Few artists have left as big of an imprint on American country and rock music as the Man in Black, Johnny Cash.
Born in Arkansas and raised on gospel, music was in Cash’s blood. He broke onto the music scene in Memphis in 1955 after a four-year stint in the U.S. Airforce and several other failed non-music-related careers. Once embedded in the music industry, however, his lyrics explore morality, the human condition, and the importance of redemption. All of these motifs were inspired by his farm-town upbringing and battles with drug addiction in his adult life.
Throughout his career, Cash was outspoken about social issues such as the Vietnam War, poverty, and racial imbalance. He was a particularly passionate activist for Native Americans, inspiring his 1957 song “Old Apache Squaw” and the 1964 album Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian. Contributing to Cash’s rebel legacy were his iconic concerts at Folsom Prison and San Quentin. In hosting these concerts, he emphasized the value of compassion in humanity.
The combination of Cash’s smooth bass-baritone voice, chugging guitar rhythms, and fusion of musical genres made him one of the best-selling artists of all time and earned him spots in the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
While his list of iconic songs seems endless, here are American Songwriter’s top 10 Johnny Cash songs. Don’t forget to imagine his smooth, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” before listening to each song.
10. “Cocaine Blues”
8. “A Boy Named Sue”
Read the Behind The Song on “A Boy Named Sue”
7. “Man in Black”
6.” Sunday Morning Coming Down”
4. “Ring of Fire”
2. “Folsom Prison Blues”
1. “I Walk the Line”
Photo Courtesy of The John R Cash Trust / Shorefire Media