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100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time

From "Blue Moon of Kentucky" to the Paisley croon of modern Nashville

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27. Johnny Cash, 'Ring of Fire' (1963)

Country music rebel Johnny Cash was at his best when taking extreme measures: all-black clothing, performing for felons, and singing about unbridled love with flames to illustrate his point. Written by songwriter Merle Kilgore and June Carter (or Cash himself, according to less savory accounts about the lyrics' meaning) the song was originally recorded as an acoustic folk tune called "(Love's) Ring of Fire" by June's sister, Anita Carter. When it didn't net her a hit, Cash retooled the arrangement with mariachi horns, electric guitar and his barreling voice – backed by Mother Maybelle and the Carter sisters. After its 1963 release, the Number One reign of "Fire" on the country charts lasted seven weeks. Kilgore, who later managed Hank Williams Jr., tried to place "Ring of Fire" in a Preparation H ad in 2004, but Cash's surviving family wisely nixed the idea. The song lives on more reverently in the hands of rock bands like Eric Burdon & the Animals (who scored a Top 40 single in 1969) and SoCal rockabilly punks Social Distortion. By Reed Fischer

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