December Artist – Johnny Cash (Part 1)

This post is part of my Deep Dive Music Project. This month I’m listening to some music by Johnny Cash. Be sure to check out the Johnny Cash playlist I have on Spotify. This post has all my thoughts about the music I’ve listened to this month, and is broken up into two parts including this one. Click on the link below if you’d like to read the other section.
Part 2

There were a few artists I picked where I thought to myself, “where the hell do I even start? What 7 albums of this person’s should I listen to?”

Johnny Cash is one of those artists. According to Wikipedia Johnny Cash released 97 studio albums during his lifetime. Now to be fair some of those albums were relatively short with only 5 or 6 songs, but even still deciding what 7 out of 97 albums I should listen to has been difficult. Particularly because I don’t even know where I should start.

Johnny Cash is the only country artist I’ve chosen for this project. I won’t say, “I never listen to country music,” because as a kid in the 90s I listened to quite a bit of country music from that era of country music (Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, etc). But country music of the 50s, 60s and 70s, the stuff Johnny Cash was known for, I’m a lot less familiar with.

I’m not trying to be a country music expert; country music is something I only enjoy in small doses, but when I was thinking about the artists I wanted to cover for this project I knew I wanted to include Johnny Cash. He had a huge influence on music and on many artists. Cash also had crossover appeal in different genres of music. He’s in the Country Hall of Fame but also The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Gospel Hall of Fame. And he’s known as a great American songwriter (also in The Songwriter Hall of Fame).

The Johnny Cash Songs I Kind Of Know

As mentioned before I didn’t grow up listening to Johnny Cash. There are only a few country music artists I listened to, and for a fairly short period of time. And country music of the 50s, 60s and 70s seemed pretty old-fashioned when I was a kid. Still, there are few Johnny Cash songs I know. They are

  • Folsom Prison Blues
  • Walk The Line
  • Ring of Fire
  • A Boy Named Sue
  • God’s Gonna Cut You Down
  • Jackson (duet with June Carter Cash)
  • Hurt (originally by Nine Inch Nails)

I’ve also seen the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. It’s been a few years since I watched that movie. There are likely some Johnny Cash songs in that film that I can’t remember now, but may come across this month. If I have time I might try to watch Walk the Line again.

Impressions

Before I start diving into the discography for the artists I’ve chosen I want to give a rundown of the impression I get of their music and their work. This may or may not be accurate. The point of this isn’t for me to tell you, “this is definitely what this artist’s music is/will be like” but for me to see if these impressions are correct as I go along. They may or may not be.

Johnny Cash was a pretty legendary musician. And similar to Prince I can’t come at this from a completely blank slate because Johnny Cash was an influential musician in his lifetime. I know he had crossover appeal in several genres of music. Today music usually combines several genres or seems to defy popular genre conventions. With the way music is now and how accessible it is to get (and even to make) genres in music seem like a thing of the past. I know that wasn’t the case when Johnny Cash started out. I also know that he has a sort of iconic status in music. He worked with a variety of artists and producers, including legendary hip hop producer Rick Rubin.

For his albums, particularly earlier on his career, I’m expecting to hear more simple songs. Variations of “my woman left, and my dog ran away and my pickup broke down” sort of deal. Simple songs in terms of music structure. Trust me I’m not gonna get super music techy, but weird and more avant-garde style music (like what I’d expect to hear from Emilie Autumn or Bjork) is not what I’m expecting with Johnny Cash. I’m expecting to hear country and folk sounding songs about various aspects of American country life. But who knows I might hear something I never expected to hear this month.

The Johnny Cash Albums I’m Listening To This Month

When it came time to pick the Johnny Cash albums I had a hard time deciding which albums to listen to. I ended going through some “Best of” lists and asking listeners on Reddit’s /r/JohnnyCash forum. I got more than 10 suggestions but whittled it down to 7. Here’s what I’ll be listening to this month

  • Fabulous Johnny Cash (1958)
  • Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1964)
  • Carryin’ On with Johnny Cash & June Carter (1967)
  • At Folsom Prison (1968 – Live)
  • At San Quentin (1969 – Live)
  • Ragged Old Flag (1974)
  • American Recordings (1994)

Some of the albums above have a fairly short run time.  If I have time (December can get pretty busy) I might add in a few more albums. They would be

  • Unchained (1996)
  • American III: Solitary Man (2000)
  • American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)

While country music isn’t my usual forte I’m looking forward to diving into the music of Johnny Cash.

What’s your favourite album or song by Johnny Cash? Anything I’ve missed that I should check out?

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