The Essential Johnny Cash 1955-1983

The Essential Johnny Cash 1955-1983

by Johnny Cash



Assembling a comprehensive multi-disc Johnny Cash collection is a difficult task for a variety of reasons, not the least of it being the sheer number of records Cash put out in the '60s and '70s. Counting duets, he had over 130 charting singles, which is far too much for the average box set, plus those singles don't necessarily tell the full story of Cash the recording artist, since he was a prolific album artist, as well. Then, there's the sheer variety of what he recorded -- rockabilly, folk tunes, tales of gunslingers and Indians, scores of novelty numbers, gospel, Americana kitsch, train songs, pop, and straight-ahead country, he tried it all, giving it all his own unique stamp, distinguished by his booming voice and the distinctive two-step muted rhythm picked out by his guitarist, Luther Perkins. In other words, there is a lot of material to choose from, and while it all sounds similar -- in that it all sounds like Johnny Cash music -- there are so many themes and styles, it's difficult to distill it down to the essentials, as Columbia/Legacy's 1992 triple-disc box set The Essential Johnny Cash 1955-1983 attempts to do. Spanning 75 tracks, this takes in nearly three decades of Cash's career, starting at Sun and ending when Cash left the label in the mid-'80s. It hits all the big, iconic hits -- "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk the Line," "Ballad of a Teenage Queen," "Guess Things Happen That Way," "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," "I Got Stripes," "Ring of Fire," "Daddy Sang Bass," "A Boy Named Sue" -- but makes no pretense of containing all the hits, and in fact leaves many other hit singles behind, not to mention album tracks. There really isn't anything big missing -- after all, all but one song from the 1967 Columbia Greatest Hits is here -- but what makes a box set great is the quality of the songs that aren't the hits, and here Essential is a bit wobbly. It's hurt by the compilers' desire to touch upon every style Cash performed, sometimes to the detriment of overall listenability -- and that listenability is also hurt by the sequencing, which is just slightly non-chronological ("Don't Take Your Guns to Town," his first Columbia single, is saved for the second disc opener, long after we're already in Columbia territory; on the second disc, 1965's "Orange Blossom Special" is followed by 1963's "Ring of Fire"), which hampers the momentum in subtle, but noticeable ways. Then, there's the song selection. While there's nothing bad here (although the novelty numbers or topical songs may wear on some listener's nerves), apart from the aforementioned big hits -- along with other iconic songs like "The Rebel -- Johnny Yuma," "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," and "Cocaine Blues" -- it's hard not to feel that for every merely good song here, there's something better that could have been included instead, particularly because there are indeed many great tracks left behind. These are the things that prevent this box from being one of the great country box sets -- compare it to Merle Haggard's Down Every Road, for instance, a set that captures a complex figure in all of his glory -- and keep it from being as definitive as it seems. As a basic library piece, it's pretty good -- after all, it has all the basics from Sun and Columbia in one place -- but given its idiosyncrasies, it's not an ideal introduction, and it also shouldn't be seen as a one-stop summary of everything worthy Johnny Cash did at Sun and Columbia. It is a good sampler of what he did at those two labels, but once you know the lay of the land, other compilations and proper albums are easier to listen to and more enjoyable.

Product Details

Release Date: 06/23/1998
Label: Sony
UPC: 0074646555729
catalogNumber: 65557

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Johnny Cash   Primary Artist,Guitar,Vocals
Norman Blake   Dobro,Guitar
Ricky Skaggs   Banjo,Fiddle
Marty Stuart   Guitar,Mandolin
Hoyt Axton   Background Vocals
Ed Bruce   Background Vocals
Carter Family   Vocals
Floyd Cramer   Piano
Rodney Crowell   Vocal Harmony
Jo-El Sonnier   Harmonica,Accordion
Dave Edmunds   Guitar
Jordanaires   Background Vocals
Tommy Allsup   Guitar
Norton Buffalo   Harmonica
James Burton   Guitar
Bob Johnson   Guitar,Lute,Mandocello
Jan Howard   Background Vocals
Don Helms   Steel Guitar
Bill Pursell   Piano
Billy Strange   Guitar
Gordon Terry   Violin
Alisa Jones   Hammered Dulcimer
Mother Maybelle Carter   Autoharp
Johnny Western   Guitar
Mark Morris   Percussion
James Wilson   Piano
Brian Ahern   Guitar,Tambourine
Joseph Allen   Electric Bass
Anita Kerr Singers   Background Vocals
Joe Babcock   Banjo
Hal Blaine   Drums
Earl Poole Ball   Piano
Martin Belmont   Guitar
Barbara Bennett   Background Vocals
Statler Brothers   Background Vocals
Larry Butler   Keyboards
Jimmy Capps   Guitar
Jerry Carrigan   Drums
Don Carter   Background Vocals
Floyd Chance   Bass
Jack Clement   Guitar
Charles Cochran   Piano
Donivan Cowart   Background Vocals
Glen D. Hardin   Keyboards
Nick DeCaro   Accordion
Shane Keister   Synthesizer
Ray Edenton   Guitar
Tim Goodman   Banjo,Guitar
Marshall Grant   Bass
Jack Hale   Trumpet,French Horn
Buddy Harman   Drums
Jerry Hensley   Guitar
Roy M. "Junior" Husky   Bass
Dave Kirby   Guitar
Irv Kluger   Drums
Red Lane   Guitar
Lynn Langham   Background Vocals
Billy Ray Latham   Banjo
Bob Lewin   Trumpet,French Horn
Rufus Long   Flute
Nick Lowe   Bass
David Mansfield   Mandocello
Bill McElhiney   Trumpet
Terry McMillan   Harmonica
Luther Perkins   Guitar
Boots Randolph   Saxophone
Jack Routh   Guitar
Billy Sanford   Guitar
Pete Thomas   Drums
J.M. Van Eaton   Drums
Pete Wade   Guitar
Bob Wootton   Guitar
Malcolm Yelvington   Background Vocals
Hubert Anderson   Vibes
W.S. Holland   Drums
Marvin Hughes   Piano
Sid Manker   Guitar
Charlie McCoy   Harmonica
Asa Wilkerson   Background Vocals
Karl Garvin   Trumpet
Morris Palmer   Drums
Lee Holt   Background Vocals
Cyd Mosteller   Background Vocals
Jerry Sheff   Bass
Bill Abbott   Background Vocals
Sara Bruce   Background Vocals
Jimmy Smith   Piano
Nita Smith   Background Vocals

Technical Credits

Lead Belly   Composer
Johnny Cash   Composer,Producer
Billy Edd Wheeler   Composer
Brian Ahern   Producer
Earl Poole Ball   Producer
Charlie Bragg   Producer
Larry Butler   Producer
June Carter Cash   Composer
Jack Clement   Producer
Don Davis   Producer
Bob Johnston   Producer
Frank Jones   Producer
Don Law   Producer
Nick Lowe   Producer
Jack Routh   Producer
Arthur Levy   Liner Notes
Sam Phillips   Producer
Bill Flanagan   Liner Notes
Robert Lunn   Composer
Bill Johnson   Art Direction
Gaby Rodgers   Composer
Charlie Williams   Composer
Traditional   Composer

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