Cash was known for his deep, distinctive voice, the boom-chick-a-boom or “freight train” sound of his Tennessee Three backing band, his demeanor, and his dark clothing, which earned him the nickname “The Man in Black.” He traditionally started his concerts with the simple introduction “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” Here is a list of the 12 greatest Johnny Cash Songs.
12. 25 Minutes to Go
Although Cash never did “hard time”, his songs often reflected the common, lower class, less fortunate man. This tune of the final minutes of a condemned man, is tinged with humor, but is ultimately very dark as the song never actually ends, but just trails off. Not a very popular song, but only one he could pull off. Best moment 2:08 (Johnny’s voice cracks)
11. Give My Love To Rose
This classic highlights another of Cash’s favorite subjects – death and redemption. A dying ex-con asks a man to pass on his dying words. The simple chords are so basic but so powerful. Best moment 1:10 (Tell my boy that daddy’s so proud of him) – so sad
Completely haunting tale of another dying cowboy. Chilling and vivid. Best moment 2:08 (I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong)
9. God’s Gonna Cut You Down
This spooky, rambling chain-gang hymn illustrates Johnny’s voice with a minimal backbeat. Note the twang of the mouth harp. Best moment 1:15 (“I thought I heard the shuffle of a-a-angels feet”)
Originally written by poet Shel Silverstien, the story of an abandoned boy and his run in with his father after years of abuse has so many great rhymes and vivid images. No chorus necessary on this crowd favorite. Best moment 1:18 (“My name is Sue! How do you do? Now you’re gonna die!”).
7. Cocaine Blues
This tragic story of a drug-addled murderer and his arrogance is a cautionary tale of drug abuse and inevitability of getting caught for your crimes. Best moment 2:24 (“I can’t forget that day I shot that bad bitch down”).
6. Don’t Take Your Guns to Town
A mother’s plea to her son in a dangerous time . No need to wait until the end of the song to figure out what is going to happen to our protagonist Bill. Best moment 00:24 (The pause before his mother’s first warning).
Here Cash sings about another old American tradition of days past – waiting for a loved one on a train. The guitars chug along to the tempo of a locomotive and Cash delivers with a killer harmonica. Best Moment 1:57 (I Don’t care if I do die do die do die do).
4. It Ain’t Me Babe
Beautiful duet with his wife June Carter which flips the traditional “I am the one you need” song, to a warning that he is not the man of her dreams. Interesting that he has his wife of so many years chose this song to do live so many times. Check out Johnny actually dancing in this clip! Best moment 00:50 (Naw, naw, naw! It ain’t me babe.)
3. I Walk the Line
Many people’s favorite. A song about true love and the promises made to one’s true love. No Cash list is complete without it. Best moment 1:20 (I’m a fooool for you).
As odd as it sounds, this Nine Inch Nails cover would probably never have seen any airtime had it not been for this ultra-powerful video which shows Cash through the years, and finally as an old, tired, man. If this video doesn’t give you chills, no video will. Best moment (2:50 the spooky piano comes in).
1. Folsom Prison Blues
This ode to all those who will never see the outside world and “smoke big cigars” has one of Cash’s darkest lines around 00:38. So raw and cold. Followed by a great guitar solo.
I Got Stripes
Long Black Veil
Five Feet High and Rising
Sunday Morning Comedown