This was in a series which ran in 2010/11 entitled ‘Five Great Album Tracks For Friday’

This was Part 18 and it appeared on Friday 8 April 2011.

Today’s piece was inspired by something I read in a newspaper supplement last weekend.

Graeme Thomson is one of the best writers around in the UK – a regular contributor to many of the monthly music mags as well as popping up across many newspapers. In last Saturday’s Arts Section of The Herald, he was given space to plug a forthcoming book, one that I intend to buy on its release on 15 April.

Thomson has written about Johnny Cash. But he’s done so from a perspective that is unusual and one with which I can readily identify. He recalls that growing up, Cash was a voice he heard regularly thanks to his parents love of him. And while it was a voice he loved, it wasn’t one that he thought would ever deliver new material that would be worth listening to….until 1993 when Cash teamed up with Rick Rubin to release American Recordings.

Thomson’s book is a a look at the final series of albums Johnny Cash made in the final decade of his life. As he puts it in the article “to examine what happens when rebels don’t die young but are forced to keep on living, wrestling with their demons and the very human indignities of ill health, indifference and old age.”

I’m a big fan of the work Cash and Rubin delivered. I’ve never quite been able to pin down why, but something Thomson wrote last Saturday nailed it:-

Although these albums play consistently with Cash’s brooding image and sense of mythology – chiming neatly with the uncompromising mood of the mid-1990s’ most successful genres : grunge rap and metal – they also bring the real man closer than ever before. At the time of their initial release, however, much of their impact rested on the obvious novelty of an ageing country singer covering songs by contemporary artists like Soundgarden, Danzig and Nick Cave.

Nearly eight years on since Cash’s death – and over a year since the release of Ain’t No Grave, the sixth and final instalment of American Recordings – it’s easier to free the art from the context of its creation and see that albums for what they really are : the logical destination of Cash’s long black train of music.

It all makes sense now. It’s the really early Cash and the really late Cash that I love the most. The early stuff is raw with just the basic instruments and THAT voice. American Recordings are much the same.

And so here’s my five personal favourites from the American Recordings set of records. And for once, I’m including tracks released as singles…..:-

mp3 : Johnny Cash – Delia’s Gone (from American Recordings 1993)
mp3 : Johnny Cash – One (from American III : Solitary Man 2000)
mp3 : Johnny Cash – I See A Darkness (from American III : Solitary Man 2000)
mp3 : Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around (from American IV : The Man Comes Around 2003)
mp3 : Johnny Cash – Hurt (from American IV : The Man Comes Around 2003)

This wasn’t an easy set of songs to choose. The fact that only three out of the six albums weighs a bit with me. But these are the five songs I love more than the others.

Delia’s Gone was released as a single. The 1993 version updated a version that Cash had recorded back in 1962. The original was Cash with a band and is atypical of the sound that made him so popular in the first place. The update was audacious as it was just Cash and his guitar – as indeed was all of the 1993 LP – and as an opening track it made you just sit up and take notice.

By the time Unchained, the second of the series, was released in 1995, there were a number of collaborators and a backing band. By 2000 and American III : Solitary Man, there were all sorts of folk wanting to pay homage by sharing the vocals. And nobody did it better than Will Oldham whose stunning record of its own that was just over a year old was turned into an all-time classic. I dare anyone to listen to I See A Darkness and not hold back the tears….

The other song taken from the 2000 LP is a U2 cover. I know not everyone who visits TVV is a fan of Bono & co, but even if they are an act that you detest with a passion, I urge you to listen to Cash’s cover of One and hear how he makes it his very own.

American IV : When The Man Comes Around is in parts the very best of the entire series but in other parts contains some of the most disappointing covers – I just can’t bring myself to listen to his take on Danny Boy or We’ll Meet Again. However, the opening two songs on this LP are among the best things Johnny Cash ever recorded in his entire career.

