Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” Lyrics Meaning
“Ring of Fire” was co-written by a lady who at the time was known as June Carter. She would later go on to marry Johnny Cash and become June Carter Cash in 1968. However, as the story goes, she wrote “Ring of Fire” back when she was just falling in love with the singer (despite being married to someone else at the time). As such the sentiments expressed in the song are meant to be reflective of that feeling.
So the best way of understanding this track is as the repeated phrase “burning ring of fire” being synonymous with falling in love. Indeed the bulk the lyrics are based on that metaphor. And with that in mind, the thesis sentiment expressed is quite simple. For the most part what the singer is doing is celebrating the fact that he has met a special lady who makes him feel this way. Moreover as the track progresses, we can theorize that just like a raging fire his love for her continues to “burn” in an ever-increasing fashion. So the implication is that this feeling in his heart has reached the point whereas he is unable to control it, even if he wanted to.
So conclusively this is a love song based on a relatively-simple metaphor. And that is the singer’s heart being set aflame via his affection for the woman he loves.
Writing Credits for “Ring of Fire”
“Ring of Fire” was co-written by Johnny Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash (1929-2003), who was a musician in her own right. In fact it was her sister, Anita Carter (1933-1999), who recorded and released the tune prior to Cash himself.
Meanwhile Johnny had a dream about “Ring of Fire” in which the song was enhanced by “Mexican horns”. Thus he made a deal with Anita that if her version didn’t blow up within a specified amount of time, he would re-record the tune based upon that inspiration and release it himself. And in fact Anita Carter’s rendition did not hit, with the rest being history.
Interesting to note is that Vivian Cash (1934-2005), the woman whom Johnny Cash was actually married to when this song was released, has claimed that it was actually Johnny, not June, who wrote “Ring of Fire”. Moreover she went on to contend that what the song is truly about is “a certain private female body part”.
The other credited co-writer of “Ring of Fire” is another musician by the name of Merle Kilgore (1934-2005). Interesting to note is that when June Carter did marry Cash, Kilgore was their best man.
Johnny Cash’s Version of “Ring of Fire”
Cash’s rendition was released on 25 March 1963. It is the title track from a compilation album he released that year entitled “Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash”.
His version proved to be quite successful, topping Billboard’s Hot Country Singles. Furthermore, it climbed to number 17 on the Hot 100 and also charted in Germany and Switzerland. Additionally the track has been certified Gold in the United States and is considered to be one of the Johnny Cash’s signature tunes.
A Great Song
Moreover in 2011, it was dubbed one of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” by Rolling Stone, even making it onto the top 100 of that list.
This song was covered by Eric Burdon & the Animals, in 1969, to international chart success. Another notable cover of “Ring of Fire” is the one Country Joe McDonald rendered during the Woodstock music festival that same year.
And going back to the Mexican inspiration, Johnny Cash also recorded a Spanish rendition of “Ring of Fire”.
Usage in Advertisement
Another interesting story connected to this song is that in 2004 a particular company wanted to use it to market products associated with hemorrhoid relief. And whereas Kilgore was cool with the idea, Rosanne Cash, Johnny’s daughter, shot it down.