The Man in Black scored one of his biggest hits three years after his death.
As we celebrate what would have been Johnny Cash’s 90th birthday today, we watch for the zillionth time the incredible music video for his powerful rendition of the classic American folk song ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ – such a distinctive version that she can be instantly identified by the pounding industrial sound of her clap-and-stomp intro, and so powerful that it’s been sampled in everything from movie soundtracks (most recently in Taylor Sheridan’s trailer Those who want me dead) to television commercials for Jeep Grand Cherokees.
Cash’s version was originally recorded in 2003 for American V: a hundred highways – which wasn’t released until three years after his death and ended up being his first No. 1 album in 37 years. (Fun fact: the album’s title is derived from one of Rod McKuen’s favorite songs, “Love’s Been Good to Me.”) For the video, credited as the brainchild of Justin Timberlake, director Tony Kaye (American history x) brought together a wide range of friends and admirers of Cash, from Kris Kristofferson to Kayne West, from Kid Rock to Sheryl Crow, from Brian Wilson to Owen Wilson. And much more.
Of course, if we’re talking about Johnny Cash’s powerhouse videos, we have to acknowledge his best — indeed, one of the greatest music videos of all time: from his album The man comes back, “Hurt.” It started as a song written by Trent Reznor and recorded with his band Nine Inch Nails. But after seeing the video directed by Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), Reznor reacted: “Wow. I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore. Or as Bono later observed: “Trent Reznor was born to write this song, but Johnny Cash was born to sing it, and Mark Romanek was born to film it”.
Here is the story behind the video. And here’s the video — which, fittingly, is the very last thing you see when you leave the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville.
One more: arguably the greatest Johnny Cash song Cash has ever recorded. In 2018, Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, released Johnny Cash: Words Forever, an ambitious compilation of songs created from Cash’s previously unknown poetry, lyrics and letters, and set to music by an exceptional array of contemporary artists. Rosanne Cash, Johnny’s eldest daughter, contributed what is arguably the album’s most emotional track, “The Walking Wounded,” and filmed an accompanying video with director David McClister. The man in black would have been proud.