Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison: #328 of best 1,000 albums ever!

Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison

So why is Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?

In the piece I wrote just before this one, covering The Black Crowe’s Shake Your Money Maker, I talked about the adventure of the live concert experience and the quest to experience the magic of catching the right mood and the right performance at the moment in time that will only happen precisely once.

When you catch that moment live, it’s absolutely electric.

There are many great “live albums,” of course, though I think we’d all readily agree that there’s something inherently lost between the recording and the in-person experience of an amazing live performance. That being said, the very best live albums conjure their own kind of magic, transporting us into feeling what it must have been like to have been there, placing us in some alchemic communion with the performers across time and space and technology.

I think about all of these things as I hear the iconic words, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” which kick off At Folsom Prison and “Folsom Prison Blues.” It’s immediately and crystal clear from the very first seconds that this isn’t an ordinary album or an ordinary performance.

Johnny Cash is a singular talent, and he’s captured at a precise and perfect moment in his life and career At Folsom Prison.

While it’s slightly disconcerting to hear the (very real) convicts in attendance at Folsom State Prison howl with glee when Cash sings about killing a man just to see him die, it does add to the raucous and surprisingly high spirited atmosphere.

Part of Cash’s appeal as the legendary Man in Black – in addition to his folksy yet authoritative delivery, his wonderful narrative-style lyrics, and catchy and memorable tunes – is the weirdly refreshing array of dark narrative songs that involve crimes, vices, and doing time in the old clink.

“Cocaine Blues” is an exciting upbeat number that not only involves taking drugs (as the song title implies) but lots of murder and time on the run as fugitives as well.

“Orange Blossom Special” is worth checking out just for the spectacular harmonica work.

And “Jackson” is a must listen to catch Johnny’s wife June Carter join in with Cash, forming one of the all time great country duets.

“Greystone Chapel,” which closes the album’s 16 songs, is a wonderful spiritual-style song done up country dirty.

Pop culture stuff that’s somehow related to Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison

Arguably my favorite all time Johnny Cash song is the mariachi-flavored “Ring of Fire,” which first appears on a Cash “best of” album released in 1963.

And for further afield later work, I’ve always been mesmerized by the quietly powerful electronica track, “The Wanderer,” which was produced with U2 and is the closing track on Zooropa (#728 of best 1,000 albums ever), released in 1993.

Some stats & info about Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

  • What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Country Music
  • Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – #164
  • All Music’s rating – 5 out of 5 stars
  • When was At Folsom Prison released? 1968
  • My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #328 out of 1,000

Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison on Spotify

A lyrical snippet from Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe

I’m stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin’ on.

What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?

Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.

But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.