10 ridiculously underrated songs by Johnny Cash

These songs should be in heavy rotation on your playlist.

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“THE TWENTIETH CENTURY IS ALMOST OVER” (1980/1985)

Johnny recorded this John Prine/Steve Goodman song for his 1980 album Rockabilly Blues. It is a great marriage between songwriter and singer. Then, five years later, the supergroup Highwaymen closed out their debut album with the same song, this time largely performed as a duet between Willie Nelson and Johnny. Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson can be heard singing background.

The more famous story about Johnny and John Prine concerns a different cover. One of Prine’s earliest songs, “Sam Stone,” was ideally aligned with Johnny’s concerns. It was about a veteran who is thrown away by society after he returns from war with a drug addiction. In the chorus, Prine wrote the line “Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose,” as a final statement on the hopelessness his title character encountered. Johnny could not sing that line. Prine allowed him to rewrite it, removing the reference to Christ. After all, it was Johnny Cash.

“HIGHWAY PATROLMAN/JOHNNY 99” (1983)

Johnny 99 was an album of covers. Johnny sang songs by Eric Von Schmidt, George Jones, and Guy Clark. And two from Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album Nebraska. Once again, Springsteen’s stark portrait of the guys who got dealt a bad hand is perfectly suited to Johnny’s performance. The title track is a rocking little number about an outlaw and how he got that way, Johnny does it well, but Springsteen’s original is probably a little bit better.

On “Highway Patrolman,” one of Springsteen’s towering songs of sadness and loss, Johnny nails it. So does Bruce. It’s impossible to choose between the two. You can listen to them both and make your own choice. Or don’t bother to choose. Just listen.