Wildfire (Michael Martin Murphey song)

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"Wildfire"
Murphey Wildfire single.jpeg
Single by Michael Murphey
from the album Blue Sky – Night Thunder
B-side "Night Thunder"
Released February 1975
Format 7" (45 rpm)
Genre Country, soft rock, adult Contemporary[1]
Length 3:15 Single edit. (4:47 LP version.)
Label Epic
Songwriter(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)
"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 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]

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 it was written. He was a third-year student at UCLA, working on a concept album for Kenny Rogers. 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]

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 Nebraska woman said to have died searching for her escaped 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".

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 by the Russian classical composer Alexander Scriabin.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1975) Peak
position
Canada Top Singles (RPM) 1
Canada Adult Contemporary Tracks (RPM) 1
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[6] 12
US Billboard Hot 100 3
US Billboard Easy Listening 1

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 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. ^ "Charts.org.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.