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Johnny Cash's Top 10 Songwriters

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Johnny Cash had a talent that not all artists possess.  Not only was he talented songwriter (he wrote or co-wrote over 200 songs) but he was also great at taking a song and making it his own.  In this endeavor, Cash was able to defy any genre of music.  He covered The Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations” and Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” with ease—and he had been singing songs that surprised audiences for years.

 

Johnny Cash, in his 1997 autobiography, credited Rodney Crowell, John Prine, Steve Goodman and Guy Clark as songwriters who inspire him to write.  Of the above mentioned writers, however, Cash only covered Rodney Crowell songs extensively.  He recorded Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” as well as “The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over,” the latter of which was co-written by Goodman and Prine.   Cash covered several Guy Clark songs, including “Let Him Roll,” “The Last Gunfighter Ballad,” “Same Stone,” and “New Cut Road.”  It is interesting—though not surprising—that Cash’s inspiration comes from acclaimed songwriters that have never associated with mainstream country music but rather personify country with a mix of rock and folk.

 

But who did Cash cover most frequently?  The answer to that question is tricky.  In the list provided, I only list each song once—though Cash often recorded several different versions of songs throughout his career and he recorded many collaborations with his wife June Carter and The Carter Family, The Highwaymen, and many other artists.

 

If we count the number of songs written by someone that Cash recorded, the winner would be A.P. “Pop” Carter.  Cash recorded and released twenty-seven A.P. Carter songs, though Cash either duets or provides backup vocals on a great majority of the recordings.  The next runner up is Kris Kristofferson—Cash recorded and released sixteen of Kristofferson's songs.  In a close third comes Jack Clement, who had fifteen of his songs covered by Johnny Cash (one of which was co-written by Cash and Clement.)

 

Fourth on the list is none other than the legendary Hank Williams—Cash recorded most of his Williams songs during his tenure at Sun records or sang them on this TV show.  Fifth place goes to Harlan Howard, perhaps the least-recognizable name on the list yet one of country music’s most renowned songwriters, responsible for two essential Cash tunes: “The Wall” and “Busted.”

 

Billy Joe Shaver wins sixth place—though if you count the unreleased track of “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan, Dylan and Shaver tie with nine songs covered.  The “Masters of War” song was a duet with Kris Kristofferson from a TV show—wouldn’t it be awesome if it saw the light of day?

 

Peter LaFarge clocks in with eighth place with eight songs covered by The Man in Black.  LaFarge’s material was mostly covered in the 1960s when Cash labeled himself as a folksinger and was focused on championing the Native American Civil Rights movement.  Cash also recorded eight songs by Rodney Crowell, but only seven were released, which means Crowell ties with Merle Travis at seven songs.  Travis was one of Cash’s good friends in the 1960s and shared Cash’s sentiment for the working class, especially coal miners.

 

What can be determined by this list is that Cash did primarily cover folk singers and acts associated with alternative and outlaw country.  That didn’t prevent him from heavily recorded country pioneers like Hank Williams and novelty writers like Jack Clement.  Cash had a unique talent for selecting songwriters.  He recorded Shel Silverstein ballads, poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage.”  As diverse as his tastes were, Cash had his favorites, and he managed to make any song he sang his own.

 

* Denotes unofficial release

^ Denotes unreleased

 

A.P. Carter

1.     I NEVER WILL MARRY  *

2.     I'LL BE ALL SMILES TONIGHT

3.     WILDWOOD FLOWER

4.     ENGINE ONE-FORTY-THREE

5.     WABASH CANNONBALL

6.     SINGLE GIRL, MARRIED GIRL

7.     I'M WORKING ON A BUILDING

8.     BANKS OF THE OHIO

9.     WABASH CANNONBALL

10.   GATHERING FLOWERS FROM THE HILLSIDE

11.   WHEN THE ROSES BLOOM AGAIN

12.   KEEP ON THE SUNNYSIDE

13.   LONESOME VALLEY

14.   MY CLINCH MOUNTAIN HOME

15.   BROWN EYES

16.   WORRIED MAN BLUES

17.   BROKEN HEARTED LOVER

18.   DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH

19.   GOSPEL SHIP

20.   CHURCH IN THE WILDWOOD

21.   WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN

22.   FOGGY MOUNTAIN TOP

23.   WAY WORN TRAVELER

24.   A WINDING STREAM

25.   SINKING IN THE LONESOME SEA

26.   CUBAN SOLDIER

27.   WILL YOU MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE

28.   BURY ME UNDER THE WEEPING WILLOW ^

29.   I'M THINKING TONIGHT OF MY BLUE EYES ^

30.   LITTLE DARLIN' PAL OF MINE ^

 

