In 1959 Columbia Records released “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s Forty Below)”, a single recorded by Johnny Horton. It was Horton’s sixth appearance on the country chart and the first of three number ones on the country chart. The single spent twenty-three weeks on the chart, which also was a slightly successful crossover, reaching number 85 on the Music Vendor Pop Top 100.
The Story of the Song
The song is about a man who visited a place in Alaska, called Fairbanks. After being in the wilderness for two years, he decided to visit a saloon. Then he hears “redheaded Lil” singing “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s Forty Below)”. He was so attracted to the voice that he initiates to have a dance with “redheaded Lil”. Unfortunately, “redheaded Lil” has a jealous boyfriend named Big Ed. Ed discovers the two dancing and throws his knife at the man. The man knew then that his death was near, and sings “When it’s springtime in Alaska, I’ll be six feet below.”
The lyrics say the temperature outside is ?40 °F (?40 °C). While it is very rare for the temperature to actually be that low in the springtime in Fairbanks, it has happened. A low temperature of ?40 °F (?40 °C) was recorded at the Fairbanks International Airport on March 30, 1970. The coldest time of the year in Fairbanks is around mid-January of the year, with night-time low temperatures at this time averaging around ?23 °F (?31 °C) and daytime high temperatures averaging around ?4 °F (?20 °C). The coldest-ever low temperature recorded there was ?62 °F (?52 °C), on December 28 and 29, 1961.
During 1960, Horton had two other successes with “Sink the Bismarck” and “North to Alaska” for John Wayne’s movie, North to Alaska. Unfortunately, Horton died in November 1960 at the peak of his fame in an automobile accident, less than two years after his breakthrough. Horton is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.