Instead of making a list of songs that I like from Johnny Cash, I’ll give you a background on how I became such a big fan of Johnny Cash and why I like the songs I do. I don’t really need a reason to like Johnny Cash, mainly because he is pretty much universally loved, but I will give them anyways.
The first time I ever heard Johnny Cash was a CD that my dad bought and used to play in the car on long trips. It was a collection of his biggest songs, and I didn’t know at the time why it was so important to play these songs, but as I grew older and started to get into different kinds of music, I realized the weight and gravity of Johnny Cash in the music world. Other than Bob Dylan, he is one of the only artists to reach such acclaim and not be categorized into a neat little genre of music. Some would say he’s country, but by listening to his music, you get the feeling that he was influenced by country, rock, folk, blues, and whatever other genres were out at the time. He wasn’t trying to be something that he wasn’t, because he didn’t have to be. He was a real artist in every sense of the word. His wordliness and seemingly infinite wisdom of life in all of it’s different facets gave him the ability to pull off his “Man In Black” image and attitude.
He was, no doubt, the coolest person to come out of his era, other than maybe Elvis Presley. I can’t stand when someone doesn’t have the fandom of Johnny Cash that I do, because he really warrants it from you. He has this magical way of pulling you in and giving a sense of permanence, as if his music will live forever. I guess I should start talking about my favorite songs from him, starting with the classic “Folsom Prison Blues”. This was one of the first song I learned on guitar, which makes it special to me. Of course the older you get, the closer you get to sounding like Johnny Cash’s gravelly, deep sound, but it seems that even then you will never reach the level of uniqueness his voice possesses. Other classics that I enjoy are “Ring of Fire” with horns that seem to evade the grips of hell itself, “A Boy Named Sue” for its compelling story written by Shel Silverstein, “Ragged Old Flag” for its perfect encapsulation of what it’s like to be a proud American in a small town, “Highwayman” for its collaboration between all of The Highwaymen, including Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, and “I Walk The Line” as the unofficial anthem of a relentless, endless love for someone. Of course these are just his biggest hits from early in his career, but, similar to Bob Dylan’s career, he put a new album out every year from 1957 until his unfortunate passing on September 12, 2003, only four months after his lifetime partner June Carter Cash passed away. I have not listened to his whole catalog, but before I die, I am sure that I will listen to at least a majority of his albums.
Something that no one expected from Johnny Cash was his American Recordings series that started in 1994. One of my favorite songs ever, which I have memorized by heart on guitar, is “Bird On A Wire”, and my favorite version is Johnny Cash’s on his first American Recordings album. Other favorites from this series are covers such as Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”, with Johnny Cash’s declaration of not backing down even “at the gates of hell”, Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”, The Beatles’ “In My Life”, Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”, American standard “You Are My Sunshine”, and one of my favorite covers, if not all-time favorite, Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt”. There is no one else like like Johnny Cash, and there never will be. He is so important to music, and I have the upmost respect for his music and life. Thanks for reading, and as always, God Bless America.