“I shot a man in Reno/ Just to watch him die.” That single lyric might be the most powerful line Johnny Cash ever wrote, and it’s the heart of “Folsom Prison Blues,” a song about a jailed man’s lament over his murderous actions. “Folsom Prison Blues” took on even more prominence when he performed the song at that very prison in 1968. Cash later explained that the words represented the worst reason he could think of for murder. Cash’s vocals plunge to deep, dark spaces as he sings of men envisioning a life outside their jail cells and becoming jealous of fat cats smoking big cigars. It’s an upbeat song of grief, but as Cash continued to play it over the years, the song (and Cash) got rowdier and the pace got quicker, pushed ever forward by a catchy, plucky guitar solo. Somehow, the Man in Black was able to combine deep lyrical depression with an exciting, driving musical accompaniment.
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