10 ridiculously underrated songs by Johnny Cash

These songs should be in heavy rotation on your playlist.

Hulton Archive/GettyImages
facebooktwitterreddit
Prev
3 of 6
Next

“25 MINUTES TO GO” (1965/68)

Johnny Cash wasn’t the first singer to perform songs about the incarcerated. There is a long tradition of condemned-man songs in American folk music. So when he recorded Shel Silverstein’s “25 Minutes to Go” – about a man awaiting his execution – on his 1965 album Johnny Cash Sings Ballads of the True West it wasn’t exactly extraordinary. But when he recorded it again, three years later on his live At Folsom Prison album – well, that’s a different story.

That album is still underappreciated in the greater social context of how art functions in a society. In 1968, nobody but Johnny Cash was going to walk into a prison and give the inmates a first-rate show. in 2024, no one is doing it. He opened that album with his famous early song “Folsom Prison Blues,” and then peppered in several more prison-themed songs along with other hits. The live version of “25 Minutes to Go,” with Johnny responding to the crowd, is an amazing thing to hear. He is angry and funny and desperate in under three minutes.

“BLISTERED” (1969)

“Blistered” was the first single released from Johnny’s 1970 album Hello, I’m Johnny Cash, possibly his greatest studio album. He was fully in synch with his new wife June Carter and her famous country music family. He had Carl Perkins and Norman Blake accompanying him. And he had a fabulous raft of songs. His lovely duet with June “If I Were a Carpenter” was the biggest hit, but the entire album is outstanding.

“Blistered” was written by Billy Edd Wheeler, who had penned Johnny and June’s earlier hit “Jackson,” It showcases the side of Johnny that reveled in earthly desires. One of the great dichotomies at play in Johnny Cash’s repertoire is the conflict between spirit and flesh. He spells out what this song is about with his opening lines – “I got great big blisters on my bloodshot eyes from looking at the long-legged woman up ahead.”