Johnny Cash 25 For 80
Johnny Cash would've been 80 this February 26. An iconic figure, Cash played to his strengths. He did not have a great vocal range, but he had an honest worldview and a dedication to the few notes he did reach that gave his career a gravitas not often seen. He was a one-of-a-kind who got his start among many other one-of-a-kinds at Sun Records, where he recorded some of his finest songs.
Reducing his career to just 25 songs and then ranking them is a fool's errand. But it's the format we have. Figure anything on this list is a great place to start. But it is nowhere near definitive. You need entire albums for that. The man's catalog was too grand to be contained here. Let's enjoy and rock our lives away!
25) Jackson: Cash won a Grammy Award for his duet with wife June Carter Cash on this song, written by Jerry Leiber and Billy Edd Wheeler, about a couple who have lost interest in one another and look to the city of Jackson (where is not stated) for better kicks.
24) Get Rhythm: Who would think a track called "Get Rhythm" wouldn't have a drum track? Genius, really. And proof that you don't need Neil Peart or a machine in there to get your groove on! Sadly, there was an album where current-day re-mixers gave Cash a "modern" spin.
23) A Boy Named Sue: This Shel Silverstein novelty track about a boy with a girl's name featured added hoots and hollers above and beyond the San Quentin jail crowd, who truly defined a captive audience.
22) Man In Black: Released in 1971, "Man In Black" is what graduate students would refer to as pure "meta," Cash qua Cash. It's a self-referential tune that shows how Cash was well aware of his appeal and his back-to-basics lifestyle at a time of bright, swinging colors. Sgt. Pepper wasn't everyone's lady. It would inform Rick Rubin's later decisions to produce Cash's final albums with a stark simplicity.
21) Hey Porter: Cash's earliest recordings at Sun Records were at label owner Sam Phillips' insistence to stay away from the gospel music Cash had been playing and to perform what is known now as Cash's early rockabilly style. As a child I thought it was Cash singing to Porter Wagoner (thanks, Pop!), but clearly it's about a railroad porter, as in a guy who carries your luggage.
20) Cry! Cry! Cry!: Along with "Hey Porter," "Cry! Cry! Cry!" was Cash's first release for Sun Records and already he had his signature sound. His voice is higher than it would be in later years -- Leonard Cohen was taking notes! -- but it still evokes an image of a man who deserves to have his face etched into music's Mount Rushmore. (Mount Rockmore?)