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Updated by Love It Loud on Jul 06, 2013
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Top Ten Johnny Cash Albums


Opening with Cash reciting from Revelation 6:1-8, The Man Comes Around was the last studio album to be released before Cash passed away in September 2003, just four months after the death of his wife and frequent collaborator, June Carter. His voice now broken and his health deteriorating, this somehow lent a fragile and intimate element to the songs which, as with other entries in his American Recordings series, was produced by Rick Rubin and recorded at the Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, where the sessions for 2000’s Solitary Man had also taken place. With the assistance of Cash's son, John Carter, Rubin succeeded in capturing some of the music legend's finest work during the last decade of his life, often reworking classic material and covers of rock and metal tunes to fit his brand of acoustic ballads. Among those who contributed their talents to the sessions were Don Henley of the Eagles, Fiona Apple and Nick Cave, whose track The Mercy Seat Cash had covered on his previous record. The standout moment, however, would be Cash’s reworking of the 1994 Nine Inch Nails ballad Hurt, with its accompanying music video, directed by Mark Romanek (misspelt Romack in the liner notes), serving as a fitting tribute to his life.


Released two months before his 1963 hit single Ring of Fire, a track not included on the album, Blood, Sweat and Tears saw Cash venture further from his rockabilly roots and into country music territory. Perhaps the album's most known song is the eight-and-a-half-minute epic The Legend of John Henry's Hammer inspired by an old folklore tale, although Cash would continue his fascination with murder and capital punishment with Another Man Done Gone, in which a man is hung from a tree in front of his children. One of Cash’s most overlooked tracks was Nine Pound Hammer, a traditional song that had been adapted by country and western star Merle Travis for his 1947 album Folk Songs of the Hills. Blood, Sweat and Tears also featured backing vocals from the Carter Family, the musical troupe that included his wife-to-be, June.


Having worked together on such diverse albums as A Thing Called Love, The Johnny Cash Family Christmas and På Österåker, Cash collaborated once again with Capitol’s in-house producer Larry Butler for Any Old Wind That Blows, the first of three albums that Cash would release during 1973. While five of the eleven songs had been composed by Cash, the album would also include material written by Roy Orbison and Kris Kristofferson, the latter having also penned Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down, which Cash had included on his 1970 live record The Johnny Cash Show. Once again performing duets with June Carter on two of the songs, the album was also notable for including the original version of Country Trash, which Cash would later rework for Solitary Man almost thirty years later.


Having built his reputation with a succession of rock and hip-hop artists during the 1980s and '90s, including such diverse artists as the Beastie Boys, Slayer and Run-D.M.C., Rick Rubin seemed like an unusual choice to be responsible for resurrecting Cash's career after over a decade of critical failure. While Rubin had enjoyed one success after another, the 1980s had been a difficult time for Cash. Although he had been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980, serious health issues had caused concern for Cash and his family, while his music felt out of touch with changes in tastes. After an unexpected appearance on U2's Zooropa album, in which he leant his vocals to a track entitled The Wanderer, Cash was introduced to Rubin backstage in Los Angeles, who explained his intentions to record Cash alone with an acoustic guitar, capturing the pure essence of his music. Recorded at Rubin’s home and Cash’s cabin studio, American Recordings included songs from Leonard Cohen, Kristofferson and Tom Waits, while a reworking of his 1962 song Delia's Gone (originally recorded for The Sound of Johnny Cash), would gain both acclaim and controversy when its video featured model Kate Moss being buried by Cash.


By 1960 the sound of the death rattle of rock 'n' roll could be heard; Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper had all died in a plane crash the previous year, Bill Haley's appeal had been overshadowed by his younger rivals and Elvis Presley had returned from military service and had turned his attention to acting. As the new decade begun, Cash had begun to flirt more with country music, a genre that complimented his deep, gravel voice and tendency for sad ballads. One of the few instances where Cash was not credited as a writer on any of the tracks, 1960's Now, Where Was a Song! featured a cover of Tommy Duncan's Time Changes Everything, which Duncan had performed with his group Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, and the Hank Williams classic I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, a track which Cash would later perform as a duet with Nick Cave.




