When that day comes, I will take all sorts of smug satisfaction in being able to say, "I didn't care when that album was coming out 10 years ago before it even had a name."
Johnny Cash -- Out Among the Stars
I'm a huge fan of Johnny Cash. I cried the day he died. "Huge fan" probably isn't even a sufficient description. So, if you're part of that contingent of commenters who skipped everything except the words "Johnny Cash" and are now down there explaining that you stopped reading once you saw that name on a list like this one ... good. I hope it ruined your day. I hope you never come back to read the rest of this, kind of forget about it because you have a shitty day at work, and then remember it all over again when you hear "Folsom Prison Blues" on the radio during your commute home.
I obviously didn't put Johnny Cash on this list because he makes bad music. I did put him on the list because he used to make bad music, and this album is a holdover from those days.
It seems almost unthinkable now, but before Rick Rubin came along and made him cool again, the career of Johnny Cash had become a bit of a joke. The unlikely duo spent the next 10 years or so returning Johnny Cash to his rightful place in country lore.
Before that, he spent most of the 1980s making really cheesy and awful music. How awful? Awful enough that when he tried to release an intentionally terrible song in the hopes that someone at the record label would notice he was still alive, the song ended up being one of his biggest hits of the entire decade.
Did you listen to that? If not, you just missed Johnny Cash singing about having his brain transplanted into the body of a chicken. That was the defining song of that decade for him. That's how bad things were in the '80s.
It was during this low point in the career of Johnny Cash that Out Among the Stars was recorded. It was shelved after Cash was eventually dropped from his label. Neither of those facts do anything in the way of convincing me that this will be an album worth owning. Sure, it was produced by Nashville legend Billy Sherrill, the man who brought you the best goddamn George Jones song ever, among other hits ...
... but what are the chances the '80s were any better to that guy?
Even with all of that considered, this could just as easily be amazing. After all, it is Johnny Cash, and he is working with the guy who was partially responsible for the magic of "He Stopped Loving Her Today." I'm sure it's not the worst thing you'll listen to this year. If you're hoping this will be another document from the fascinating final years of his career or a lost gem from his glorious Sun Records days, don't be surprised if you come away from the experience more than a little disappointed.
Don't be too hard on Johnny Cash, though. The 1980s were a weird time for everyone, even those of us who didn't have to fight our way back from nearly being murdered by an ostrich.
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