Category Archives: Rolling Stone

C is for Cash

I felt that Johnny Cash was one of those characters that kept drifting in and out of my awareness. As a child, I was vaguely aware of him from his later 1950s like I Walk the Line (#17 pop, #6 country) and the even bigger pop hit Guess Things Happen That way (#11 pop, #8 country). 1963’s Ring of Fire was also a crossover hit.

Johnny Cash went through some commercially desolate years due in no small part to his drug use. Then in 1968, now clean, he decided to do a concert in Folsom Prison, California in January, which was released as an album in May of that year. Despite less than enthusiastic support of his record company, Columbia, the album became a big country hit. More surprisingly, it also became a crossover hit, getting up #13 on the pop charts. Jann Wenner, from a relatively new periodical called Rolling Stone, touted the album, which undoubtedly helped fuel its rise. Even more successful was his album At San Quentin, which spawned the #2 pop hit, A Boy Named Sue, penned by Shel Silverstein.

This led to Johnny getting a primetime show on ABC-TV for a couple years, featuring a wide range of artists including Louis Armstrong, Neil Diamond, Arlo Guthrie, Merle Haggard, Joni Mitchell, Odetta, Minnie Pearl, Pete Seeger, and many more.

Of course, even success has its downside. Contrary to the legend about one of his signature songs, Johnny Cash had taken a Gordon Jenkins tune called Crescent City Blues and changed it to Folsom Prison Blues.

He told Sun Records what he’d done, and eventually Jenkins, who said he had no problem with it. The version in 1955 was a relatively minor hit but the 1968 live version on Columbia was massive, and Jenkins (apparently pushed by his publisher) sued Cash and received a settlement. There is an album called Johnny Cash: Roots and Branches; you can hear 30 seconds of Crescent City Blues here; you can also read an analysis of Folsom Prison’s most iconic line, “I shot a man in Reno” here. Somehow, this ripoff of an existing song didn’t bother me as much as others, especially given the fact that John had ‘fessed up.

Johnny Cash, Live at San Quentin – Folsom Prison Blues

John continued with an up-and-down profile. He’d show up in supergroups such as the Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson) in 1985 or the Class of ’55 (Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison) in 1986; I have the latter on something called vinyl, BTW. But it wasn’t until a friend of mine sent me American Recording, the 1994 first album he performed produced by rock/hip hop producer Rick Rubin. The sparse sound was a revelation and I rediscovered Johnny Cash in that series of American albums: Unchained, Solitary Man, and The Man Comes Around, plus the posthumous A Hundred Highways and a boxed set. The defining song in his later years, of course was the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt.

Justin Timberlake, who beat out Johnny for a video award, said publicly that John should have one for Hurt and later conceived the posthumous video for God’s Gonna Cut You Down.

Johnny Cash died September 12, 2003, just months after his beloved wife, June Carter Cash passed away.

The Posthumous Still Have It

A couple months ago, I noticed the Rolling Stone lunchtime poll for Best Posthumous Album. What was interesting is that the two albums that seemed to dominate, among those who actually knew what “posthumous” meant, or weren’t into fossilizing the Rolling Stones, picked Johnny Cash’s American V: A Hundred Highways (a Rolling Stone pick) and Brainwashed by George Harrison, both artists were born around this time of the month.
There seems to be three major topics among American Beatles fans these days:
1)Whether that Cirque du Soleil songtrack, LOVE, is any good
2)Whether Heather Mills McCartney is Satan or merely the spawn of Satan
3)What’s going to be in the next box set of American LPs. The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1, included Meet the Beatles, The Beatles Second Album, Something New, and Beatles ’65. Vol. 2 contained The Early Beatles, Beatles VI, the Help! soundtrack, and the U.S. version of Rubber Soul, all of which were released in 1965. There won’t be boxes of albums where the US and the UK versions are exactly the same (Sgt. Pepper, the White Album, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, Let It Be). Magical Mystery Tour is off the table, because it was an American album that the Brits adopted. So what does that leave?
A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack- Originally on United Artists Records. It does have three Beatles songs, including the title cut, plus four soundtrack tunes not on Something New. But there are the five that overlap.
Revolver-the 11-song version instead of the 14. Do they really want to draw attention to this treachery?
Beatles Again/Hey Jude-The late Capitol/early Apple singles. But two of the HDN soundtrack songs are here as well.
The only album everyone agrees on is Yesterday…and Today. Why did I buy this at the Rexall store for $2.99, rather than waiting to get it from the Capitol Record Club? Maybe I was impatient. Why do I remember it cost $2.99?
Anyway, this is an odd album, oftentimes documented:
Side A
1. Drive My Car-Lennon/McCartney (Rubber Soul UK)
2. I’m Only Sleeping-Lennon/McCartney (Revolver UK)
3. Nowhere Man-Lennon/McCartney (Rubber Soul UK)
4. Doctor Robert-Lennon/McCartney (Revolver UK)
5. Yesterday-Lennon/McCartney (Help UK)
6. Act Naturally-Morrison/Russell (Help UK)
Side B
1. And Your Bird Can Sing-Lennon/McCartney (Revolver UK)
2. If I Needed Someone-Harrison (Rubber Soul UK)
3. We Can Work It Out-Lennon/McCartney (single)
4. What Goes On-Lennon/McCartney/Starkey (Rubber Soul UK)
5. Day Tripper-Lennon/McCartney (single)
My thoughts then: I love(d) Drive My Car. The album was good, but TWO Ringo songs? Also, What Goes On is in the same key as Day Tripper; I wouldn’t have put them next to each other.
My thoughts now: If you’re gonna butcher the UK albums, the pulling of four tracks from Rubber Soul, essentially one by each Beatle, was pretty deft. I know a number of folks who still think I’ve Just Seen a Face (from the UK Help album) is the better starting song for the Americanized Rubber Soul. Conversely, the three Lennon songs pulled from Revolver made the US version of THAT album lopsided, with 1 Ringo, 3 George, 5 Paul but only 2 John songs.
Oh, yeah, my copy of Yesterday…and Today got stolen in the Great LP Theft of 1972, so I’ll never know if I owned the butcher cover or not. It’s just as well.
Consider this my Underplayed Vinyl for the month.