Credit: Dillan Stradlin

Listen to Johnny Cash’s isolated vocal on ‘Ring of Fire’ and bask in its poetic glory

When you think about country legend Johnny Cash it’s hard to think too far past his impeccable vocal. A singing voice which plunges the depths of depravity and can still soar to the heavenly heights means Cash will be forever remembered as a true great. Cash’s isolated vocal on ‘Ring of Fire’ can be found below and it’s a thing of pure beauty. 

The track may be forever remembered as a Johnny Cash song, but in fact, his wife June Carter Cash wrote ‘Ring of Fire’ alongside Merle Kilgore and handed it over to Johnny Cash to record it in 1963. The single features on Cash’s 1963 album, Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. While it was originally recorded by June’s sister, Anita Carter, on her Mercury Records album Folk Songs Old and New as ‘(Love’s) Ring of Fire’, it was when Cash added his notorious vocal that the song really took shape. 

It is the vocal that really sells the song, aside from the wonderful brass section, and so it is the vocal we will focus on today. On the track, Cash does his best whiskey-soaked growl and, with the backing of his band, delivers a quite spellbinding performance—but it is only when these vocals are isolated that the song takes on a brand new life. 

With the vocal isolated the song, devoid of music, sounds closer to a spoken word poem. Its lyrics feel more poignant and it allows the listener to connect with the song’s underlying message more clearly. This is not a song about pain or hell but about the burning love, June Carter was harbouring for Johnny Cash. When entering the room to write the song with Kilgore she allegedly entered the room with a simple start: “There is no way to be in that kind of hell, no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns.”  

But while the story is set as June Carter is the author of the song, Cash’s first wife, Vivian Liberto, says different in her book I Walked The Line: “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.” 

Whoever wrote the song, Johnny Cash sure did perform. If he wrote it for June or June for him the undeniable connection they share is there for all to see in the lyrics and there to hear in this isolated vocal of ‘Ring of Fire’.

Today, April 19th, 2020, marks 57 years since this now iconic song was released. Here, in celebration, listen to that vocal and find below the lyrics for your poetic perusal. 

Johnny Cash ‘Ring of Fire’ lyrics:

Love is a burnin’ thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire

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 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

The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like ours meet
I fell for you like a child
Oh, but the fire went wild

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 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
And it burns, burns, burns
The ring of fire, the ring of fire
The ring of fire, the ring of fire

[MORE] – Listen to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s previously unreleased ‘Wanted Man’

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