Arguable one of the most underrated and overlooked studio albums of his half a century-spanning career, 1979's Silver, produced by Brian Ahern, was in some ways a precursor to his American Recordings offerings fifteen years later, in which Cash focused mostly on stripped-down acoustic numbers. Among the highlights were Cocaine Blues, which Cash had first recorded under the name Transfusion Blues for Now, There Was a Song!, before cutting a live version on 1968’s At Folsom Prison. By this point in his life, Cash had gained a reputation as a rock 'n' roll outlaw and had even performed as part of the appropriately titled The Highway Men along with Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. In his book Johnny Cash's American Recordings, author Tony Tost stated, "In 1979, when hosting his producer Brian Ahern and others at his Tennessee home, Cash revealed the fury feeding the persona. ‘All the ladies brought dinner over to the main house,’ Marty Stuart, one of the guests, recalled. ‘We were sitting there, and John was sweating and twitching. Brian sat down; he was quiet and nervous. John came out of nowhere with a hatchet. And Brian was sitting there at the end of the table, and John just threw it right over his head and, 'Bam!', it found its mark.'"


Having misdiagnosed his condition, in 2000 doctors revealed that Cash was suffering from autonomic neuropathy, yet despite now being in his late sixties and having been working almost nonstop for over forty years, Cash continued to write and record at a frantic pace, following up his 1998 VH1 Storytellers live album, which he had performed with fellow country star Willie Nelson, with the third instalment of his American Recordings series. Much like 1996’s Unchained, Solitary Man would feature Cash performing songs written and previously released by a host of other artists, such as Tom Petty, U2, Nick Cave and the title track, which had been a hit for Neil Diamond in the mid-1960s. Other offerings included a new version of Country Trash and a cover of the traditional tune Wayfaring Stranger, which Jack White would later cover for the 2003 movie Cold Mountain.


While Elvis had managed to combine musical talent with sex appeal, Cash had always been less about showmanship and more about delivering gritty and stripped-down rock 'n' roll. Nowhere was this more evident that on his debut album, 1957's With His Hot and Blue Guitar. Released by Sun Records and produced by label owner Sam Phillips, the record featured the Cash's early singles Cry! Cry! Cry! and I Walk the Line, which had been hits in 1955 and 1956, as well as one of his signature tunes, Folsom Prison Blues.


Writing only two of the twelve tracks, Orange Blossom Special continued the career-long tradition of Cash reworking songs by other artists and making them his own. The album featured no less than three tracks by Bob Dylan, including Mama, You Been on My Mind, Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, which Dylan had recorded for his 1963 album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and It Ain't Me Babe (from 1964’s Another Side of Bob Dylan), the latter providing Cash and June Carter with a hit when it was released the following year, while Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood also enjoyed success with the song in 1966. Orange Blossom Special's highlight was the ballad Long Black Veil, in which the protagonist is wrongfully accused of a murder and sentenced to hanging, but is unwilling to prove his innocence as it would reveal that he had been having an affair with the wife of his friend. Like many of his earlier songs, Cash re-recorded Long Black Veil in the 1980s.


Once again working with producer Sam Phillips, this time accompanied by Sun Records regular Jack Clement, 1958's Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous continued on from the sound Cash had developed on his debut, Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar. Once again revelling in the rock 'n' roll sound of the era, among the album highlights were Ballad of a Teenage Queen, which had been written by country star Jack Clement and would be re-recorded by Cash with his daughter, Rosanne Cash, and the Everly Brothers for his 1988 album Water from the Wells of Home. Despite being included on his first album, hit single I Walk the Line was featured once again, while other early favourites like Guess Things Happen That Way and Big River were also featured.