[18] Platinum 600,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[19]
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.[13] 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.[20] It was his last single released by Arista Records. The ska band Swim Herschel Swim covered the song on their album Burn Swim Burn.[21][22] 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.[23]

Wall of Voodoo's cover version was featured in the 1981 avant-garde pornographic film Nightdreams.[24]

Since 2004, the Calgary Flames of the NHL have used the song as a victory song after every home win.[25]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. 1 June 2014.
  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. ^ Cash, Vivian; Sharpsteen, Ann (4 September 2007). I Walked The Line: My Life with Johnny. Scribner. ISBN 978-1-4165-3862-2.
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944–2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 75.
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: Eighth Edition. Record Research. p. 111.
  13. ^ a b c d e The Animals chart entries, Tsort.info.
  14. ^ "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  15. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Ring of Fire". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  16. ^ "Social Distortion Chart History (Alternative Airplay)". Billboard.
  17. ^ "Alan Jackson Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  18. ^ "British single certifications – Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 19 April 2022.
  19. ^ "American ringtone certifications – Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  20. ^ Alan Jackson USA chart history, Billboard.com. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  21. ^ Vice, Jeff (26 August 1991). "LOVE WAS ON THE LAM AT RAM SLAM SHOW". Deseret News.
  22. ^ "Swim Herschel Swim - Ring O Fire". YouTube. Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  23. ^ "Why do Liverpool fans sing 'Ring of Fire'? Champions League chant explained | Goal.com". www.goal.com.
  24. ^ ""Nightdreams": Filmmaker Rinse Dream's visionary and surreal first foray into the world of X-rated adult films". Nightflight.com.
  25. ^ "Ring of Fire".

External links[edit]