Johnny Cash loved Christmas. Over the course of his illustrious career he released seven Christmas albums and his TV show, The Johnny Cash Show, ran a Christmas special every year. While his Christmas shows weren’t always full of holiday tunes, they brought together Cash’s family and friends in true spirit of the season.
Perhaps Johnny’s love of Christmastime came from his upbringing. He grew up in a poor farming family who never had much money for Christmas, but always found ways to create gifts for each other. In his 1963 album, The Christmas Spirit, he recounts some of his early Christmas memories in spoken-word songs. The way he tells it, the warmth of those Christmases were a shelter from the coldness of their poverty.
We assembled a list of some of our favorites from Cash’s Christmas cache. These are some of his best Christmas songs and a nice change from the same old tunes we get on the radio.
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
Johnny put together a really jazzy version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” for his 1991 album, Country Christmas. It opens with a stylish violin and features flourishes from the slide guitar, which produces a very laid-back feel. After all, who doesn’t want to feel laid-back when they get home for Christmas?
“Christmas As I Knew It”
One of Cash’s spoken-word songs from The Christmas Spirit. Several of the tracks on this album were performed as spoken word, adding poignancy to the tales of simple Christmases back on the farm, where the greatest gifts they could give to each other was their familial love, and a bit of charity for the neighbors.
“Children Go Where I Send Thee”
To this African-American spiritual, Johnny added his signature “freight-train” rhythm and some southwestern horns to make this a classic Christmas song that’s fun for kids of all ages. The tune also goes by the names “The Holy Baby” or “Born in Bethlehem.”
“Joy to the World”
Cash recorded “Joy to the World” for his 1980 release, Classic Christmas. His booming bass suits the tune. Although he was never trained as a vocalist, he uses his upper register well through the challenging, ever modulating melody.
“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
The 1977 Christmas special featured Cash singing with his wife, June Carter Cash. The clip features a bit of their signature banter before the two sing a lovely arrangement of this lesser-known Christmas song. He also, without June.
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