The title track was a new song. One that Cash freely admits he spent more time on than any other that he ever wrote. He ended up with more than 30 pages of lyrics that he weeded out until the edited and recorded version was ready. For a song so much about death and the end of his world, it is an incredibly upbeat and uplifting, almost spiritual tune.

Then there’s his take on Hurt. The original by Nine Inch Nails has long had folk arguing what exactly it is all about, with self-mutilation, drug abuse and self-loathing being among the suggestions. The Cash version, helped by an astonishing promo video, left you in doubt that this was a man recording his own highly moving epitaph:-



The following is a repost from the old place.  It originally appeared on 16 December 2008 and received a number of lovely comments.  I thought it was worthy of a cut’n’paste


With a career that lasted well over 40 years, Johnny Cash attracted millions of fans the world over, many of whom stayed with him through thick and thin – particularly in the late 70s and 80s when his recordings were infrequent and sold poorly.

It is of course no secret the Man In Black enjoyed enormous critical acclaim and re-assessment in the last few years of his life, as well as finding a whole new audience and set of fans, thanks to the series of LPs he recorded between 1994 and 2003 with Rick Rubin, someone whose initial burst with fame came courtesy of the Beastie Boys.

The merits of these LPs have split hardcore fans – there are some who think they’re an abomination made up largely of glorified karaoke, while there are others who rate some of the songs, and in particular the interpretations of the covers, as among Cash’s best.

It’s actually a difficult one to reach a definitive conclusion, partly because the advancement of recording and production techniques make the Rubin recordings completely different from anything else that Johnny Cash ever did. And it’s also clear that his voice wasn’t nearly the weapon it used to be – but then again, once any singer goes over the age of 40 or 50 they will never be able to hit the notes they could when they were in the 20s or 30s – for instance, ask Morrissey to try and sing the falsetto on Miserable Lie from The Smiths debut LP and I bet he’ll fail miserably so to speak….

I reckon Rick Rubin took a big risk when he initially partnered up with Johnny Cash, as no-one knew just how well the CD-buying public would react, and all too often stars of days of old come back and give us total turkeys. What we got over those last few years were a series of albums with a great deal of magical moments, but which also had some stuff that was dull and stodgy.

However, what it did do was create a new appreciation of the talents of Johnny Cash, and I’m guessing that almost everyone who bought one of the Rubin records would have at some point later and picked up one of the many compilation CDs released over the years that feature those mono-recordings with The Tennessee Three, not to mention the songs recorded live during concerts in infamous jailhouses.

The final LP released before Cash’s death was The Man Comes Around. By this time, illness had ravaged the singer’s body and his voice was not in great shape. There’s a lot of painful listening over the 16 tracks, and I think Rubin recognises this as evidenced by the inclusion of supporting and backing vocalists such as Nick Cave, Don Henley and Fiona Apple.

Nevertheless, the opening track after which the LP is named, is a truly astonishing bit of work. It is one of the last songs ever written by Cash. It has a hugely complicated lyric that weaves all sorts of biblical quotes into an incredibly catchy tune that is part-country, part-folk, part spiritual and part-rock. It’s a song written and sung by a man who knew he was dying and it is clearly an effort to leave one last might of memorable music behind amidst a tremendous legacy. In the accompanying sleevenotes, the great man admits “I spent more time on this song than any I ever wrote. “

mp3 : Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around

It’s an LP best known for the cover of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt, thanks to an unforgettable video that featured very heavily on the worldwide variations of both MTV and MTV2. The success of the video helped it to reach sales of more than 500,000 copies meaning for the first time in more than 30 years Johnny Cash qualified for a gold disc, an astonishing feat for someone who not too long beforehand would have struggled to get 1% of that amount of sales.

And while I’m rabbiting in this incoherent fashion, I think it’s a good time to share one of my favourite Cash recordings, a duet with Joe Strummer, covering a Bob Marley song:-

mp3 : Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer – Redemption Song

Happy Listening.



johnny_cash_-_johnny_cash_greatest_hitsFrom April 2007:-

There’s loads been written about The Man In Black, including a waft of biographies, some better than others. There’s even been an Oscar-winning movie about part of his life. So I don’t really need to go into too much detail.