Kris Kristofferson

1.     TO BEAT THE DEVIL  

2.     SUNDAY MORNING COMING DOWN

3.     ME AND BOBBY MCGEE

4.     HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT

5.     BURDEN OF FREEDOM

6.     THE LOVING GIFT

7.     THE JUNKIE AND THE JUICEHEAD (Minus Me)

8.     FOR THE GOOD TIMES

9.     LIVING LEGEND

10.   WHY ME LORD

11.   THE LAST TIME

12.   THEY KILLED HIM

13.   LOVE IS THE WAY

14.   HERE COMES THAT RAINBOW AGAIN

15.   CASEY'S LAST RIDE

16.   ANTHEM ’84

17.   LOVING HER WAS EASIER *

18.   GOOD MORNING, JOHN ^

19.   JOHNNY LOBO *

20.   JESUS WAS A CAPRICORN ^

 

Jack Clement

1.     GUESS THINGS HAPPEN THAT WAY

2.     BALLAD OF A TEENAGE QUEEN

3.     DOWN THE STREET TO 301

4.     LIFE GOES ON (Johnny Cash, Jack Clement)

5.     KATY TOO

6.     IT'S JUST ABOUT TIME

7.     DIRTY OLD EGG SUCKING HOUND

8.     THE ONE ON THE RIGHT IS ON THE LEFT

9.     FLUSHED FROM THE BATHROOM OF YOUR HEART

10.   TAKE ME HOME (Jack Clement, A.L. Reynolds)

11.   EVERYBODY LOVES A NUT

12.   I'VE GOT A THING ABOUT TRAINS

13.   MILLER'S CAVE

14.   GONE GIRL

15.   WEST CANTERBURY SUBDIVISION BLUES

16.   AN AMERICAN CHRISTMAS ^

17.   REDNECK LOVE  ^

 

Hank Williams

1.     I HEARD THAT LONELY WHISTLE BLOW

2.     I CAN'T HELP IT (IF I'M STILL IN LOVE WITH YOU)

3.     YOU WIN AGAIN

4.     HEY, GOOD LOOKIN'

5.     I COULD NEVER BE ASHAMED OF YOU

6.     COLD, COLD HEART

7.     I'M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY

8.     I SAW THE LIGHT

9.     ON THE EVENING TRAIN

10.   KAWLIGA *

11.   YOUR CHEATING HEART *

12.   ON THE BANKS OF THE OLD PONCHARTRAIN *

13.   JAMBALAYA *

14.   JUST WAITIN' ^

15.   THESE MEN WITH BROKEN HEARTS *

16.   SING, SING, SING ^

 

Harlan Howard

1.     BUSTED

2.     CHAIN GANG

3.     STILL IN TOWN (Charles Cochran, Harlan Howard)

4.     THE WALL

5.     THE BLIZZARD

6.     YOU COMB HER HAIR (Harlan Howard, Charles Cochran)

7.     MISSISSIPPI DELTA LAND

8.     NO CHARGE

9.     BE CAREFUL WHO YOU LOVE

10.   BETTER CLASS OF LOSER (Ron Peterson, Harlan Howard)

 

Billy Joe Shaver

1.       JESUS WAS OUR SAVIOUR

2.       LATELY I BEEN LEANIN' TOWARD THE BLUES

3.       I'M JUST AN OLD CHUNK OF COAL

4.       THE COWBOY WHO STARTED THE FIGHT

5.       I BEEN TO GEORGIA ON A FAST TRAIN

6.       YOU JUST CAN'T BEAT JESUS CHRIST

7.       IT AIN'T NOTHING NEW BABE

8.       IF I GIVE MY SOUL

9.       LIVE FOREVER  (Billy Joe Shaver, Eddy Shaver)

 

Bob Dylan

1.       IT AIN'T ME BABE

2.       FOREVER YOUNG

3.       MAN GAVE NAMES TO ALL THE ANIMALS *

4.       DON'T THINK TWICE IT'S ALL RIGHT

5.       MAMA YOU'VE BEEN ON MY MIND

6.       ONE TOO MANY MORNINGS

7.       GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY

8.       SONG TO WOODY

9.       MASTERS OF WAR ^

 

Peter LaFarge

1.       BALLAD OF IRA HAYES

2.       AS LONG AS THE GRASS SHALL GROW)

3.       DRUMS

4.       CUSTER

5.       WHITE GIRL

6.       RODEO HAND

7.       STAMPEDE

8.       SHE CAME FROM THE MOUNTAINS

 

Rodney Crowell

1.       A SONG FOR THE LIFE

2.       EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES

3.       BULL RIDER

4.       I'M NEVER GONNA ROAM AGAIN

5.       WILDWOOD IN THE PINES

6.       ONE WAY RIDER

7.       THE DOOR  ^

8.       I WALK THE LINE (REVISITED)

 

Merle Travis

1.       LOADING COAL

2.       NINE POUND HAMMER

3.       DARK AS A DUNGEON

4.       THE DEVIL TO PAY (Merle Travis, L. Rusk)

5.       SAILOR ON A CONCRETE SEA

6.       SIXTEEN TONS

7.       STEEL GUITAR RAG  (Leon McAuliffe, Cliffe Stone, Merle Travis)

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I've been a Cash fan since 2006. My appreciation of the man and his music has only grown since then. I am especially drawn to the humanitarian work and activism that Cash championed during his lifetime, through his songs and through his actions. I am studying to become an educator and it has been my pleasure to help out on the Johnny Cash Infocenter website however I can.

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