Johnny Cash is my father’s favourite recording artist. Johnny was born on February 26, 1932 and passed away on September 12, 2003. Wikipedia.org says: “Although he is primarily remembered as a country icon, his songs and sound spanned other genres including rock and roll and rockabilly-especially early in his career-and blues, folk, and gospel.” Johnny has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. In 2010 Sonoma Entertainment released a compilation of his songs and simply called it JOHNNY CASH.
The CD begins with one of his signature songs ‘I Walk the Line’. It was originally recorded at Sun Studio on April 2, 1956. Cash meant it to be a slow ballad but producer Sam Phillips preferred it a bit faster. It would be Cash’s first Number One Billboard hit. Johnny wrote it as a song of devotion to his wife Vivian: “I find it very, very easy to be true/I find myself alone when each day is through/Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a fool for you/Because you’re mine, I walk the line/As sure as night is dark and day is light/I keep you on my mind both day and night/And happiness I’ve known proves that it’s right/Because you’re mine, I walk the line.” Musically, the song is quite catchy. Next up, is ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ which was the eleventh song on Johnny’s debut album WITH HIS HOT AND BLUE GUITAR. Johnny was inspired to write the song after seeing the 1951 movie ‘Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison’ while serving in West Germany in the U.S. Air Force. In 1968 he sang the song at Folsom Prison. This country/blues track contains some of the most haunting words in country music: “When I was just a baby my mamma told me/’Son always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns’/But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die/When I hear that whistle blowin’, I hang my head and cry.”
‘Get Rhythm’ is a fast paced rockabilly number. In 1956 it was released as a B-side to ‘I Walk the Line’. Later on, in 1969, the original recording was put out as a single. The lyrics offer advice to the discouraged: “Get rhythm when you got the blues (2X)/A jumpy rhythm makes you feel so fine/It’ll shake all your trouble from your worried mind/Get rhythm when you get the blues.” ‘Hey Porter’ was recorded on September 1, 1954. Cash wrote it on his way home from a four year stint in the U.S. Air Force. It is a story song: “Hey porter, hey porter please get my bags for me/I need nobody to tell me now that we’re in Tennessee/Go tell that engineer to make that lonesome whistle scream/We’re not so far from home so take it easy on the steam/Hey porter, hey porter, please open up the door/When they stop the train I’m gonna get off first ‘cause I can’t wait no more/Tell that engineer I said thanks a lot/And I didn’t mind the fare/I’m gonna set my feet on southern soil and breathe that southern air.”
‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ was originally released in 1955. It got Cash a featured spot on the Louisiana Hayride Tour and helped his career get going. It sold 100, 000 copies in the southern states. He soon began to tour with Elvis. The song features heavy bass and chastises an ex-lover: “When your fickle love gets old, no one will care for you/Then you’ll come back to me for a little love that’s true/I’ll tell you no and then you’ll ask me why, why why?/When I remind you of all of this, you’ll cry, cry, cry/You’re gonna cry, cry, cry and you’ll want me then/It’ll hurt when you think of the fool you’ve been/You’re gonna cry, cry, cry.” ‘Rock Island Line’ is an American blues/folk song first recorded by John Lomax in 1934. It is a funny story song about a train operator who smuggles pig iron through a toll gate by saying all he has on board is livestock: “I got livestock, I got livestock/I got cows, I got pigs, I got sheep/I got mules, I got all livestock/Well, they said ‘You’re alright boy/You don’t have to pay no toll/You can just go right on through’/So he went on through the toll gate/And as he went through/He started pickin’ up a little bit of speed.”
‘Big River’ was released as a single by Sun Records in 1958. It went to Number Four on the Billboard country music charts. The song includes these depressing lyrics: “Now I taught the weeping willow how to cry/And I showed the cloud how to cover up a clear blue sky/And the tears that I cried for that woman are gonna flood you Big River/Then I’m gonna sit right here until I die.” The next two songs are my favourites on this compilation CD. ‘I Love You Because’ dates back to 1949 and was written by Leon Payne. It is a nice country ballad with good backing vocals. It praises a human love interest: “I love you because you understand, dear/Every little thing I try to do/You’re always there to lend a helping hand dear/But most of all I love you/’Cause you’re you/No matter what may be the style or season/I know your love will always see me through/I love you for a hundred, thousand reasons/But most of all I love you ‘cause you’re you.”
‘Guess Things Happen That Way’ was penned by the recently deceased Jack Clement and uses doo wop style backing vocals. The words admit that it in life, one has to take the good with the bad: “Well, you ask me if I’ll forget my baby/I guess I will someday/I don’t like it/But I guess things happen that way/You ask me if I’ll get along/I guess I will some way/I don’t like it/But I guess things happen that way/God gave me that girl to lean on/Then He put me on my own/Heaven help me be a man/And have the strength to stand alone/I don’t like it/But I guess things happen that way.” ‘Luther’s Boogie’ is a fun, cool song that seems autobiographical: “We were just a plain ol’ hillbilly band with a plain ol’ country style/We never played the kind of songs that’d drive anybody wild/We played a railroad song with a stompin’ beat/We played a blues song, kind of slow and sweet/But the thing that knocked them off their feet was, ooh-wee/When Luther played the Boogie Woogie”
‘There You Go’ speaks of an unfaithful lover: “Because I love you so, I take much more than I should take/I want you even though I know my heart is gonna break/You build me up and for a while I’m all a-glow/Then your fickle heart sees someone else and there you go/There you go, you’re gone again/I should have known I couldn’t win/There you go, you’re by his side/You’re gonna break another heart, you’re gonna tell another lie.” ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen’ is a memorable song with good backing vocals. It tells of how celebrity does not meet one’s deepest needs: “Then one day the teenage star/Sold her house and all her cars/Gave up all her wealth and fame/Left it all and caught a train/Do I have to tell you more?/She came back to the boy next store who worked at the candy store.” This song was written by Jack Clement and recorded by Cash circa 1958. It hit Number One on the U.S. country charts.
There is no doubt that Johnny Cash is one of the true legends of American music. His career was productive, creative, and innovative. He has inspired countless artists in various musical genres. As with most compilation albums, JOHNNY CASH (2010, Sonoma Entertainment) is hit and miss. It does contain some great songs. The weakness though is that several of the songs sound too similar to each other. The same though, could be said of many rock band compilations. I prefer full, original studio albums over compilations, perhaps with a couple bonus tracks added on at the end. I’m rating this collection of songs 78%.