Wildfire (Michael Martin Murphey song)

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Murphey Wildfire single.jpeg
Single by Michael Murphey
from the album Blue Sky – Night Thunder
B-side"Night Thunder"
ReleasedFebruary 1975
GenreCountry, soft rock, adult contemporary[1]
Length3:15 Single edit. (4:47 LP version.)
Songwriter(s)Michael Murphey, Larry Cansler
Producer(s)Bob Johnston
Michael Murphey singles chronology
"Fort Worth I Love You"
"Carolina in the Pines"

"Wildfire" is a 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 No. 2 in Cash Box and No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in June 1975. In addition, it hit the top position of the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, displacing "Love Will Keep Us Together".[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]


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 it was written. He was a third-year student at UCLA, working on a concept album for Kenny Rogers (The Ballad of Calico).The work was demanding, sometimes taking more than twenty hours a day. One night he dreamed the song in its totality, writing it up in a few hours the next morning. He believes the song came to him from a story his grandfather told him when he was a little boy – a prominent Native American legend about a ghost horse. Murphey didn't have a horse named Wildfire until a few years before the interview, when he gave that name to a palomino mare.[5]


The lyrics are those of a homesteader telling the story of a young Nebraska woman said to have died searching for her escaped pony, "Wildfire", during a blizzard. The homesteader finds himself in a similar situation, doomed in an early winter storm. A hoot owl has perched outside of his window for six days, and the homesteader believes the owl is a sign that the ghost of the young woman is calling for him. He hopes to join her (presumably in heaven) and spend eternity riding Wildfire with her, leaving the difficulties of earthly life behind.

The song is rather famous for its piano intro and outro, which is often left off versions of the song edited for radio. The introduction is based on a piece (Prelude in D-flat, Op. 11 No. 15) by the Russian classical composer Alexander Scriabin.


  • Michael Murphey – vocals, piano
  • Jac Murphy – piano (intro and outro)
  • Sam Broussard – guitar
  • Richard Dean – guitar, background vocals
  • Michael McKinney – bass, background vocals
  • Harry Wilkinson – drums

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1975) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) 22
Canada Top Singles (RPM) 1
Canada Adult Contemporary Tracks (RPM) 1
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[6] 12
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 3
U.S. Billboard Easy Listening 1
U.S. Cash Box Top 100 2

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."[7]

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."[8] 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 he was lost," so obviously the killing frost continued on to be a significant winter storm.

The movie Bandits mentions the song as being a favorite of Joe Blake's. Kate Wheeler claims to love it too, though she confuses it with Mustang Sally.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tim Sendra (June 1, 1998). "Highway Rock: Southern Nights – Various Artists | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  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 August 10, 2014.
  4. ^ Hyatt, Wesley (1999). The Billboard Book of No. 1 Adult Contemporary Hits (Billboard Publications)
  5. ^ Hackett, Vernell. "Story Behind the Song: Wildfire, Michael Martin Murphey". The Boot. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  6. ^ "Charts.nz – Michael Murphey – Wildfire". Top 40 Singles.
  7. ^ Letterman, David (2007). Late Show with David Letterman, May 22, 2007.
  8. ^ 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.