Although “Ring of Fire” is one of the most famous country songs and one of Johnny Cash’s biggest hits, it nevertheless raises many questions about the authorship and meaning of the lyrics. It is unlikely that this article will put an end to the disputes around the song that critics and fans of the legendary musician have long been waging, but it will definitely help you figure out why they arose.
According to the official version of the history of the song “Ring of Fire”, its authors are Cash’s mistress June Carter and American songwriter Merle Kilgore. June has repeatedly told how she had the idea for a future hit while driving at night in a car, reflecting on their relationship with Johnny. She is said to have borrowed the name from a collection of Elizabethan poems, in one of which her uncle underlined the phrase “Love is like a burning ring of fire.”
However, Vivian Cash – Johnny’s ex-wife, from whom he left for June – said that all this is a lie (not surprising, given the piquancy of the situation). According to her, Cash once said that he indicated Carter as a co-author, since she needed money, and he just felt sorry for her. To quote from Vivian’s book “I Walked the Line”:
To this day, it confuses me when I hear June’s very detailed stories about how she wrote that song for Johnny. She wrote it no more than I did. In fact, it was Johnny, drugged and drunk, who wrote a song dedicated to a certain part of the female body. She kept saying all these years that she wrote it herself, but she probably didn’t even know what the song was really about.
And here is what musician Curly Lewis, who toured a lot with Cash, said:
Johnny, Merle Kilgore and I were fishing in Casitas, California, that’s when “Ring of Fire” was created… When it was well rehearsed, Johnny told Merle Kilgore it was going to be a great song. He said, “I’m getting divorced and I don’t want her to be linked to my divorce, so credit June as the author.”
By the way, Kerli explained the meaning of the song “Ring of Fire” in the same way as Vivian Cash, while calling a spade a spade.
Probably only Johnny knew the true story of the creation of the composition, but he, like all other participants and eyewitnesses of those events, had already gone to another world, so it remains for us to decide for ourselves whose testimonies to believe.
“Ring of Fire” was first recorded by Anita Carter, June’s sister. Cash, after listening to the song, said that he would wait about six months, and if the track did not become a hit, he would sing it in his own way. And so it happened. The audience did not appreciate Anita’s efforts, and Johnny performed the composition in the style of Mexican street musicians (the so-called mariachis). Allegedly, the idea came to him in a dream. As history has shown, listeners liked this version much more.
In the spring of 1963, “Ring of Fire” was released as a single that topped the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and climbed to number seventeen on the Billboard main chart.
“Ring of Fire” has been covered numerous times. The most famous of these remains the variant of The Animals.
Rolling Stone magazine included “Ring of Fire” in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
- In 2004, a manufacturer of hemorrhoid medications wanted to use “Ring of Fire” in their product ads, but Johnny Cash’s family banned it, although Merle Kilgore is said to have been open to the idea.
Ring of Fire lyricsRing of Fire lyricsLove is a burnin’ thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire
And forms a flaming ring
Caught in violent passion
I ended up in the fiery Chorus ring (x2):
I fell into a burnin’ ring of fire
I went down, down, down
And the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns
The ring of fire, the ring of fire
I found myself in a blazing ring of fire
I’ve been falling down, down, down
And the flames rose higher
And they burned, burned, burned
Ring of fire, ring of fire The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like ours meet
I fell for you like a child
Oh, but the fire went wild
When hearts like ours meet
I fell for you like a youngster
Oh but the fire is raging
This song is about the transformative power of love. That’s what she’s always meant to me, and that’s what she’ll always mean to Cash’s kids.