Top 10 Best Johnny Cash Albums

Updated on October 25, 2016
PaulGoodman67 profile image

Paul promoted, played and sang in many music bands during his teenage years and twenties. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

Johnny Cash singing in Bremen, Germany in September 1972.  Cash is one of the great American icons, his popularity spans across almost all age groups, musical genres and social groups.
Johnny Cash singing in Bremen, Germany in September 1972. Cash is one of the great American icons, his popularity spans across almost all age groups, musical genres and social groups. | Source

During his prolific music career, country legend Johnny Cash recorded some 55 studio albums, 6 live albums, and 84 compilations albums, as well as releasing many hit songs.

The recordings listed below represent the 10 best Johnny Cash albums in my opinion. They come from different stages of his performing life, but all seem to capture the essence of the man.

Johnny Cash had different backing bands, tried different approaches and went through some turbulent periods in his personal life, but somehow he never lost touch with who he was, both as a creative artist and as a human being.

I myself have been listening to Johnny Cash for as long as I can remember, having been brought up on his music by my father, who was a huge Johnny Cash fan.

In 1994 I finally got to see a live performance of Johnny Cash at Glastonbury Festival 1994 in England, just after he'd got together with Rick Rubin and brought out the first of the American Recordings, one of his best albums.

In 2003, not long after the death of his beloved wife, June Carter, and following many years of health problems, Johnny Cash died.

Here are my top 10 Johnny Cash albums.

1. At Folsom Prison

Having brought his previous drug problems under control, Cash was at his peak when he recorded "At Folsom Prison", the very best Johnny Cash album, in my opinion, in 1968.

The album bristles with energy and attitude as well as great, great music from Cash and his band (Carl Perkins and The Tennessee Three).

It features many classics, including a live version of "Folsom Prison Blues", and “Jackson”, sung as a duet with his soon to be wife, June Carter.

The crowd also play their part in this classic album, although it was later revealed that some creative overdubbing had gone on during the mixing process. The cheer that goes up after Cash sings the famous line: "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die," was revealed in 2004 to have been taken from a another part of the day’s proceedings and added the song in the studio.

Johnny Cash discusses prison reform with Richard Nixon at the White House.
Johnny Cash discusses prison reform with Richard Nixon at the White House. | Source

2. At San Quentin

The second great prison recording by Cash to feature in my top 10, featuring his classic late 60s backing band. This album was the follow-up to the best-selling and critically acclaimed: At Folsom and was released in 1969.

Notable tracks include: “Wanted Man”, “A Boy Named Sue”, and Johnny's amusing account of a drunken arrest: "Starkville City Jail". The live performance was also filmed by Britain’s Granada T.V. and clips of the concert feature in a documentary they made about Cash.

Johnny Cash and June Carter
Johnny Cash and June Carter | Source

3. American Recordings

After a fallow period and a fall out with his record company, Johnny Cash got together with Rick Rubin, stripped his sound down to just a voice and a guitar, and put out not just one of his best recordings, but one of the best albums of all time.

The entire album oozes authenticity, musicianship, and raw emotion. Most of the songs are covers, but typical for Cash, he manages to make them his own. Notable tracks include: “Tennessee stud”, "The Beast in Me", and "Deliah’s Gone”.

Early Sun Records Promotional Photo of Johnny Cash
Early Sun Records Promotional Photo of Johnny Cash | Source

4. The Man Comes Around

Another of the collaborations with Rick Rubin and the last album of his to be released during his lifetime, this album features Cash’s deeply moving cover version of the Nine Inch Nails song, “Hurt”, which has to feature in any Johnny Cash top 10.

(The song would also spawn the Johnny Cash: "Hurt" video, surely one of the greatest music videos ever!).

Johnny Cash - "Hurt"

5. The Legendary Sun Recordings

Johnny Cash at his youngest and rawest. He managed to secure a recording contract after he won Sam Philips over with his youthful frenetic style.

