About The Song

Singer-songwriter June Carter was married when she co-wrote “Ring of Fire” in 1962. So was Johnny Cash — though not to each other. But this paean to submitting to the throes of all-consuming passion was to ignite their love, and become one of the most lauded songs in country music history.

Inspired by a line of poetry that had been underlined in a book by her uncle, AP Carter, the patriarch of Virginia’s musical Carter Family, June Carter wrote the lyric about falling for Cash, with whom she was touring. Despite his drinking and drugging, she was irresistibly drawn to him: “Bound by wild desire/I fell into a ring of fire.”

Well, that’s one story. Cash’s first wife, Vivian Liberto, whom he was to leave for Carter, had another version. “June didn’t write that song any more than I did,” she later claimed in her memoir. “The truth is, Johnny wrote it, while pilled-up and drunk, about a certain private female body part.”

The song was officially credited to June Carter and country singer and songwriter Merle Kilgore. Carter gave the song, then called “(Love’s) Ring of Fire”, to her sister, Anita Carter, to sing, but her sultry trill was not a hit. At which point, Johnny Cash stepped in.

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Cash had a dream in which he heard the tune embellished by what he described as “Mexican horns”. He re-recorded it as a jaunty swagger punctuated with mariachi trumpets. It was a departure from his usual, straight-down-the-line country and western, but topped the US country chart in 1963.

It’s easy to see why. Despite the upbeat horns, Cash’s brooding baritone ached with the desire to consummate an internal, infernal passion. “I fell into a burning ring of fire,” he lamented. “I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher.” It was clear this love was no whim. It was the real deal.

After “Ring of Fire”, Cash and June Carter became close musical collaborators… and far more. Having both divorced in 1966, they got married two years later. The golden couple of US country, they were to stay together for the next 35 years.

“Ring of Fire” will forever be inextricably linked with the pair, yet there have been numerous cover versions. 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.

Video

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