Johnny Cash lived from 1932 until 2003. His recording career had many ups and downs over the best part of half-a-century, and it’s estimated he sold in excess of 50 million albums. He was something of a pioneer – being one of the first artists to break down barriers between country music and pop music, dressing like a goth (sans white-face make-up tho’) decades before the genre was invented and patenting the fast-living, carefree drink and drugs lifestyle that other such as Keith Richards have since blazed. He was as well known and as popular by the time of his death as he was at the peak of his career some 30 years previously.

He made films and had his own networked TV show. He recorded songs with hundreds of other artists and was part of a touring ‘supergroup’.

In short, he did everything you could imagine in the life and times of a successful and charismatic musician.

I grew up with the sounds of Johnny Cash in the 60s and early 70s, sometimes in my own house, but most often when I visited and stayed over with an aunt and uncle who seemed to have all his records. In saying that, there was no way in my sultry teenage era, nor during my time at university when I thought I was cool and trendy, could I admit to having a love of any sort of country music far less having an idol in Johnny Cash. But as more and more hip bands began to include acoustic songs on their albums, it began to be easier to suggest country/blues influences without getting laughed at.

And then in the 1990s, thanks in the main to Rick Rubin and Def Jam Recordings, (but also to U2 who had performed a duet with him) Johnny Cash became fashionable again. His series of American Recording LPs, which featured a mix of Cash originals and cover versions, brought him to a whole new audience, with appearances at Glastonbury on MTV much in evidence.

I recently picked up my first ever Johnny Cash vinyl record of my own via an e-bay bargain……the 1967 CBS issue of Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits Volume 1. And from that, here’s a couple of tracks……..

mp3 : Johnny Cash – Orange Blossom Special
mp3 : Johnny Cash – Don’t Take Your Guns To Town

And from the tail-end of his career, here’s a couple of duets

mp3 : Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer – Redemption Song
mp3 : Johnny Cash & Nick Cave – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

And a couple of songs that namecheck the great man:-

mp3 : Sons & Daughters – Johnny Cash (live)
mp3 : Alabama 3 – Hello, I’m Johnny Cash

Finally, if you want to hear how good a job was done by the main players in the movie Walk The Line, have a listen to these two tracks:-

mp3 : Johnny Cash & June Carter – Jackson
mp3 : Joaquin Phoenix & Reese Witherspoon – Jackson




One of my favourite folk out there in cyberspace is The Robster.

This time last year he decided to start-up a blog called Is This The Life? which aimed to tell how music has had an influence on his entire life, warts and all.  He wasn’t going to kid anyone on that he’s always had a really cool taste in music which he demonstrated with one of his very first postings as he professed an undying love for The Bay City Rollers, The Rubettes and The Womblesclick here to see for yourself.

The Robster made a great observation about how everyone’s story begins with their mum and dad as that’s where a love for music is nurtured.  My mum celebrates her 76th birthday today and come September my dad will hit the grand old age of 80.  They have always loved music and to this day they head out to Glasgow city centre every weekend to pubs where live singing from the drinkers is encouraged and welcomed, accompanied by someone on either keyboards or an acoustic guitar.  That’s my mum pictured above back in June 2013 belting out something on the floor of one of those city centre pubs….it was the day that The Stone Roses played a huge outdoor gig in the city and the pub had a fair few of their following drinking the place dry….to be fair to them, they joined in the fun with the old folk who were the regulars and applauded their efforts on the mic (and I still think my mum is a better singer than Ian Brown).

I appreciate just how lucky I was to have parents who liked and appreciated music but thinking about it they were equally as lucky to have been raised in homes and in environments where music and singing were a huge part of their upbringing.  I can vouch for this as probably my very earliest memory of music goes back to when I was certainly no more than 5 or 6 years of age and it concerns a huge cupboard that had pride of place in my gran’s house – the sort of thing that sits at the top of this blog.

