He was the Man in Black. The original Rock’n’Roll rebel. He spoke for the downtrodden and forgotten. He was tormented by his demons and knew both success and despair. A contemporary of Elvis, his legacy has had an impact on generations of musicians and music fans of all tastes and walks of life.
He was Johnny Cash, and he passed away on September 12th 2003.
If you’ve read my music themed posts previously, you’ll know that Johnny Cash is my favourite recording artist of all time. As a tribute to my hero, here is a summary of some of my favourite songs from his vast repertoire.
These songs are not presented as a “Top 10” or an essential guide. That would take much more contemplation. This is just ten songs that spring to mind as indispensable.
One Piece at a Time
Great memories of singing this song at Karaoke. One of Cash’s more light hearted tunes, with a great rolling rhythm. Find it on “The Best of Johnny Cash”.
The Man Comes Around
Title track from the fourth American Recordings album. Full of biblical portent and apocalyptic thunder.
Man in Black
Cash wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and go against the grain. In this song, the beaten and the cast aside are defended at a time when such views were not healthy for a Country star’s career. From “Greatest Hits”.
Cash declared his sympathies with the Native Americans in several key songs throughout his career. This song pulls no punches yet does it with a beautiful melody. From the American Recordings boxed set, find it on “Vol. 2: Trouble in Mind”.
A Boy Named Sue
Another comedy tune and an obvious choice, I know. I picked it ‘cos I’ve sung it at Karaoke many times. Although I can’t really sing. This song gave me the confidence to stand up and try. From “Johnny Cash at San Quentin”.
A cover of a Nine Inch Nails song, from “The Man Comes Around”. If you can listen to this all the way through and not get all choked up by the end, I feel sorry for you.
Ghost Riders in the Sky
When I started listening to Johnny Cash, I realised I remembered this song from when I was a tiny kid. Though I didn’t know it was him back then. Cowboys and ghosts, what’s not to like? I found it on “The Best of Johnny Cash”.
God’s Gonna Cut You Down
From “American V: A Hundred Highways”. A sombre warning. Sinners and saints. Great video.
Folsom Prison Blues
“I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” You’ll find it on the essential live album “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” or any Greatest Hits compilation, and you will love it.
Ring of Fire
This was the first Cash song I became obsessed with. I’d heard other songs but this was the (obvious, I admit) tune that grabbed me. The impact this song had on my listening habits is immense. Mexican trumpets. I blame “Jackass” for this one. Available everywhere, mine’s from “The Best of Johnny Cash”.
26/02/1932 – 12/09/2003