“Ring of Fire” by Social Distortion
(Words/Music: June Carter and Merle Kilgore, Album: Social Distortion, Epic Records 1990)
“Ring of Fire” is, quite simply, one of my favorite cover songs and the one which expanded my musical tastes the most. Not only is it a great song and one of my most enjoyable listens, but it pretty much introduced me to both Social Distortion and Johnny Cash, musical artists who I list among my favorite in their respective genres today. SD and Johnny Cash share the ability to express basic yet complex human experiences in a direct yet original way. In that way, they find a common ground in the unlikely genres of punk and country. SD strips the song down to its most simple state which I think Johnny Cash would appreciate. Gone is the Mexican horn section, replaced with the most basic rock instruments which reveals that the song is truly a song for the common people, a sentiment essential to both punk and country.
In his later days, Cash would become an icon for the alternative music scene because of his all-black wardrobe and his ability to cover and strip down any rock song, improving it in the way only Johnny Cash could. It is unfortunate that he died before he delivered more gems like his cover of Nine Inch Nails’s “Hurt” and Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” and before someone had the idea to have him re-record his own classics. If he had, I think his cover of “Ring of Fire” would have sounded something like this.