Johnny Cash is such a big name in country music that even people who don’t listen to that particular genre of music know who he is. Over the course of many decades, he sang hundreds of songs and contributed to more than 60 different albums. He was often considered a rebel, and some even credit him with being the person who started the outlaw movement in country music. Whatever the case may be, his music became so popular that he has had his songs featured in all kinds of popular culture. You might even say that his songs have transcended the genre they were originally intended for. If you’re not yet familiar with Johnny Cash’s music, you might consider taking a look through 10 of his best albums. They’re ranked below from worst to best, complete with a link to each one. Happy listening.
10. American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)
There are some old school country albums that talk a lot about the fire and brimstone type of religion and Cash uses that here with a genuine power that forces the audience to pay attention. In some cases, it’s so powerful that it even becomes uncomfortable. It’s definitely an album that makes you think. Regardless of where you stand on the subject of spiritual matters, you’re probably going to reevaluate some of your life choices after you listen to this album, to say the least.
9. Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar (1957)
This album is a mixture of several different types of songs, including gospel and traditional country and western. It includes a lot of the songs that Cash had become so well-known for up until that time, songs like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Cry, Cry, Cry.”
8. American III: Solitary Man (2000)
The songs that were made popular by Johnny Cash were not the types of songs that everyone wants to listen to. There wasn’t a lot of optimism involved with them, not by a long shot. As a matter of fact, Cash had a tendency to sing a lot of sad songs that made it seem like his best days were long past him and he didn’t have much to look forward to. He never sounded more like that than he did on this album. If you’re already a Johnny Cash fan, you’re probably going to love it because you’ve become accustomed to him singing those types of songs. If you’re new to his music, this may or may not be the best first choice for you, depending on your own outlook and the type of music that you like to listen to on a regular basis. Nevertheless, it is a solid album and it deserves a place on this list.
7. At San Quentin (1969)
This was another album that was recorded live and it really tells it like it is when it comes to the prison system in the United States. As such, the inmates at San Quentin absolutely loved it. There’s even an encore on the album that proves how much they enjoyed listening to his music. He seems to have a few songs that are a bit more upbeat here, along with some of his staples. Of course, he’s got a gospel song or two included. If you’re looking for an album that gives you a good all-around experience about Johnny Cash and his music, this is a good place to start.
6. American Recordings (1994)
This is an album that has something for everybody. There are many different moods on this album. In some songs, Cash is more hopeful and in others, he is inconsolable. From time to time, he decides to be funny and chooses a song like “A Boy Named Sue.” At other times, he simply couldn’t be more serious. Johnny Cash was never someone that chose to fit inside a box and this album is proof of that.
5. The Fabulous Johnny Cash (1958)
There are a few religious songs here as well as plenty of country music. In one song, Cash sings of a lonely cowboy who has never seemingly believed in much, yet turns to the Lord when he feels like all hope is lost. In another song, he talks of missing someone dearly who has passed away. The song easily fits any type of situation and any person who has ever lost someone they love can identify with it.
4. American II: Unchained (1996)
This is an album that many people consider to be almost something of a spiritual revolution led by Johnny Cash himself. One of the tracks included is entitled “Meet Me in Heaven.” Some of the songs on the album are genuinely fun, others make you think and still others will make you cry.
3. American V: A Hundred Highways (2006)
It might seem hard to believe, but all of the songs on this album are covers. Cash does such a good job with them that most people who didn’t know better would think that they were his songs. Speaking of covers, he’s not exactly covering the songs of relative unknowns, either. Instead, he goes for such heavy hitters as Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Springsteen.
2. American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010)
This album was actually released after Cash passed away. As such, there is some new material that simply hadn’t been placed on an album before. However, many of the songs are re-releases of material that had been on previous albums, perhaps with a little tweaking of the sound here and there.
1. At Folsom Prison (1968)
There’s no doubt about it, Cash sang at a lot of prisons. However, this album is special for a lot of reasons. Part of it has to do with the songs that were chosen for that particular concert, many of them songs that Cash didn’t routinely sing at some of his tamer venues. Other songs are Johnny Cash classics that he sang each and every time. Perhaps the thing that genuinely makes this album special is that it was recorded live during the concert. Cash always had a habit of talking to the audience in between songs and all of that was recorded. It makes it one of the very few albums where you can hear him not only singing, but genuinely connecting with the audience in a way that relatively few people do these days.