Essential Johnny Cash Albums

American rock and country singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, circa 1965.
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Johnny Cash touched every generation for five decades, in every genre of music. If you're new to Johnny Cash or want to dig deeper into his varied musical career, here are some great places to start. 

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American Recordings

Johnny Cash - 'American Recordings'
Johnny Cash - 'American Recordings'. American Recordings

In 1994, Johnny Cash had been dumped by his record label and country radio wouldn't play his music. But rap producer Rick Rubin wasn't listening to the trends in "young country." He sat Johnny down with a guitar and a tape recorder and nothing else. This magnificent collection is the result. 

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American IV: The Man Comes Around

Johnny Cash - 'American IV: The Man Comes Around'
Johnny Cash - 'American IV: The Man Comes Around'. American Recordings

This is a delightfully eccentric collection of oddball covers and Cash originals which continue the Cash legacy with impressive style and grace. This disc may only appeal to hardcore Cash fans but it doesn't matter, as it seems that at this age, Johnny Cash is making music he likes; it's not country, it's not rock, it's not folk, but it is all of those things and more.

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At Folsom Prison

Johnny Cash - 'At Folsom Prison'
Johnny Cash - 'At Folsom Prison'. Legacy Recordings

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison wasn't the first time Cash performed at a prison, but it was the first time that one of these stunning performances was captured on a recording. Cash is at his quirky, fun-loving best as he aims his show directly at the men in his audience, giving them the chart-topping "Folsom Prison Blues" with that memorable and lasting introduction, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."

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At San Quentin

Johnny Cash - 'At San Quentin'
Johnny Cash - 'At San Quentin'. Legacy Recordings

This is Cash at the top of his form. Performing with the entire Johnny Cash show, including wife June, the Carter Sisters, the Statler Brothers, & Carl Perkins, it's a delight from beginning to end.

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Carryin' On with Johnny Cash & June Carter

Carrying On with Johnny Cash and June Ca
Carrying On with Johnny Cash and June Carter.

Originally released in September of 1967, "Carryin' On with Johnny Cash and June Carter" is astounding even with today's set of standards. The fun-loving couple really shined on this collection.

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Essential Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash - 'Essential Johnny Cash'
Johnny Cash - 'Essential Johnny Cash'. Legacy Recordings

This is one of the releases in celebration of Johnny's 70th birthday. It is the first time that four decades worth of recordings are included in one package. There are 36 songs from Sun, Columbia and Mercury recordings, and it is pure pleasure to sit and listen to each and every one of them.

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Fabulous Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash - 'Fabulous Johnny Cash'
Johnny Cash - 'Fabulous Johnny Cash'. Columbia

Well-known songs included on this album are: "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," "Walkin' The Blues," and "Oh What A Dream." Added to the original twelve songs are six bonus tracks to add something special to the collection. "Mama's Baby" has helped along the form of The Jordanaires.

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Johnny, Willie, Waylon & Kris - The Highwayman
Johnny, Willie, Waylon & Kris - The Highwayman. Columbia

Take four of the most important figures in country music and combine them: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson. History. In 1985, when country music was down so far it could hardly be heard, these four blazed traditions anew, as they had always done, simply by making great country music.

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Hymns by Johnny Cash

Hymns by Johnny Cash
Hymns by Johnny Cash. Columbia

This isn't a traditional Gospel album. It is a true country album and the songs just happen to be Gospel. Johnny's faith was unshakeable, and his heart and soul are poured into the music. He has included some upbeat songs, some songs have lyrics that are deeply moving and one even has the narrative style of song that Johnny did so well.

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Ragged Old Flag

Ragged Old Flag
Ragged Old Flag. Columbia

This is an excellent collection of Cash country songs, backed only by Carl Perkins, Ray Edenton and Larry McCoy with vocal help by The Oak Ridge Boys and some banjo from Earl Scruggs on the title track. If you are a fan of Johnny Cash, you need to have this album. If you're a new fan, this is a nice collection that showcases Cash's dynamic songwriting.