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Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)

June 16, 2017

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Exemplary logo by Sarca @ caughtmegaming

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[Album 541/1001]

It’s that 70/30 time of year again for high school students.

For Ontario high school students, 70% of their final grade in a given course is based on their work during the term, 30% is from their final exam/culminating activity.

So naturally, given that exams begin next week, those percentages were on my mind this week while listening to American IV: The Man Comes Around.

As is often the case with albums that I hear for the first time in the car, I didn’t read the tracklist prior to listening.

5 of the songs (or approximately 30% of the album) sounded like they were Johnny Cash originals.

The remainder of the album sounded like his renditions of existing tunes.

Or graphically:

 

Slide1

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What I found surprising was that although those original-sounding tunes only made up 30% of the tracklist, they were the tracks that I really looked forward to on subsequent listens.

I might even venture to say I derived 70% of my overall enthusiasm for the album from those original-sounding tracks.

Or graphically:

 

Slide2

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But as it turns out, of the 5 tracks that I thought were Cash originals, he only wrote 2 of them!

I was correct in thinking that he wrote The Man Comes Around & Give My Love to Rose.

However, I wasn’t quite so correct in thinking he wrote Streets of Laredo (traditional), Sam Hall (Tex Ritter), and I Hung My Head (Sting).220px-AmericanIV

And it turns out he did write Tear Stained Letter, which I had incorrectly lumped in with the suspected covers.

So considering I guessed correctly on the rest of the covers, when it came to my guesswork in the is-the-song-an-original-or-a-cover-game, it looks like I was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 70% correct/30% not so much!

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I suppose I learned four (IV) things with Johnny Cash’s 87th album:

I. Has anyone transitioned as seamlessly between genres as producer Rick Rubin?

II. Although I still prefer the originals, I admire the perspective that Johnny Cash brought as a septuagenarian to The Beatles’ In My Life and Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt

III. If I’m listening to Johnny Cash, even though I like hearing him sing other tunes like Hurt & In My Life, I prefer hearing him sing Johnny Cash tunes.

IV. That being said, if I’m listening to Johnny Cash sing covers, I like it best when he fools me into thinking that they’re his originals!

…..

Verbalize the Positive

Cheers to The Pittsburgh Penguins for winning their 2nd consecutive Stanley Cup.

With the Penguins (finally) done and the end of the school year now in sight, I should be a more productive blogger for the next couple of months!

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From → 2000s

29 Comments
  1. Geoff, this is my favourite of the American albums. Not everyone agrees with me and not everyone has to! I think it’s his most accessible of the American albums, and I think all his interpretations are killer.

    If you ever get a chance, the Unearthed box set has three more discs of originals and covers that didn’t make these albums. All pretty cool stuff. His cover of Redemption Song with Joe Strummer is amazing.

    • That Strummer collaboration sounds promising!
      That’s amazing that with all the recordings he officially released, there’s still so much that didn’t make the cut, so prolific!

      • Man, we have that Unearthed boxed set (it was a gift for my lovely wife). Sooooo much goodness still to go on those extra discs!

      • That’s the best kind of gift to give – the ones you’d like to receive as well!

      • Man, that was agonizing. I found it in Taranna on a trip, in the spring or so, then had to wait til Christmas to gift it to her! Gah!

      • long time running, well worth the wait!

      • Incredible right? There’s some incredible stuff on that box said as others have mentioned! That’s like three endorsements Geoff!

      • I often think of BNL’s ‘box set’ when I hear about such collections (I remember Steven Page acknowledging that by disc 4 in the lyrics, the material was getting thin) – it doesn’t sound like that’s the case with this set at all!

  2. hanspostcard permalink

    I love the Johnny Cash American albums- including the box set which is also excellent. Johnny could turn another persons song into his own.

    • Agreed about his ability to personalize covers – and likely agreed (in advance) about the other American albums being equally loveable!

