Friday, July 05, 2013

Cash Top Ten

It being the first Friday of the month, this week's music post goes to another countdown. Today's artist is Johnny Cash. I know I said last month that I would try to move forward through music I listened to, roughly in order - Cash doesn't quite fit that. I knew about Johnny Cash all my life, but started to really love him only later about the end of college. He's going here for a couple reasons though - first, on the 4th of July weekend, you need something American, and there are few things more American than Johnny Cash. Second - because, like the Beatles, I did listen to him all my life. And third, because of my mother. For whatever it is worth - Cash is the one real link in popular music between me and my parents' generation. This is something that has changed, I think, since the 70s. Us kids born in the 60s did not listen to the same music our parents did. Not as kids, anyway. Most of us, I imagine, at some point picked up on things our parents liked - whether that was classical or jazz or country or folk or old pop songs, whatever they listened to - but we did not listen to it growing up, and our parents did not listen to what we listened to.

I've made this speech before. Things are different now. As a kid, I did not know anyone's parents who listened to anything newer than Elvis - nor did I know any kids who listened to pop music from before Elvis. Now - I know plenty of kids who listen to Elvis and Frank Sinatra and the Beatles and The Ramones. Lots of adults who will listen to new music, stuff their kids like. That's all new... Except for country. Everyone listened to that (everyone I knew). We all watched Hee Haw; we all listened to country radio; and almost every family had a bunch of Johnny Cash records around. Some people, like my mother, only got the gospel records - others got everything - either way. We all listened to it; we all liked it.

Now as it happened, in the 70s, going through adolescence, discovering music I liked, for myself - I turned away from Johnny Cash. Some of my cousins were big country fans - I remember going up to visit summers, and preaching the wonders of Kiss and Styx, and converting them, lock stock and barrel, to cheesy metal and cheesy sorta-prog. And then, as I moved on (as I saw it) to Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, being horrified that they were still Kiss and Styx fans, a couple years later. One trembles looking back at the folly of one's youth. But getting back to Cash - he was sort of forgotten in the late 70s, early 80s - something grown ups listened to (at least in the places I grew up); someone who put out a gospel record every now and then that all the church goers might buy. But nothing there for me.

That was never likely to last. Once in a while you'd hear one of those old songs, and who could help liking them? or he'd record something new - a bunch of Springsteen songs, and a more than credible version of them. I suppose, for the public, he came back for real when he teamed up with Rick Rubin - for me, it was in the wake of the Springsteen album (Johnny 99). I paid attention to him - got a greatest hits album and remembered it all, and never stopped. When he did team up with Rubin, he puts out a string of fine records, with real bands or stripped down arrangements - it was the same thing he did in the 60s. And his past came back - the days when he was rockabilly; the days he worked with Dylan; the days (those live prison records, particularly), when he had a tight, rocking band behind him, and could negotiate everything from the coldest murder songs to the sweetest gospel. He still could do that stuff, and once he got back to doing it without a lot of fluff, he picked up where he had always been.

And so: probably the one pop musician my mother liked as much as I do, the chronicler of the nation, a man who knew thousands of songs and could make any of them sound like he wrote it about himself, and one of the Great Voices, Johnny Cash:

1. Folsom Prison Blues
2. I Walk the Line
3. If I Were a Carpenter
4. Ring of Fire
5. San Quentin
6. Five Feet High and Rising
7. Tennessee Stud
8. The Long Black Veil - that chuckle on the live version...
9. Jackson
10. Get Rhythm

Only 10 songs? well, that is the pain I have given myself. Video?

Ring of Fire:

Walk the Line:

And with June, singing Jackson:

And finally, because I grew up listening to it - Daddy Sang Bass:

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