"Folsom Prison Blues"
From At Folsom Prison
How many singers can convincingly sing a line like “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”? Better yet, how many singers can sing the same line to an audience of prisoners and get a rousing ovation? This live version of Folsom Prison Blues recorded at Folsom Prison illustrates everything that made Johnny Cash so great: it’s tough, lean, and oh-so-cool. The drums chug along at a steady beat, the guitar and bass don’t waste any notes, and Cash’s voice is positively electric.
"Ring of Fire"
From Social Distortion
It’s a testament to Cash’s tremendous talent that his impact extends past country music and into rock and roll, as witnessed by this smoking cover of “Ring of Fire” by L.A. punk outfit Social Distortion. Keeping the original’s structure and attitude, the band leaves out the mariachi horns and jacks up the volume and, fittingly enough, distortion. Purists may balk, but may I remind them that Cash himself covered songs by artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails.
"Understand Your Man"
From Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash
Cash’s tendency to break the unwritten rules of country music had a big influence on artists like Dwight Yoakam, who turns in a rollicking version of “Understand Your Man” on this tribute album to the Man in Black. Sounding like he’s having a lot of fun, Yoakam playfully croons his way through Cash’s classic declaration of independence. Perhaps the best compliment I can give this cover is that it would sound great on an old jukebox in a crowded honky-tonk on a Saturday night.