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 Cuts: Orange Blossom Special and Hello, I'm Johnny Cash
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, but I agree with Robert Hilburn that Hello, I'm Johnny Cash is a "winning mix" from this period.
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?