“Wildfire,” a song written by Michael Martin Murphey and Larry Cansler, was all over the radio when Murphey released it in 1975 on his fourth album. His most successful single, it peaked on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at number 3 and at number 1 on other charts — Billboard’s Easy Listening, Canada Top Singles, and Canada Adult Contemporary Tracks. The Western Writers of America included it at number 15 of the Top 100 Western Songs of all time.
Murphey has attributed the song’s origins to Native American legends re-told by his grandfather “about a horse that could never be captured, and that horse represented freedom and escape.” Enlarging on those themes, Murphey’s take “is very much about escaping hard times.” The lyrics came to Murphey in a dream about a girl and her white horse who both disappeared when a “killing frost” became a blizzard. The song’s narrator, a disillusioned homesteader whose crop may have been ruined by “an early snow,” listens to a hoot owl’s howling nearby for six nights and surmises the girl and ghost horse are coming for him.
While the lyrics are memorable, intro and outro piano music bookend the haunting story. Most people have not heard that mystical framework, unless they listened to the album version; the piano sections were trimmed for radio play.
Enjoy this video of the untrimmed song!