3 Songs by Johnny Cash That Will Make You Cry

Johnny Cash is famous for singing tales of rambling outlaws, tender ballads, and hymns drawn from the Bible.

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He’s a legendary voice of American music, but his last years impacted a new generation of music fans with unadorned and fragile albums. Cash’s final recordings are full of tear-jerking reflection, and the songs put a new perspective on familiar themes.

Here are three songs by Johnny Cash that will make you cry.

“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” from American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)

Cash duets with Nick Cave on Hank Williams’ despairing ballad over tender guitar chords and sparse piano. The lower register of Cash and Cave’s talk-singing adds weight to the lonely country standard—echoing Williams’ intention for the words to be spoken.

Like the rest of Cash’s American series, producer Rick Rubin leaves only what’s necessary in the arrangements, allowing the duo to tap into the song’s essence. Cash is famous for elevating songs he didn’t write, but he was much more than a great interpreter. He had the extraordinary ability to make popular songs his own. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is as beautiful as any lyric ever written.

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome, I could cry

“Redemption Day” from American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010)

When Sheryl Crow included “Redemption Day” on her second studio album, she placed it behind her massive hit “If It Makes You Happy” in the track listing. It’s a song many outside the diehards may have overlooked in light of Crow’s ubiquitous radio singles at the time.

However, Cash’s version was recorded within the final months of his life. He sings about a world burning while sharpening his lens on the short-sightedness of greed. Crow’s original appeared in the prime of her life, and it sounds earnest and idealistic. But Cash sounds like the wise elder—an old prophet trying one final time to warn the world of its calamity. “Redemption Day” is evidence of Crow’s timeless songwriting and Cash’s enduring voice.

I’ve wept for those who suffer long
But how I weep for those who’ve gone
In rooms of grief and questioned wrong
But keep on killing

“Hurt” from American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)

There’s a moment when something is so beautiful and the love so intense it becomes painful. It’s the same thing where laughter and crying look similar with the sound turned off. Cash transformed Trent Reznor’s solitary lament into a recording so devastatingly beautiful that it left the Nine Inch Nails frontman silent after watching the video. Reznor said the song wasn’t his anymore.

Mark Romanek directed the video, which flashes through a montage of Cash’s life. The footage shows weary resignation, the temporary nature of being, and the futility of achievements when put against fleeting time. American IV was Cash’s final album released in his lifetime. The Man in Black singing “Hurt” while standing at the doorstep of mortality is profoundly sad. It may be the most heartbreaking song ever recorded.

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

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Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images

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