Friday, July 21, 2006

50 years ago: Johnny Cash hit #1 on the country chart with "I Walk the Line"

First posted 7/15/2011; updated 3/19/2021.

I Walk the Line

Johnny Cash

Writer(s): Johnny Cash (see lyrics here)


Released: May 1, 1956


First Charted: June 9, 1956


Peak: 17 US, 23 CB, 21 HR, 16 CW, (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 2.0 US


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 12.2 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

Johnny Cash ranks as one of the top 5 country artists of all-time according to Billboard magazine. However, in 1956, his career was barely underway. Signed to Sun Records, Cash had charted with “Cry! Cry! Cry!” (#14), “So Doggone Lonesome” (#4), and “Folsom Prison Blues” (#4). His fourth chart entry, “I Walk the Line,” Cash hit #1 on the Billboard country chart and #17 on the Billboard Hot 100. Over the next thirty years, he sent well over 100 songs to the country charts, fourteen which topped the chart.

The song’s unusual chord progression dated back to 1950. During Cash’s days in the Air Force in Germany, he wrote songs with the help of a tape machine. Five years later, he was fiddling around with it backstage while on tour with label mate Carl Perkins. Perkins said that Sam Phillips, the head of Sun, was looking for something different and that Cash should build a song around it. Cash didn’t come up with the idea for the song until he and Perkins talked later about guys running around on their wives while out on the road. Cash, who had a new baby and was newly married, said, “Not me buddy. I walk the line.” Perkins said, “there’s your song title.” CR

Interestingly, Cash had suggested the title to Perkins for his biggest hit, “Blue Suede Shoes”. Cash relayed the story to Perkins of a buddy in the Air Force who would get all dressed up to go out and warn people, “don’t step on my blue suede shoes, man.” CR

Cash recorded “I Walk the Line” with Perkins and his own regular Tennessee Two duo of guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant. CR To get a more percussive sound from his guitar, Cash wound a piece of wax paper through the guitar strings. RS500 Cash has explained that he started each verse with an eerie hum to get his pitch since he had to change keys several times. SF He also sped the song up at Phillips suggestion. TB Bob Dylan said, “It was different than anything else you had ever heard…a voice from the middle of the earth.” RS500


Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Johnny Cash
  • CR Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Page 626.
  • RS500 Rolling Stone (2004). “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
  • SF Songfacts
  • TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 20.

1 comment:

  1. I got an email that Johnny Cash's Sun Records albums are being re-released. Here's the details: http://www.thevinyldistrict.com/memphis/2011/07/in-the-news-180-gram-records-releases-early-works-of-johnny-cash-and-jimmy-buffet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-the-news-180-gram-records-releases-early-works-of-johnny-cash-and-jimmy-buffet

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