3 Eternal Classic Country Songs by Johnny Cash

With a deep voice and songs that get to the heart of the heartland, the Kingsland, Arkansas-born songwriter and performer Johnny Cash boasts one of the most recognizable names in music. With a career that spanned six decades and somehow is still continuing posthumously, Cash remains not only a hit in his preferred genre of country music, but a crossover icon.

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Along the way, Cash recorded and released a number of songs that are as popular today as they were decades prior. And here below, we wanted to dive into a trio of tunes that showcase that very fact. Three songs that have more than stood the test of time. Indeed, these are three eternal Johnny Cash songs.

[RELATED: Johnny Cash Released His First No. 1 Single “I Walk the Line” on This Day in 1956]

“A Boy Named Sue” from At San Quentin (1969)

Written by author and songwriter Shel Silverstein, this track tells a story of a young man with a girl’s name. Released first on Cash’s live album At San Quentin, the track later become his most successful. It was his only song to chart in the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 2. In the end, Sue tracks down his father, the man who gave him his name, and confronts him about it. For those who have never heard the song, it’s worth a listen right here and now. It’s a funny, brutish story. On the track, Cash sings,

Well, my daddy left home when I was three
Didn’t leave very much to my mom and me
Except this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze
Now I don’t blame him ’cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that my daddy ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me Sue

Well, he must’ve thought that it was quite a joke
And I got a lot of laughs from a lots of folk
Seems I had to fight my whole life through
Some gal would giggle and I’d turn red
And some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head
I tell you, life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue

“I Walk the Line” from Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1956)

This is one of Cash’s most popular songs and was his first to hit the No. 1 spot on the Billboard country charts. Written for his then-wife Vivian Liberto, the song was the Man in Black’s pledge of devotion to his bride. Originally written backstage at a show, Cash was persuaded to sing the song faster than he originally wanted by his contemporary musician, Carl Perkins. At first he wanted it to be a slow ballad. Cash recorded the tune four times over his career, including for the album of the same name and live At San Quentin album. On the track, he sings over a chug-a-lugging guitar,

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a fool for you
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

“Ring of Fire” from Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963)

Written by Merle Kilgore and Cash’s second wife June Carter, this song was first recorded by June’s sister Anita in 1962. But it was Cash who made the song a hit a year later. It was his version that hit No. 1 on the country charts, staying there for weeks. Like the track above, this is a love song. But unlike “I Walk the Line,” this song is about the difficulties of love, how one can be burned or hurt by the flames. They can scald and rise without warning. It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek number, especially given its songwriters. Love is grand, love is fiery. On the iconic country tune, Cash sings,

Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire

I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns
The ring of fire, the ring of fire

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Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

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