10 ridiculously underrated songs by Johnny Cash

These songs should be in heavy rotation on your playlist.

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“TO BEAT THE DEVIL” (1969)

I tried to limit myself to just one song per album on this list, but Hello, I’m Johnny Cash is too good. It gets two. "To Beat the Devil" was written by Kris Kristofferson, whose song “Sunday Morning Coming Down” would be a big hit for Johnny the following year.

“To Beat the Devil” is a talking story song about a down-on-his-luck singer who is starving and desperate. He meets an old man in a bar, the same way Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads, and a young boy named Johnny met him out fiddling one day. It’s obviously a great theme. You can hear similar territory being covered as recently as Benjy Davis and Ashley McBryde’s beautiful “Gospel Night at the Strip Club” from 2022.

“NO EXPECTATIONS” (1978)

Johnny was not immune from the excesses of overproduction that plagued a lot of country music and reached its zenith in the early ‘70s. The drowning out of songs and voices in an abundance of synths and strings and choirs helped create the outlaw movement that would help rescue the entire genre. But by the end of the decade, Johnny seemed to course correct with a couple of strong albums. “No Expectations” is from Gone Girl, and it revealed yet another side of Johnny Cash.

Johnny had covered some rock and roll before, but this was the Stones. Mick and Keith had written it for their 1968 album Beggars Banquet. The Stones slowed it down and did it as one of their country songs. Johnny sped it up and did it as a rock song. It’s fun to listen to both and choose which you like better. For me, it’s Johnny’s version.