Johnny Cash: 15 great rock covers in his hands

Johnny Cash, fundamental name in the history of rock, country and, why not say it, popular culture, passed away exactly 19 years ago. Her focus on the outcasts, outlaws and disgraced made her her own and managed to accommodate a perspective that had both lights and shadows.

Around here we also said that the «man in black» was a great arranger. Song that he covered, ceased to belong to its author. And is not for less. Johnny Cash applied a level of emotion that is very difficult to register.

In Future, we rescued 10 great covers of rock in the hands of Johnny Cash…

HURT (Nine Inch Nails)

The best-known cover of the Johnny Cash deed, and recognized by MTV for its haunting music video, “Hurt” has become synonymous with the last days of the country legend who left us in September 2003. Fragile, with the sunken, trembling eyes in the clip, those same tremors felt in his vocal delivery. It is the sound of resignation.


Included in “American Recordings”, the first album in the saga with which he put an end to his career, Johnny Cash rescues the darkness of the original version of the Glen Danzig band and turns it into a prayer from beyond the grave, expanding its meaning .

RUSTY CAGE (Soundgarden)

Over the years, Johnny Cash was at his best when he was angry. This cover of the 1992 Soundgarden single fits the bill above. Featured on 1996’s “American II: Unchained,” Cash broke free and seemed to be singing directly to the country’s top record executives who had written him off and consigned him to oblivion. When the tone changes midway through the song, with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers as the backing band, you can feel the pounding of his fists on your chest.

ONE (U2)

Johnny Cash added unsurpassed density to the U2 classic when he covered it for 2000’s “American III: Solitary Man.” An understated acoustic arrangement, Cash’s version finds him speaking, singing the lyrics, infusing those words with a vibe that Bono could never achieve. The phrase “did I disappoint you or leave a bad taste in your mouth?” can break your heart.

IN MY LIFE (The Beatles)

It had been 37 years between the release of the Beatles’ “In My Life” in 1965 and the Johnny Cash cover released in 2002. The entire “American IV: The Man Comes Around” album feels stripped and scarred, wrought with raw emotion. . This throwback song means so much more when sung from Cash’s point of reflection.

STAFF JESUS ​​(Depeche Mode)

It’s safe to say that Johnny Cash saved the best for last, as this is another song from “American IV: The Man Comes Around,” the last album released before his death in 2003. Much sadder than the original version of Depeche Mode from 1989, Cash’s prayer here is masterfully backed by the guitars of John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Mike Campbell (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers).


Marley summoned Jah with this acoustic sentence, but Cash called Joe… Joe Strummer from The Clash. Together, the two icons of their respective genres joined vocals in one of the most unexpected duets, and until the release of 2003’s “Unearthed” box set, the unprecedented of their careers.

JOHNNY 99 (Bruce Springsteen)

Not only did Cash record this lament of Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” he named an entire album after the song in 1983, just a year after the Boss released it himself. In Cash’s hands, it’s more of a rockabilly cut, but the message from a man turned prison inmate is no less tragic.

NO EXPECTATIONS (The Rolling Stones)

The country-tinged ballad of the Rolling Stones it was ironically made less country by Cash. Instead, he revved it up and added a touch of Spanish-tinged bluegrass. Released 10 years after Mick and Keith released it on 1968’s “Beggars Banquet,” Johnny Cash made the song a centerpiece of his 1978 “Gone Girl” album.


Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers served as Johnny Cash’s band for his 1996 “Unchained” album, but this version of the classic Petty’s first solo “Full Moon Fever” did not appear on that LP, but rather on “American III: Solitary Man” from 2000. Still, Tom Petty steps in to harmonize with Cash, who, having battled illness, adds an extra challenge to the song.

IT AIN’T ME BABE (Bob Dylan)

As with other covers he did throughout his career, Cash up-tempoed Bob Dylan’s original. Cash took the theme from the world of folk to honky tonk with the signature bassline. However, as good as Johnny Cash brings to this cover, what really brings it to life is June Carter’s harmony voice.


Johnny Cash covering a Hank Williams song is very close to being the pinnacle of country music. Cash kept the solo sound of the song, but gives it a completely different quality with his deep voice instead of Williams’ high-pitched wail. If you’re ever looking for a sad country song, this should be near the top of your list.


We return to rescue one of «The Man Comes Around», the fourth disc of his «American Reordings», released only 10 months before his death. Each track is covered in a farewell, and if the vibe of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” that we met in 1970 was already ceremonious, the Johnny Cash version will simply break your heart into a thousand pieces, especially with the vocals of Fiona Apple as a guest.

HEART OF GOLD (Neil Young)

The only number one that Neil Young has had in his entire career was one that Johnny Cash recorded with John Frusciante, Flea and Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers in the late 90s, but that we only met in «Unearthed». The “heart of gold” maintains its ease thanks to the band’s springy backs in trio key and Cash’s timeless acoustics above all else.

IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND (Gordon Lightfoot)

This was Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s first US hit in 1971. Johnny Cash’s version was released in July 2006, 35 years after Lightfoot’s, and nearly three years after the “man in black” died. His voice breaks often and his pace quickens almost as if he knows the sand is slipping faster and faster. Another one of high emotions that can catch you badly.

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Johnny Cash: 15 great rock covers in his hands

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