On what would have been Johnny Cash‘ 81st birthday, we countdown our top 10 favorite songs by the man in black.
10. “A Boy Named Sue”
Despite being one of Johnny Cash’ most iconic songs, most don’t know that the lyrics were actually written by Shel Silverstein. The charming tale of a boy with a feminine name is only enhanced by Cash’ excitability and insertion of curse words into the track.
MP3: Johnny Cash “A Boy Named Sue”
09. “Ain’t No Grave”
Released seven years after Cash’ death, “Ain’t No Grave” seemed almost like a cruel joke. As the singer defiantly states “ain’t no grave that can hold my body down” over a plucked banjo line while he lied in rest. But while his body may not live on, the track was a certainty that his music will.
MP3: Johnny Cash “Ain’t No Grave”
08. “Cry, Cry, Cry”
Johnny Cash’ first single was written to sell records and indeed it did. The song outlines Cash’ history as a heartbreaker and his ability to make women cry, cry, cry.
Johnny Cash “Cry, Cry, Cry”
“Jackson” remains the finest collaboration between husband and wife, Johnny and June Carter Cash. The track’s uptempo beat and the dueling male/female vocals made the track a hit on country radio.
MP3: Johnny Cash “Jackson”
06. “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
Being used in a car commercial does not mean that a song is good but that is the case with Johnny Cash’ cover of the traditional folk song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” Despite being later in life, Cash puts in a heroic performance making one of his most badass tracks.
MP3: Johnny Cash “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
05. “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”
Written in the late 1940s by Stan Jones, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” has received its fair share of covers. Johnny Cash’ cover of the song remains on the most iconic right up there with Burl Ives’ original.
MP3: Johnny Cash “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”
04. “Folsom Prison Blues”
Perhaps no line is more known from a Johnny Cash song that “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” Of the line, Cash said “I sat with my pen in my hand, trying to think up the worst reason a person could have for killing another person, and that’s what came to mind.” I don’t think that is why the prisoners are cheering so loudly at that point in the live recording of the song.
MP3: Johnny Cash “Folsom Prison Blues”
03. “I Walk the Line”
When a biopic is named after a song, that’s when you know its a pretty big deal. “I Walk the Line” was Cash’ pledge of devotion to his new bride but his bassy voice and unique songwriting made for an esoteric love song unlike anything heard at the time period.
MP3: Johnny Cash “I Walk the Line”
In 2003, Cash revived his career with his cover of Nine Inch Nail‘s “Hurt.” The once booming bass-voice gave way to a more vulnerable sounding Cash, sings Trent Reznor’s downtrodden lyrics about self-abuse and addiction.
MP3: Johnny Cash “Hurt”
01. “Ring of Fire”
From the opening mariachi horns to the shuffling country guitar, “Ring of Fire” has remained one of Cash’ most popular tunes. Its ominous sounding title betrays what is actually a sweet love song co-written by his wife, June Carter.
MP3: Johnny Cash “Ring of Fire”