Ten years ago today, the world learned of the passing of Johnny Cash. Putting Cash in proper historical perspective is not the easiest of tasks. After all, while he was certainly a country legend, “The Man In Black” — more than possibly any other artist — was able to transcend genres and be many different things to different people.
Whether it was his songs about the working man (“Busted”), the downtrodden and forgotten (“The Ballad Of Ira Hayes”), his love of God (“Daddy Sang Bass”) or his American spirit (“Ragged Old Flag”), Johnny Cash spoke to multiple generations because he was…real. If you need any documentation of this, look at his powerful recording of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” What other artist would put themselves and their lives on such a naked display while in such a frail state? Not many, but when you listened to a Johnny Cash song , it wasn’t about sonic perfection as much as it was (and is) being able to relate. Love, Prison, and Heaven – he sang about them all, and made us believe. We’re still believing a decade later.
To celebrate Johnny Cash’s incredible career and life of music, Billboard puts the focus squarely on his music with this playlist of The Man In Black’s 14 amazing Country Songs chart No. 1s.
Titles are ranked based on highest peak position on Hot Country Songs. Ties between titles that had similar chart peaks are broken by most weeks at its highest ranking, then if still tied, most week in the top 10 and most weeks on the chart.
“I Walk The Line”
Peak Date: July 21, 1956
The very first country No. 1 for Johnny Cash, the singer wrote the song in Gladewater, TX back in 1956 – not too long after his marriage to Vivian Liberto. You may have noticed Cash humming while performing the song. He explained this as a way to get his pitch, as he had to change keys several times during the song.
“There You Go”
Peak Date: March 7, 1957
The second song of Cash’s to top the chart – like many hits of the day, it also featured a successful flip side. “Train Of Love” made it to No. 7.
“Ballad Of A Teenage Queen”
Peak Date: Feb. 3, 1958
Written by the legendary Jack Clement, this song had amazing staying power. It stayed at No. 1 for ten weeks. Cash also remade the song three decades later with daughter Rosanne and the Everly Brothers for his “Water From The Wells Of Home” disc.
“Guess Things Happen That Way”
Peak Date: June 23, 1958
This Jack Clement chestnut became the final of four Country Songs chart-toppers the singer enjoyed for Sun Records. It reached the chart pinnacle in five weeks in 1958 – staying there for eight overall.
“Don’t Take Your Guns To Town”
Peak Date: Feb 23, 1959
After moving from Sun to Columbia, Cash hit the top ten with the double-sided “All Over Again” / “What Do I Care.” “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town,” the follow-up, settled in to the top spot on the charts in February 1959, and stayed there for six weeks.
“Ring Of Fire”
Peak Date: July 27, 1963
Written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore, this song was originally recorded by June’s sister Anita as “Love’s (Ring Of Fire).” After hearing her version, Cash had a dream about recording the song with mariachi-style horns – a departure from his trademark “Boom Chicka Boom” sound. He did just that, and the rest – as they say, is history.
“Understand Your Man” (with June Carter)
Peak Date: April 4, 1964
The song spent six weeks on top in the spring of 1964. The tune also turned out to be the last song Cash ever performed in front of an audience: he played it during a performance at the Carter Ranch in Hiltons, VA on July 5, 2003, just months before he passed away.
“Folsom Prison Blues”
Peak Date: July 20, 1968
A song that turned out better the second time around, “Folsom Prison Blues” peaked at No. 4 in the winter of 1956, but truly earned its’ wings as a country classic a dozen years later when a re-recording for Columbia topped the chart for a month in 1968. It also won Cash a Grammy for Country Male Vocal.
“Daddy Sang Bass”
Peak Date: Jan 4, 1969
The very No. 1 country song of 1969, the song was written by Sun compadre Carl Perkins, who by this time was a featured part of the Johnny Cash Show on television. The song borrows lines from the Carter Family’s “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”
“A Boy Named Sue”
Peak Date: Aug 23, 1969
As prolific of a songwriter as Johnny Cash was, poet Shel Silverstein wrote one of his biggest hits. Silverstein penned the song as a result of his friendship with humorist Jean Shepherd – who was teased as a child because of his name. Cash recorded it at his San Quentin concert in February 1969, but had to use a lyric sheet to remember the words. The song spent five weeks on top of the country charts, and hit No. 2 on the Hot 100.
“Sunday Morning Coming Down”
Peak Date: Oct. 10, 1970
As definitive as his version was of the Kris Kristofferson masterpiece, Cash was not the first to record it. That distinction belongs to Ray Stevens. The track was his first to make it on the country charts (Stevens’ version made it to No. 55). Cash did much better with the song, staying at the top for two weeks in 1970 – netting Kristofferson a CMA Song of the Year trophy in the process.
“Flesh And Blood”
Peak Date: Jan. 30, 1971
Featured in the 1970 Gregory Peck film “I Walk The Line,” this song remains one of country music’s most realistic love songs, hitting the top in January 1971.
“One Piece At A Time”
Peak Date: May 29, 1976
The final solo No. 1 for Cash, the novelty number about a uniquely assembled automobile was written by Wayne Kemp. In the song, the famous car was referred to as the “psychobilly Cadillac.” The 1976 single also provided the singer with his final top-40 hit on the Hot 100, peaking at No. 29.
“Highwayman” (with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson & Kris Kristofferson)
Peak Date: Aug. 17, 1985
Kris Kristofferson had recorded with Willie Nelson, who had recorded with Waylon Jennings, who had recorded with Johnny Cash. However, the four never recorded together until this Jimmy Webb-written song united the four legends. It became a radio staple in the summer of 1985, hitting the top on August 17 – the final time Cash’s voice would be appear on a No. 1 country single.