Exploring the Music of Johnny Cash

My recent series on Johnny Cash may have gotten some of you interested in exploring the music of Johnny Cash.

Where to start?

Though opinions will differ, here are my suggestions in exploring and buying the music of Johnny Cash.

First Cut: The Legend of Johnny Cash
Probably the best single CD to sample Cash's entire career. Has the early hits like "I Walk the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues," mid-career hits like "Ring of Fire" and selections from the Rick Rubin years like "Rusty Cage," "Hurt," and "When the Man Comes Around."

Deeper Cut: Love God Murder
A three CD set hand-picked by Cash spanning his career. Liner notes from June Carter on Love, from Bono on God and Quentin Tarantino on, you guessed it, Murder.

The Concept Albums
First Cut: Ride This Train
Cash's first concept album, the one many consider to be his best. Songs of America with Cash narrating between musical "stops" on a cross-country train ride.

Deeper Cuts: Bitter Tears and Sings Ballads of the True West

The Prison Concerts
First Cut: At Folsom Prison
The legendary concert. If you have only one Johnny Cash album this should be it.

Deeper Cut: At San Quentin
The concert that brought the world "A Boy Named Sue."

The Sun Years
First Cut: With His Hot Blue Guitar!
Johnny Cash's very first album. This is Cash's early Rock & Roll sound as he recorded at Sun with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Deeper Cut: Sings the Songs that Made Him Famous

The Columbia Years
First Cut: The Fabulous Johnny Cash
Cash's first Columbia album.

Deeper Cut: Orange Blossom Special
Bob Dylan gave Cash three songs for Orange Blossom Special, a time when Cash was trying to connect with the folk music movement. Beyond that there are so many albums from the Columbia years that's it is hard to pick.

The Rick Rubin Years
First Cut: American IV: The Man Comes Around
The last album released by Cash before his death. Has "Hurt" and "The Man Comes Around."

Deeper Cuts: Any of the American albums: American Recordings, Unchained, American 3: Solitary Man.

I'll now turn it over to Johnny Cash fans. What are your favorite Johnny Cash albums?

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9 thoughts on “Exploring the Music of Johnny Cash”

  1. I had AT FOLSOM PRISON until my brother sold it along with other classic albums of mine after I went into the service in 1970. Besides the songs being great, the excitement of the prison audience at Johnny's rebellious and edgy style gave me a quite a buzz.

    I also wish to mention that my hometown in Arkansas is only ten miles from Dyess where Johnny grew up. I can remember as a little boy sitting in a barbecue joint and watching some of the teenage boys of the town laughing at his song I WALK THE LINE as it played on the jukebox. You know how teenage boys can be. Some of them are still alive today, and I have often wondered if they recall being so amused at Johnny's expense. One thing I do know, and that is his mind, heart and soul grew and embraced a transcending existence some of them never fathomed. One thing I hope for, and that is that some of them listened and rose from the dead with him.

  2. Check out his two disk set called "Personal File." It is an excellent piece of work. Very raw and gritty.

  3. So many to wade through now, especially, after his death & record companies continue to try and cash in (NPI) on his name. That said, I also really enjoyed "My Mother's Hymnal" as well.

  4. Yes. I came home from work with a kernel of an idea regarding all the stuff going on in Arizona. I wrote the gist of the idea down and hit Publish rather than Save. But here was the idea for the post:

    "Here's what I know about Christian bakers in Arizona.

    Christian bakers in Arizona were perfectly happy to bake cakes for gay weddings.

    And they would have kept doing so, happily, even if SB 1062 became law."

  5. I just saw the other day a CD of Johnny Cash with Willie Nelson. I probably should have purchased it. Two legends. I'm still a bit "country music shy" though. But your series has opened up my eyes to the depths behind all the "pop country."

  6. I was born in 1967 and according to my mom, I've been a Johnny Cash fan since I was old enough to sit up and bob my head next to the record player. My favorite album is easily Live at Folsom, but I'm super pleased that you've included Bitter Tears in your articles. It's a tough album to listen to, but I'm so glad it exists. I need to check out Ballads of the True West, so thanks for that recommendation!

  7. Thanks for this series, Richard.

    My personal favorite track from the American Recordings period is Cash's cover of Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat". I'll bet it wouldn't be hard to you to write a whole series of posts on the dense, poetic, "applied theology" found in that one song alone. (Or maybe there's a Nick Cave series coming up soon?!)

  8. So much deep stuff wherever you look in his discography. Yes, doctoral dissertations could be devoted to whole songs.

    This series was sort of a "bird's eye" view. More descriptive than analytical, and much of it simply sharing a lot of Cash's biography. The series could have properly been entitled:

    THEO 101: An Introductory Survey of the Theology of Johnny Cash.

    Come to think of it, I should teach that class at ACU. I've already taught a class on The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes...

  9. I;m sure you are aware that this material would make a great paper presentation in several different type conferences such as Mid-South Sociological Association.

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