It features the early hits, "Hey Porter" and "Cry! Cry! Cry!". The best Johnny Cash album of his early recordings.

Did You Know?

In 1981, Johnny Cash was almost killed by an ostrich. The giant bird was a pet that he kept in an enclosure for exotic animals at the “House of Cash” in Hendersonville, Tennessee. The aggressive bird broke five of his ribs and ripped his stomach open down to his waist. Worse than the injuries, unfortunately Cash became addicted to the painkillers that were prescribed to him when he was recuperating and he also began using wine and amphetamines too. It took him some time to straighten out.

6. Carryin' On with June Carter

Some of Johnny Cash’s strongest songs were duets with June Carter and this album consists entirely of these. Features the songs, “Jackson” and “Long Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man”.

Cash and Carter married seven months after they recorded this album.

7. Highwayman

A supergroup formed by Johnny Cash and his old friends and fellow 'outlaws', Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

This was their first and best album, the later ones never quite recaptured the magic, but this one’s a classic.

Promotional portrait for Sun Records showing a young Johnny Cash.
Promotional portrait for Sun Records showing a young Johnny Cash. | Source

8. The Essential Johnny Cash

Brought out to coincide with Johnny Cash’s 70th birthday in 2002, this double compilation album focuses mainly on Johnny Cash’s Columbia and Sun material and includes 2 tracks previously unreleased.

Not to be confused with the 1996 treble album of the same name.

Johnny Cash's Grave.  Cash died from complications relating to diabetes, aged 71 on September 12, 2003.  His career had experienced a recent resurgence, thanks in part to his version of the song: Hurt.
Johnny Cash's Grave. Cash died from complications relating to diabetes, aged 71 on September 12, 2003. His career had experienced a recent resurgence, thanks in part to his version of the song: Hurt. | Source

9. The Legend of Johnny Cash

Timed to coincide with the biopic, I Walk The Line, this is the first Johnny Cash greatest hits compilation to feature tracks from the American Recordings period, as well as covering some of the classic Columbia and Sun tracks, including: Hey Porter, Folsom Prison Blues, Ring of Fire, and Hurt.

The cover shows a heavy-coated Johnny Cash walking the highway alone with his guitar. This must-have compilation also includes some rarer versions of tracks.

10. Fabulous Johnny Cash

Originally released in 1959, but re-released in 2002 to celebrate Johnny Cash’s 70th birthday with 6 bonus tracks.

It features the Johnny Cash classic songs, “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” and “I Still Miss Someone.”

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Paul Goodman

    Comments

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      • profile image

        hi 

        5 years ago

        i love this stuff actually im really related to him:)

      • you suggest one profile image

        you suggest one 

        7 years ago from NOTTINGHAM ENGLAND

        To an extent I agree with your selection,BUT,as we all have an opinion and this is such a tenuous subject I would like to add one of my favourite Johnny Cash albums,it is in

        my opinio one of his very best,"From Sea To Shining Sea"

        just a thought.

      • profile image

        Edna 

        7 years ago

        Hello there. I love this page. It takes me back listening to all of the songs. God bless. Edna

      • PaulGoodman67 profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Goodman 

        7 years ago from Florida USA

        Thanks, Ed. I personally think that At Folsom is the best album of all of them. Cash is in such boisterous mood, the band sound fantastic, and there are great versions of all the songs. The Granada documentary movie of San Quentin is well worth seeing too imho.

      • profile image

        Ed Luhrs 

        7 years ago

        At Folsom Prison is a gem. I posted a link on FB. I really want to learn more about Johnny. He's great! Thanks for this article.

      • PaulGoodman67 profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Goodman 

        7 years ago from Florida USA

        Thanks, Coolmon. He was a great performer too, very charismatic, I was lucky enough to see him live.

      • Coolmon2009 profile image

        Coolmon2009 

        7 years ago from Texas, USA

        I like your selection of Cash albums. Many are my favorites.

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