While there was a record player behind one of its doors, the thing that fascinated me most was what lay behind the other door, the main attraction of which was this huge round dial that could turn so far in one direction before you twisted it back in the opposite direction until it could go no further.  All the while a thin red line would go across a screen in the direction that you were turning the dial and it passed all sorts of words that made little or no sense And all this effort produced eerie and strange noises that sounded as if they belonged on the set of Dr Who.

Being a curious sort of kid, I asked what all the words meant and what some of them said to be told that they were cities from all over the world and the when the red line hit that word, what I was hearing was songs and talking from a radio station in that city.

Turns out that I wasn’t the only kid fascinated by such a thing :-

mp3 : Martin Stephenson & The Daintees – Sunday Halo

Incidentally, the vocalist announcing all the places on the dial with the ‘Berlin, Munich, Brussels, Bonn etc’ refrain is Cathal Coughlan whose band The Fatima Mansions are responsible for Blues For Ceaucescu which is one of my favourite songs of all time.  But I digress…………

To this day, I’m not sure if it was the sounds that came out of the cabinet or the fact that I was allowed to play with the dial as I would with a toy that led to me establishing a love for music.  But I think it speaks volumes that while I can barely recall all that many details about things in my life from the best part of 50 years ago  – for instance I have no recollection at all about my first day at school or certain Xmas Days when I was lucky enough to get the present I had always wanted – I can still picture the radiogramme and smile at the memory of the strange sounds I could get it to make as I played with the dial.

My parents never owned anything quite as grand as a radiogramme, but we always seemed to have the very latest and best radio to go alongside what was a modest sized record player.  Thinking back,the first houses I lived in were probably too small to have anything else.

At the age of 9, my family moved to a new house which was slightly bigger than where we had been before in as much that it had a decent sized living room.  I think it was about a year later when my parents had saved up enough to buy a new record player with wall mounted speakers and it was genuinely fascinating for all us to listen to the stereo effect as the music glided across the wall above the fireplace as if by magic.

The other great thing about this was that they passed down their old Dansette record player which meant I could play my music in my room (shared with two younger brothers) as and when I wanted.  By now I had been getting Record Tokens for birthdays and for Xmas and I was buying singles by the likes of Gary Glitter, The Sweet, David Essex, Alvin Stardust and The Average White Band – yup, Pick Up The Pieces was one of the first records I ever bought!!

But of course I was still exposed to the music my folks were listening to at the time, particularly my dad. His was, of course. music for grown-ups that was never played by Tony Blackburn on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show nor would you ever hear any of his favourite music by the likes of Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney & Wings or Supertramp on Top of The Pops. Mind you, he also loved Status Quo, and they seemed to be on every week.

Such was my continued exposure to these acts that I knew all the words to my mum and dad’s favourite songs. And its a frightening fact that I still do so many years later – but I’m not complaining as it has given me a wonderful grounding to be able to turn to any Neil Diamond song of old when it’s my turn at the karaoke….

Like all teenagers, I ended up rebelling against my parents tastes.  From about the age of 14 till I was 30 years of age I had a knee jerk reaction that said ‘anything my folks had liked was simply awful and unlistenable.  And then, out of the blue, I decided to start listening to Johnny Cash, mainly as Billy Bragg had been name-checking him as a huge influence.  It wasn’t too long before I acknowledged my attitude to my parents music was, for a substantial part completely wrong, and that I in fact had a huge hole in my own now bulging record collection.

So I want to use today to say a big thank you to my mum and dad for encouraging me to enjoy music as I was growing up.  Here’s a couple of songs that I know they are fond of that I am now the proud owner of:-

mp3 : Johnny Cash – One Piece At A Time
mp3 : Neil Diamond – I Am I Said

And here’s one of my mum’s all time favourite singers:-

mp3 : Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down (live)


And as I said…..happy birthday mum (not that she reads this nonsense!!!!!)