Even those who don’t listen to country music are familiar with Johnny Cash because he is such a well-known figure in the genre. He performed hundreds of songs over many years and was a part of more than 60 different albums.
He was frequently regarded as a rebel, and some even attribute to him the beginning of the outlaw trend in country music. Whatever the reason, his music became so well-liked that it was used in a variety of popular cultures.
You could even argue that his songs have evolved beyond the genres for which they were initially written. If you haven’t heard any of Johnny Cash’s music before, you might want to go through 10 of his best albums. Below, they are listed in order of worst to finest, along with a link to each. Enjoy your listening.
1. At Folsom Prison (1968)
Without a doubt, Cash performed in numerous prisons. But there are many reasons why this record is unique. Several of the songs picked for that particular event were ones that Cash didn’t frequently perform at some of his more subdued venues, which may have had something to do with it in part.
Other songs are classics by Johnny Cash, which he performed again. This album’s live concert recording may be what truly sets it apart from other albums.
Between songs, Cash always spoke to the crowd, and it was all captured on tape. As a result, it is one of the few albums where you can hear him not only singing but also making a genuine connection with the listeners, which is rare these days.
2. American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010)
American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash’s final album, “American VI: Ain’t No Grave,” was published in 2010. The album, which Rick Rubin produced, was created in the final months of Johnny Cash’s life, just before his passing in September 2003.
Both original songs written by Cash and covers of songs by musicians like Tom Paxton, Sheryl Crow, and Kris Kristofferson are included on the CD.
“Ain’t No Grave,” the album’s lead single, is a traditional gospel song that Cash had recorded in 2003, only a few months before he passed away. It was well-received by critics and is regarded as one of Cash’s best albums.
3. American V: A Hundred Highways (2006)
American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash’s posthumously published CD, “American V: A Hundred Highways,” was made available in 2006. The album was created under Rick Rubin’s direction and finished just before Johnny Cash passed away in September 2003.
The album includes songs that Cash recorded in his final years, including his original songs as well as covers of songs by musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Hank Williams.
In the song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” Cash’s late wife June Carter Cash performs a duet with him. The album was a commercial and critical triumph, peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
4. American II: Unchained (1996)
The second album in Johnny Cash’s American Recordings collection, “American II: Unchained,” was published in 1996. The album was created by Rick Rubin and includes Cash’s compositions as well as renditions of songs by bands including Tom Petty, Soundgarden, and Beck.
Marty Stuart and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers both make cameo appearances on the album. The name of the album alludes to Cash’s choice to “unchain” himself from his conventional country sound and adopt a more modern one. The album was a commercial and critical success, and in 1998 Cash won a Grammy for Best Country Album.
5. The Fabulous Johnny Cash (1958)
The third studio album by American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, “The Fabulous Johnny Cash,” was released in 1958. Don Law and Frank Jones produced the Columbia Records album, which was released.
Along with Cash’s original compositions, the album also includes covers of songs by musicians like Jimmy Davis and Jimmie Rodgers.
Along with other popular songs, the album features Johnny Cash’s crossover smash “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” which peaked at No. 1 on the country charts and No. 32 on the mainstream charts. The album was well-received by critics and contributed to Cash’s rise to stardom in the country music world.
6. American Recordings (1994)
American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash’s “American Recordings” is the first album in the American Recordings series, and it was released in 1994. With its simple acoustic arrangements and emphasis on Cash’s voice and storytelling, the album, which was produced by Rick Rubin, marked a change from Cash’s earlier sound.
Along with Cash’s original songs, the album includes renditions of tunes by musicians including Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and Nick Lowe.
The record was a commercial and critical triumph, giving Cash a new group of supporters and reviving his career. The album’s cover image, which showed Cash in a stark black-and-white portrait while fixing his gaze attentively on the lens, was equally noteworthy.
7. At San Quentin (1969)
The live CD “At San Quentin” by American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash was captured during his 1969 performance in the San Quentin State Prison in California. Produced by Bob Johnston, the record was made available via Columbia Records.
There are both original songs by Cash and covers of songs by other musicians on the CD, including the song “San Quentin,” which Cash wrote especially for the occasion.
The raw intensity of the CD and the interaction between Cash and the prison audience—who can be heard clapping and cheering throughout the recording—are what make it special. A commercial success, the album peaked at No. 1 on the country charts and No. 2 on the pop charts.
After experiencing some personal and professional setbacks, it is regarded as one of Cash’s most famous and significant works and is responsible for helping to restore his reputation.
8. American III: Solitary Man (2000)
The third album in Johnny Cash’s American Recordings collection, “American III: Solitary Man,” was published in 2000. The album was created by Rick Rubin and includes Cash’s compositions as well as interpretations of songs by artists including U2, Neil Diamond, and Tom Petty.
The album’s title track, a version of “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond, was made available as a single and somewhat successful. On the song “I’m Leavin’ Now,” Merle Haggard performs a duet with her.
The album was a commercial and critical triumph, and for the song “Solitary Man,” Cash won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
9. Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar (1957)
American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash’s first studio album, “Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar,” was published by Sun Records in 1957.
I Walk the Line, which peaked at No. 1 on the country charts and enjoyed crossover success on the pop charts, is among the original songs written by Cash that are included on the album, which was produced by Sam Phillips.
The album is famous for Cash’s distinctive baritone voice as well as its blend of country, rockabilly, and blues influences. The record was a financial and critical triumph, making Cash a rising celebrity in the country music industry and setting the groundwork for his long and prosperous career.
10. American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)
American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash’s fourth album in the American Recordings series, “American IV: The Man Comes Around,” was published in 2002. The album was created by Rick Rubin and includes Cash’s original songs as well as renditions of songs by Nine Inch Nails, Sting, and The Beatles.
The album’s title track, a rendition of the Johnny Cash original, proved popular and won praise from critics for its ominous lyrics and Cash’s eerie vocals. The song “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a duet with Fiona Apple is also included on the CD.
Cash won a Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video for the song “Hurt,” which has a strong and moving music video that quickly became a classic.
The album was a financial success and was well-lauded by reviewers. The album is remarkable for being one of Cash’s final and most moving creations and for being published just before his passing in 2003.