Elvis Presley’s Producer Called This Johnny Cash Song Better Than All Elvis’ Songs

Sam Phillips was a classic rock legend who worked on many of Elvis Presley’s greatest songs. However, he also worked with Johnny Cash and deemed one of his most famous songs the greatest song ever made. Here’s a look at the Cash song he deemed better than Elvis’ entire output — and how it performed compared to Cash’s other songs.

Johnny Cash playing songs on his guitar
Johnny Cash | Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

During an interview with Rolling Stone, Phillips explained why he was interested in Cash in the first place. “When Johnny Cash came in, he sang his original country-gospel songs, and I have never been as moved in my life by anything to this day,” he said. “But I was very honest with him. I told him, ‘Man, I love this, but God, I can’t sell it, and if I can’t sell it, you and me can’t be in business.’ And I instructed him to use some of that talent in the secular world.

Cash would go on to make many famous secular songs, including “Folsom Prison Blues.” Phillips didn’t expect the classic track to perform well. “I didn’t know that that would have real mass appeal,” he said. “But we got such a dynamic cut on that damn thing. And I got to thinking about it, that we all, in a way, are in prison, you know? I had to stretch my imagination, but I didn’t expect the public to do that.”

Johnny Cash’s live version of “Folsom Prison Blues”

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Phillips was extremely impressed with “Folsom Prison Blues.” “But oh, God, I love that song,” he said. “Great song, great rendition. Never been a better record made. Thank goodness [laughs].

How successful was Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ compared to his other songs?

Phillips liked “Folsom Prison Blues” and the public seemed to like it as well. The original version of the track before the existence of the Billboard Hot 100, so it’s difficult to gauge its success. However, Cash recorded a live version of the song in 1968, years after the advent of the chart. This version of the track reached No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 12 weeks. Only six of his singles charted higher, specifically “Guess Thing Happened That Way,” “Ring of Fire,” “What Is True,” “One Piece at a Time,” “The Ways of a Woman in Love,” and “A Boy Named Sue.” 

Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”

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In addition, the album Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison — which included the live version of “Folsom Prison Blues” — was a hit. It reached No. 13 on the Billboard 200, remaining on the chart for 124 weeks. “Folsom Prison Blues” wasn’t as big as some of Elvis’ hits, however, Phillips held it in really high regard.

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