June 20, 2021

Five essential Johnny Cash albums

Forty years of recordings summarized in five fundamental works to understand a unique creator. Eduardo Izquierdo accepts the challenge of facing the discography of the king of country and keeping the essentials. This is your choice.

Selection and text: EDUARDO IZQUIERDO.

The director of this magazine wants to finish me off. Every time I have it clearer. Not content with asking me to choose five essential albums by people like Neil Young or Elvis Presley, he now dares to do it with Johnny Cash. And one, of course, picks up the glove. If I got into analyzing the man in black at the time, taking as a starting point his conceptual discs in the book Johnny Cash. Apocalypse and redemption, published by this house, how can you not try to choose five albums from your discography for the uninitiated? Of course, I do it with some initial premises. Three basically. The first, to flee from the records formed by collections of singles. The second, not to spend with the live albums, and the third, not to focus on the famous American recordings. That is why I have limited myself to choosing only one of each of those albums, completing the list with a couple of masterpieces.

1. With his hot and blue guitar (1957)

This is the first case: an album built from four previously released singles such as “I walk the line”, “Cry! cry! cry! ”,“ So doggone lonesome ”and“ Folsom Prison blues ”. Twelve songs published by the legendary Sun Records that represent the debut, in terms of full length of Johnny Cash. Accompanied by Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant or, in other words, the Tennessee Two, Cash completes his own songs with versions of Lead Belly, Jerry Reed or Jimmie Davis in a recording loaded with magic.

2. Ride this train (1960)

Johnny Cash’s eighth album is considered one of the first concept albums in the history of popular music, although the musician had already experimented with it in Songs of our soil (1959). Lover that his long-term albums have a common thread, Cash will influence this type of work throughout his entire career. In this case, and as its name suggests, we are facing an album dedicated to trains, another element that will be present in Johnny Cash’s music forever.

3. Orange blossom special (1965)

The thirteenth album of our man’s career did not exactly bring him bad luck, since we are faced with one of his most homogeneous works as a collection of songs, if we except his conceptual albums. A work that will go down in history for containing the legendary “Long black veil”, the version of AP Carter’s “Wilwood flower”, and, above all, up to three songs by his future great friend Bob Dylan: «It ain’t me babe », in duet with June Carter,“ Don’t think twice, it’s all right ”and“ Mama, you’ve been on my mind ”.

4. At Folsom Prison (1968)

It’s not bad that your first live album is a job like At Folsom Prison, recorded between the walls of the prison of the same name. An album loaded with mythology and not without quality. With an audience made up of inmates with whom Johnny felt totally identified. Being able to even interpret a song composed by one of the prisoners. It is no coincidence that the magazine Rolling Stone, in his famous list of the 500 best albums of all time, would place it in the 88th position. Immeasurable.

5. American recordings (1994)

I could have chosen any volume of the calls American recordings, practically. Not choosing the second volume, for example, made me dispense with the participation of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers as a backing band. Not opting for the third one did without his version of “Solitary man” by Neil Diamond. And not choosing the room left out “Hurt” by NIN, probably the best version of a foreign theme in history. But I have decided to keep the first one. With which the series is named, for its meaning, but also for its indisputable quality. The one in which Rick Rubin, a posh producer, picks up a sick and forgotten Johnny Cash and turns him into the real sensation of the moment. A full-blown resurrection that deserves to close this article.