Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Johnny Cash - Chicken in Black

In my survey of chicken songs over the years I've ignored one of the rummest - Johnny Cash's allegedly comic song from 1984 Chicken in Black.

If your preferred image of Cash is the killer who shot a man in Reno just to watch him die or the mythic figure who emerged on the American Recordings LPs look away now. Rather than describe it, I invite you to bear witness to its horrors.

And for those masochists who want to keep this abomination, here's the MP3.

MP3: Johnny Cash - Chicken in Black

The story goes that by the mid-80s Johnny was so pissed off with his long-time label Columbia ignoring him that he intentionally recorded an awful song in protest.

Some have suggested that Johnny's disavowal of the song is a bit of crock. In a new book about Johnny's 90s comeback Graeme Thompson writes, "Cash was not the kind of man naturally inclined to play those kinds of games with his music; and even of he were, it only illustrated how bereft he was of any hope at this point."

Thompson also quotes Johnny's daughter Rosanne who calls Chicken in Black her dad's "nadir" where "he was kind of mocking and dismantling his own legacy... There was an undercurrent of desperation in it".

Ironically, at a time when Weird Al Yankovic's Jacko spoof Eat It was all over MTV, the song actually became a minor hit compared to Cash's other recent material.

Why am I sharing this embarrassment? Because on Friday I'm posting an interview I've done with Tony Tost about his brilliant new book on the first American Recordings album.

That album rescued Cash's reputation and cemented his legacy forever. But I think it's still worth remembering what a state his career was in before that reinvention.


vvinenglish said...

I actually think this song is great. Not many artists are capable of self-irony, but it's in the long-standing traditions of folk music. I am proud that one of my favorite American folk artists could find the inner strength to do this.

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