Man in Black: Johnny Cash’s 10 Best Songs
Johnny Cash had an incredible list of hit songs that started with "Cry! Cry! Cry!" in 1955, but he was just getting started on a legendary career that's encapsulated in this list of the Top 10 Johnny Cash Songs.
The Man in Black was so diverse that he could sing serious folk-oriented songs about social issues ("The Ballad of Ira Hayes," "What Is Truth"), rockabilly infused country hits ("Get Rhythm," "Big River"), classic western story songs ("Don’t Take Your Guns to Town," "Ghost Riders In The Sky"), silly songs ("The One on the Right Is the One on the Left," "Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart"), and just about anything in between. This list of the Top 10 Johnny Cash Songs represents each era of his massive career.
"A Boy Named Sue"From 'At San Quentin' (1969)
In 1969, this Shel Silverstein composition won a Grammy for Song of the Year and a CMA for Single of the Year. Although Johnny Cash could tackle several serious social issues in many of his songs, there was something magical about pairing the twisted poetry and stories of Silverstein with the singer's distinct fatherly voice. "A Boy Named Sue" was also Cash’s biggest crossover success.
"Man in Black"From 'Man in Black' (1971)
Wonder why Johnny Cash wears black? Apparently the question had been asked so much that Cash wrote a song about his wardrobe choice. In 1971, "Man in Black" answered the question and peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard country charts. The song represents what the giant is all about, and that's the reason we place it on our list of the Top 10 Johnny Cash Songs.
"One Piece at a Time"From 'One Piece at a Time' (1976)
While many stars of the ‘50s had reached their peak by the ‘70s, Johnny Cash was still going strong 21 years after his first single. 1976’s "One Piece at a Time" once again showcased his sense of humor, and more importantly, proved that the legend was not through having No. 1 hits.
"Ballad of a Teenage Queen"From 'Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous' (1958)
According to Billboard, "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" was Johnny Cash’s biggest chart hit of his career. The Cowboy Jack Clement composition hit the top in 1958 and stayed put for 10 weeks. Recorded on the popular Sun Records label, the song was a jukebox smash with teenagers of the ‘50s.
"Sunday Morning Coming Down"From 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' (1972)
In 1970, Johnny Cash discovered this Kris Kristofferson song that would become his eleventh No. 1 Billboard hit and a clear pick for our list of the Top 10 Johnny Cash Songs. Cash became friends with Kristofferson, and in 1985, he formed a supergroup with his other pals Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson to create the Grammy-winning Highwayman album.
"Jackson"From 'Greatest Hits, Vol. 1' (1967)
Johnny Cash had been singing with June Carter since 1961, but by 1968 the two had been making more than just music. They tied the knot personally and professionally with a string of duets that included "It Ain’t Me, Babe," "If I Were a Carpenter," "Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man" and 1967’s "Jackson." This husband-wife collaboration is a must have on our list of the Top 10 Johnny Cash Songs.
"Hurt"From 'American IV: The Man Comes Around' (2002)
At the age of 71, Johnny Cash was a legend in country music who was not about to slow down, despite poor health. "Hurt," which was released in 2003, did not break the Top 40 on the modern country radio charts. However, the sensitive video received considerable airplay, the song was certified double platinum in sales and the CMA named it Single of the Year. Penned by rock star Trent Reznor, many consider this a farewell masterpiece in the Johnny Cash song collection.
"Ring of Fire"From 'Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash' (1963)
"Ring of Fire" — written by Cash's future bride, June Carter, and songwriter Merle Kilgore — hit No. 1 in 1963. The song was somewhat of an unexpected hit on country radio. It opened with trumpets, a rare sound in country music, yet the song gained airplay and was eventually entered into the Grammy Song Hall of Fame. This Cash classic is an obvious choice on our list of the Top 10 Johnny Cash Songs.
"Folsom Prison Blues"From 'With His Hot and Blue Guitar' (1957)
"Folsom Prison Blues" was released as Johnny Cash’s third single in 1956, on Sun Records. The song peaked at No. 4, then was re-recorded live for one of his historical prison albums in 1968. The live version hit No. 1 and opened with a line that would become his signature show opener: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash!”
"I Walk the Line"From 'With His Hot and Blue Guitar' (1957)
Not only is "I Walk the Line" the title of the hit movie about Johnny Cash’s life, the song was his very first No. 1 hit in 1956 on Sun Records, and it's the No. 1 pick for our list of the Top 10 Johnny Cash Songs. Cash wrote this song for his first wife, Vivian Liberto, the mother of Rosanne Cash. The song’s crossover appeal, backed by Johnny Cash’s signature ‘boom-chicka-boom’ sound, earned the record a place in the Grammy Song Hall of Fame and helped The Man in Black earn a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well.