  3. I loved this whole post. Fun to see how you learned which were covers and which weren’t.

    I loved this whole series of albums, all 6 shoulda been in the book. In fact, I think I did a series on them, scheduled them in advance (one per day), and then went to the beach for a week! Tough life.

    • My thanks Aaron!
      He definitely won me over with volume IV – I won’t hesitate to check out the rest of the series, plus the unearthed.
      Amazing how the quality didn’t seem to dip regardless of the quantity!

      • IV is definitely strong. Yup, you need ’em all.

        There are two versions of the Unearthed: a 4CD set, all the extra stuff. And a 5CD set, 4 CDs of the extra stuff and a 5th disc of “hits” from the whole series.

      • doesn’t sound like there’s a wrong choice there!

      • Nope. I got the 5CD set, but that was just by chance. I saw it in Sonic Boom and, well, Boom… instant purchase.

  4. jprobichaud permalink

    The man in black’s got so much material that it can be daunting but this is actually a really good place to start. He’s a fine songwriter but also one of the best at interpreting the works of others and making them his own. As you infer, it can be difficult to know which are his and which are covers. Great post.

    • Cheers JP – and agreed, with 87+ albums, where to begin? I was introduced to his live albums through Folsom (probably a good starting point) and this is my first studio (I was pleased with it as a starting point too!)

      • jprobichaud permalink

        Ah yes, Folsom is good stuff.

  5. I’m no mathematician but I’m guessing you enjoyed the album 7o%?

  6. There are few who could / can interpret a song like Cash and I have often considered his the last word on certain songs. Hurt is likely the reason this is on the 1001, huh? I think he lends it a gravity that the original lacked. Not that the subject was light, but it’s stripped of the angst and self-loathing and Cash really turns it into something way deeper. It would have been a completely different track if he’d recorded it earlier in his American run. And the video? Still moves me.

    Anyhoo, it’s a great album, though I think Cash has recorded better and more important albums (I’m fairly stunned that Bitter Tears doesn’t appear here). I’d even say the first three American albums are stronger, but I get why this is there.

    If you don’t have them, definitely seek out the three that came before this and the box. I think the last two have great high points, but they’re not quite as strong overall.

    Anyhoo, a great read and I should add that the title track is one of Cash’s top 5 songs (there’s an early version that appears on the box).

    • Great comments J!
      I imagine Hurt in particular was the main reason this was given the nod over the other American recordings. I believe it may have also been the last released during his lifetime? That would probably be a factor too.
      Absolutely about Cash changing the tone of a cover – I found that with in My Life as well. It takes on a whole different meaning when it’s a 70-year old (with 5 decades of experience in the business!) looking back on the places he remembers.
      I’m keen to read a post someday J where you reveal the rest of your Top 5 Cash tunes – the man comes around would also be in mine!

      • Yeah, I thought that would be the case. Still, in gonna be controversial and suggest it’s not as deserving as some other Cash albums.

        Perhaps I’ll get to a few Cash related posts. Top 5 songs and albums deserving of American IV’s spot in the 1001!

  7. Having an expert storyteller of country folk tradition with that killer voice, rare sensitivity (and life experience of course, at that point, in the 2000s) sing all these songs from various artists is a stroke of genius on Rubin’s part, that is, if his master plan was to build bridges between music genres by putting lyrics and core melodies upfront.

  8. Great choice for the list. What I found interesting about the “America” albums was that alternative rock stations (at least out here in CA) played them and turned many of the younger generation people on to Johnny. A alternative rock station is were I first heard “Hurt” and “I Hung my Head”, this got me to buy a couple of the albums and enjoy the rest of the music.

    • I think that was the same in Ontario – it was definitely not cool to like country when I was in high school, Johnny Cash became the exception to that rule!

      • People have asked me whats on my playlists and I say everything but rap and country music. Then they question Johnny and the answer is “he’s not country he’s Johnny Cash”.

      • He definitely is Johnny Cash!

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