Today is the birthday of dark country legend Johnny Cash – the Man In Black would have been 80 years old today, had he not sadly succumbed to complications brought on by diabetes on September 12, 2003 – less than four months after the death of his beloved wife June and the night he was due to appear at the MTV Video Music Awards, where he had received a nomination.

Born in 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas, Johnny Cash personified rockabilly music and ‘punk’ attitude to several subsequent generations, and inspired a great many moody and magnificent music t-shirts. Here we take a look at five of the songs that helped cement his reputation as one of the greatest stars in the American musical firmament:

I Walk The Line. The first major hit for Johnny, this song shot to number one on the country charts in 1956 and entered the national top 20. It also served as the title – and title track of the artist’s hit biopic in 2005, in which the musician was brilliantly realised by Joaquin Phoenix.

Ring Of Fire. Recorded and released in 1963, this track summed up one of Johnny’s most constant themes, despair, obsession and redemption. However, it also describes his consuming love for his soon-to-be wife June, who he had recently met.

Man in Black. This protest song was recorded in 1971 and grew to be the title most associated with the sombrely-garbed Johnny. The song explains that “I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town/I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, But still is there because he’s a victim of the times.”

A Boy Named Sue. Written by Shel Silverstein and recorded by Johnny in 1969, this showcases his more humorous side, being a tale of a boy seeking revenge on his father for giving him a girl’s name and condemning him to a life of ridicule – which also meant he had to toughen up quickly.

Hurt. A cover of the Nine Inch Nails original, this was released on Johnny’s 2002 album, American IV: The Man Comes Around, and has become a cult classic, thanks to its intensely personal nature for the sick and regretful Cash, and its evocative video, which had received a nomination for best vid at the MTV Video Music Awards – screened on the night that Cash himself died.

 

 

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