Johnny Cash songs are among the most recognizable ones in the history of the music industry. They define him as being the artist who has successfully blurred the lines between country, folk, and later, rock and roll.
Here are some of our favorites:
1. “I Walk the Line”
One of his most famous songs, “I Walk The Line,” is Johnny Cash‘s pledge of devotion that he once wrote backstage – one evening in 1956 – when he was newly married to his first wife, Vivian Liberto. Cash revealed that the song served as a reminder to remain faithful. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a tough thing to do. Cash and Liberto divorced in 1967.
But the song was a breakthrough hit for Cash, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and peaking at No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
2. “Folsom Prison Blues”
What makes “Folsom Prison Blues” unique is that it combined two popular elements in country music: train song and prison song – both of which Cash kept on using for the rest of his career.
In 1968, Cash performed at Folsom State Prison, singing the song live in front of a group of inmates. It was recorded and included on his live album At Folsom Prison. This version reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and also won the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance.
3. “Ring of Fire”
The “Ring of Fire” song was actually written by Cash’s wife, June Carter, along with Merle Kilgore, who later became Hank Williams’ manager. She wrote the song one night while aimlessly driving around. She was troubled about Cash’s wildman ways, yet she knew she could never resist him.
Carter’s sister first recorded the song, but Cash’s version became a big hit, staying at No. 1 on the country chart for seven weeks.
4. “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
“Sunday Morning Coming Down” was written by Kris Kristofferson and originally popularized by Ray Stevens before it became a No. 1 hit for Johnny Cash. His version also took home CMA Song of the Year.
In one interview, Kristofferson admitted that the song opened a lot of opportunities for him, helping him “quit working for a living.”
Originally released by the rock band Nine Inch Nails, Cash covered “Hurt” in 2002 to commercial and critical acclaim. In addition, he was highly praised for the sincerity he’s shown in his interpretation of the song.
Even though the track’s overall meaning is uncertain, some listeners claimed that it’s a suicide note penned by the song’s main character due to his depression. Others believed that the song describes the complicated process of finding a reason to live in the face of depression.
“Jackson” is a famous duet between Cash and June Carter Cash – which tells the tale of a married couple who find that the fire within their relationship has long been gone. The song peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Country Singles chart and earned the real-life couple a Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Performance Duet, Trio or Group.
7. “Ballad of a Teenage Queen”
Written by Jack Clement, “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” tells the tale of a small-town teenage girl who is deemed to be the prettiest the townspeople have ever seen. Many boys longed for her, but the girl is in love with the boy next door, working at the candy store.
8. “One Piece at a Time”
By 1976, Cash’s luck as a recording artist was really a hit or miss. Nevertheless, he made his one last trip to the top of the Billboard Country Singles chart with “One Piece at a Time,” which caught the attention of many listeners. The song tells the tale of a man who left his home in Kentucky to pursue his dream.
9. “Man in Black”
At first, Cash always wore black clothes. So he wrote the song to explain why – at the same time, as a protest statement against the wealthy politician’s behavior toward poor people and mass incarceration, and the Vietnam war.
On one occasion, Cash also revealed that he and his band would always wear black shirts as it was the only matching color they had in their closets.
10. “A Boy Named Sue”
Cash found himself telling the tale of a young man who was in pursuit of revenge on a father who left him when he was only three years old. His father’s only contribution to his whole life was a guitar and his name Sue.
Other incredible Johnny Cash songs!
- “Flesh and Blood”
From: I Walk the Line Soundtrack Album (1970)
- “Understand Your Man”
From: I Walk the Line (1964)
- “Daddy Sang Bass”
From: The Holy Land (1968)
- “Five Feet High and Rising”
From: Songs of Our Soil (1959)
- “Guess Things Happen That Way”
From: Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous (1958)
So, which among these Johnny Cash songs is your favorite?