Johnny Cash is 1/3 of the holy triumvirate of Pre-60’s vocalists for me. Like the other two members (Elvis and Roy Orbison), Cash paired a one-of-a-kind voice with a progressive take on rock and roll. In honor of Johnny Cash’s new posthumous album, Out Among the Stars, we of course had to do a list of the Top Ten Johnny Cash songs. It was extremely hard to get this list down to ten, so our deepest apologies for leaving off anything you hold dear to your heart. Feel free to remind us of what we missed. Enjoy!
10. “Ring of Fire”
“Ring of Fire” has been played to death. It appears in all sorts of thing; commercials, movies, everything. So we have a bit of a fatigue, but stepped back and still found a way to enjoy the horns, simple structure, and catchy refrain.
9. “Cry, Cry, Cry”
One of Cash’s earliest recordings, legend has it he wrote the song overnight after “Hey Porter” didn’t impress the music executives at Sun Records. Just one more bit of lore to add to Johnny Cash’s legend.
8. “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”
I still remember when my buddy bought the Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson Unplugged vinyl at a record store. We had never heard this version of “Ghost Riders”, and quickly went home and threw it on. To this day, it remains one of the better collaborations I have come across.
7. “Get Rhythm”
“Get Rhythm” is a crash course in what made his music so appealing. It does nothing “the best”, but does everything very well. From the accessible lyrics to the quick pace, the track stands out for consistency of sound.
6. “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”
“Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” tells a simple story of a mother giving very motherly advice. From the first lines, you know exactly what is going to end up happening, creating a nice tension throughout the track.
5. “Man Comes Around”
This ominous shot of foreboding is Johnny Cash’s greatest late-career original track off his American Recordings album of the same name. The song will also be forever imprinted in my mind for its place in the opening credits of The Dawn of the Dead remake (best horror remake ever).
4. “Cocaine Blues”
I’m forced to talk about this multiple times in today’s post, but the dark lyrics Cash delivers with a spring in his step never fails to amaze me. This paradox is never more apparent than when Cash sings “Cocaine Blues” in front of 1000 prisoners.
3. “I Walk The Line”
“I Walk the Line” is Johnny Cash sticking very close to country convention. It isn’t the rapid-fire pace that gained him a lot of early recognition. But what it shows is that Cash could craft a deeply moving song within any restrictions imposed on him.
I included the recording below, not because it is the best sounding version of “Jackson”, but because it is the best representation I could find of John and June’s relationship on video. “Jackson” is not Johnny alone, and throughout his career, June provided a perfect partner to do songs just like this.
1. “Folsom Prison Blues”
The flagship song off one of the greatest live albums ever recorded, “Folsom Prison Blues” embodies the rebelliousness of Johnny Cash. Not only does it represent the rebelliousness of Cash, but also is prime example of the simplicity of the outlaw train song Cash perfected throughout his career.
Todd – “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
I’m about half embarrassed that I always thought this song was just a straight up cover of a Moby song. Nope, its an American standard that has been recorded for years by many, many artists. Great song though, and whoever wrote it was a clear spiritual predecessor to Cash.
Wes – “I See a Darkness”
A finer cover could not have been chosen for Johnny Cash to perform in his later years. I always thought “Hurt” seemed a little forced, but Bonnie Prince Billy’s “I See a Darkness” captures everything Cash represented throughout his career, even if it wasn’t in his own words.
Austin – “I Got Stripes”
I’m 100% positive being in prison sucks. So, it’s fantastic that Cash, with experience in the matter, can sing about being in prison in such a jaunty demeanor. Cash clearly had a sense of humor to go along with all his darkness.