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"Ring of Fire", or "The Ring of Fire", is a song written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore and recorded by The Carter Family[1] in 1962 and 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 No. 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.[2]

"Ring of Fire"
Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash song) 1963 release.jpg
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
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"
Format7" single
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 Social Distortion
from the album Social Distortion
B-side"Story of My Life"
Format10" single
GenrePunk rock
Producer(s)Dave Jerden
Social Distortion singles chronology
"Ball and Chain"
"Ring of Fire"
"Ring of Fire"
Single by DragonForce
from the album Maximum Overload
Released18 August 2014 (2014-08-18)
Producer(s)Jens Bogren
DragonForce singles chronology
"The Game"
"Ring of Fire"
"Ashes of the Dawn"
"Ring of Fire"
Single by Alan Jackson
from the album 34 Number Ones
Released23 October 2010 (2010-10-23)
Label{{Sony Music Entertainment]]}}
Producer(s)Keith Stegall
Alan Jackson singles chronology
"Ring of Fire"
"Here In the Real World"

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.[3]



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 her uncle A. P. Carter's Elizabethan books of poetry.[4][5] 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".[6]

Cash's first wife, Vivian Liberto, offered a different conception of "Ring of Fire" in her book I Walked the Line. She contended that June Carter Cash was not a co-writer of the song: "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." Liberto claimed that Cash decided to give Carter co-writer status because "She needs the money".[7]

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 stated, "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."[citation needed] Cash noted that adding trumpets was a change to his basic sound.[8]

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 has stated, "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."[9]

In 2004, Merle Kilgore, who shared writing credit for the song with June Carter Cash, 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".[10] However, June's heirs were not of a like mind, and they refused to allow the song to be licensed for the ad.

Chart performanceEdit

Johnny Cash versionEdit

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 versionEdit

Chart (1969) Peak
Australian Single Chart[13] 10
Dutch Charts[13] 4
German Singles Chart[13] 24
UK Singles Chart[13] 35

Alan Jackson versionEdit

Chart (2010) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[14] 45


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 invite, 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.[15] It was his last single released by Arista Records.

Cash's version of "Ring Of Fire" was never released as a single in the United Kingdom. However, in 1993 / 1994, the song gained significant radio airplay in the UK after it was used in a popular television commercial for Levi Jeans (entitled 'Campfire').

Wall of Voodoo's cover version was featured in the 1981 avant-garde pornographic film Nightdreams. [16]

Other cover versionsEdit

in 1990 Brian Eno, John Cale, House of Freaks 7inch[17]

Jamaican reggae group The Skatalites reused the horn riff from Ring of Fire in their 1964 song "Music Is My Occupation".[18][19]

In 2009, Adam Lambert performed the song during the Top 11 week on the ninth season of American Idol.

In 2014, British band DragonForce released a power metal version of the song on their sixth album Maximum Overload.[citation needed]

Madonna sang a cover version of Cash's song on the Nashville date of her Rebel Heart Tour on January 8, 2016.[citation needed]

In 1977 Olivia Newton-John included a version on her album Making A Good Thing Better.[citation needed]

In 2018, Kevin O'Rielly (more popularly known as the Irish Youtuber Call Me Kevin) released a video called "I made you a song" which included him making a cover of the song while playing a guitar. [20]


  1. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash". AllMusic. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  2. ^ Stone, Rolling; Stone, Rolling (1 June 2014). "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time".
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ "Google Books Search, Johnny Cash, by Steve Miller".
  6. ^ "Ring of Fire". December 9, 2004. Retrieved on March 23, 2007.
  7. ^ Vivian Cash; Ann Sharpsteen (4 September 2007). I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny. Simon and Schuster. p. 294. ISBN 978-1-4165-3292-7. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  8. ^ Johnny Cash interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  9. ^ "Cash family blocks haemorrhoid ad". February 18, 2004. Retrieved on March 23, 2007.
  10. ^ "Cash Family Draws Line Around 'Ring of Fire'". Fox News. Retrieved 2016-09-27.
  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,
  14. ^ "Alan Jackson Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  15. ^ Alan Jackson USA chart history, Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  16. ^ ""Nightdreams": Filmmaker Rinse Dream's visionary and surreal first foray into the world of X-rated adult films".
  17. ^ youtube
  18. ^ Country and reggae
  19. ^ Dom Drummond obituary
  20. ^ Call Me Kevin (2018-04-01), I made you a song, retrieved 2019-05-02

External linksEdit