10 ridiculously underrated songs by Johnny Cash

These songs should be in heavy rotation on your playlist.
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I want to make one thing clear right off the bat. This is by no means a definitive list of underrated Johnny Cash songs. Johnny Cash recorded more songs than there are ants on a Tennessee ant hill. (That’s a John Sebastian lyric – but it’s OK because Johnny covered a John Sebastian song. It’s a great duet with his wife June Carter Cash called “Darling Companion,” from his Live in Denmark album. But I digress.)

The point is that Johnny Cash wrote about a million songs, and covered about twice that many by artists he admired. He left an extraordinary collection of material, some of which was still being discovered long after his death. He began as a country/rockabilly singer but eventually found his way to virtually every genre of music there is, from gospel to reggae, bluegrass to punk.

If the song had a beat he liked and a lyric he could get excited about, Johnny Cash recorded it. No one ever said “no” when Johnny asked permission, at least not toward the end. Nick Cave, who will be showing up in a few moments, said it best: “It doesn’t matter what anyone says. Johnny Cash recorded my song.”

Johnny Cash songs that are extremely underrated

It didn’t matter the genre. When Johnny Cash sang a song, he made it a Johnny Cash song. Now that doesn’t mean they were always great recordings. Johnny had a very long career and he was subject to highs and lows, like any artist. There is some painful pop in the 1980s, complete with de rigueur synthesizers. Synth and Johnny – not the best match. But so much of what he did was transcendent. From rollicking R&B to deeply profound meditations on eternity, Johnny could sing about man’s highest ideals and basest desires, and make them both immediate.

Most of all, Johnny Cash had a deep and abiding concern for his fellow man – first made apparent in his ground-breaking live Prison albums – which would run through virtually every song he sang. He seemingly recorded with everybody. He was, and continues to be, an inspiration to generations of musicians. So I wouldn’t dare bill these as his greatest “underrated” songs. Tomorrow, I might have a totally different list. I only know that these are ten really good songs that represent a wide swath of a limitless career. If you don’t already know some of them, you might like giving them a listen.

“TRAIN OF LOVE” (1956)

Johnny Cash began his recording career for Sam Phillips at Sun Records in 1955. He was backed by the Tennessee Two – Luther Perkins on guitar and Marshall Grant on bass. They were a hit on the country charts from the very beginning, with the double-sided “I Walk the Line” and “Get Rhythm” climbing to number one in early 1956. They were followed in the top spot by “There You Go.”

The next single, initially the B-side of “There You Go,” didn’t fare quite as well, only making it to number seven. But that song, “Train of Love,” is just as representative of Cash’s early talent. Perkins' thumping guitar (more on that soon) set the unmistakable rhythm that became a hallmark of Cash’s early hits. It was very well suited to the train metaphors that Johnny loved so much because it did sound like a train. A lot of Johnny’s early love songs dealt with betrayal. Here, Johnny is waiting with other eager lovers for the train of love to arrive – “but everybody’s baby but mine’s coming home.”