Monday, June 16, 2014

The Top 10: Johnny Cash

     Johnny Cash is more than a country music singer, he is an American legend.  Johnny was a master of bringing the everyday American's story to song form.  His discography is not just a playlist, but a national treasure.  In late March, an album Johnny recorded in the 1980's titled Out Among The Stars was released for the first time and hit number one on the country charts.  To celebrate, Keep It Country Kids proudly presents The Top 10: Johnny Cash.  Cutting down Johnny's massive song collection to 10 was near impossible, but I feel this is a great, but tiny, collection from The Man In Black.

10. Ragged Old Flag - This spoken word ballad is a must listen on any patriotic holiday.  Johnny carefully shows his pride without being boastful or belligerent as many patriotic songs do. 

9. The Man In Black - Johnny's dark sense of fashion earned him perhaps the coolest nickname in popular culture history outside of maybe Dale Earnhardt or John Wayne.  But, Johnny recorded a song to explain his lack of color was a conscious choice to represent the downtrodden and abused members of society.  The song not only showed Johnny's cunning songwriting ability by fitting his beliefs into song form, but also showed exactly what kind of man Johnny was.  Johnny was a man of strong beliefs and principles, and stood up for what he believed was right.  This song is a great example of that.

8. I Still Miss Someone- Johnny and his brother wrote this classic based on Johnny's feelings of loneliness in Germany during his Air Force days. Johnny was always proud of it, and considered it one of his favorite songs. I wholeheartedly agree.

7. Jackson - Johnny and June shared a chemistry on stage and off that was second to none. They performed many duets together, but "Jackson" was by far the most popular. The playful banter between the two was the perfect way for the Man in black to show off his fun side, and showcase his wife's talents as well.

6. Boy Named Sue - Johnny Cash read this poem by Shel Silverstein and thought it would make a great song. He added it to the set list at the very last minute during his San Quentin Maximum Security Prison live album recording, and performed it virtually unrehearsed. The reaction was so strong that the song was released as a single and became one of Johnny's biggest and most well known hits. It perfectly captures the fun side and the out of control side of Johnny Cash. "MY NAME IS SUE!! HOW DO YOU DO? NOW YOU GONNA DIE!!!!"

5. Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down- Kris Kristofferson wrote this heartbreaking tale of a man crippled with addiction spending a Sunday morning alone and lost. Johnny Cash heard it and recorded it and it sparked a career revival after a short dry spell. The record company asked Johnny to change Kris' lyric from "wishing Lord that I was stoned..." to something more family friendly, but in true Johnny Cash spirit, he recorded it the way Kris intended it, and helped create on of the most timeless country songs of all time.

4. Ring of Fire- June Carter wrote this song with Merle Travis about her tumultuous affair with Johnny Cash. Johnny was still married to his first wife Vivian, and June was recently divorced, but still they fell into a "burning ring of fire" for each other. Johnny fell in love with the song, and claimed he heard mariachi horns in a dream to inspire the one of a kind musical accompaniment. "Ring of Fire" is a song so big that had a lesser artist recorded it, the song would have overshadowed the singer. Johnny was able to somehow be even bigger and make this monster hit into a vital part of his extensive catalog.

3. Hurt - This cover of Trent Reznor's song was recorded during Johnny's last few years on Earth. Johnny teamed up with rock and hiphop producer Rick Rubin and experienced a career revival with a number of critical and commercially acclaimed albums, The American Recordings. "Hurt" was already meaningful because of the lyrics as a man close to death looked back on his life. It transformed into something even bigger with the touching video, featuring Johnny surrounded by his plethora of awards and various artifacts he accumulated over the years, as he reflected on his life and career, with June lovingly looking on. Johnny died a few months later, and this video is a lasting tribute to the Man in Black and his larger than life persona.

2. I Walk The Line- Johnny wrote this song for his first wife, Vivian, when she began to worry about all of his success and the attention he was getting from women on the road. The song was meant to be Johnny's motto for more than just his relationship with his wife, but also his relationship with himself and his morals, and his relationship with God. We all know Johnny stumbled and strayed from that line more often than not, but his heart was always in the right place. "I Walk The Line" featured that bommchickaboom sound that was simple and steady, yet so infectious. They didn't know it at the time, but Johnny, Sam Phillips, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison were changing popular music forever with their new sound. "I Walk The Line" was one of the biggest records for Sun Studios, and continues to be a country and rock and roll standard to this day.

1. Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash wrote (well, modified a popular song of the time) this song in Germany after watching a documentary on Folsom Prison. Johnny related to the feelings of loneliness and despair the inmates felt while he was in the service. Johnny didn't hold anything back, as he wrote one of the most famous lines in country music history "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die...". Later on, that connection Johnny felt would lead him to perform live concerts for inmates, including Folsom Prison, that would lead to two of the most famous live albums of all time at Folsom and San Quentin. The attitude and brashness of "Folsom Prison Blues" inspired countless artists, and helped solidify country music as the sound of the common man, and Johnny Cash as the voice to those people. It is considered by many to be the greatest country song of all time, and never ranks far from first on any respectable list. "Folsom Prison Blues" is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

Johnny Cash had such a long and successful career that omissions and oversights are expected. Chime in on the comments section and let me know what Cash songs were too high and which ones were missing. Until next time, always Keep It Country Kids!!!

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