News The musician Mick Jagger called “the Johnny Cash of rock”
Johnny Cash has always felt like an artist that has existed since the dawn of time. Even though he may have secured his start just like all country artists looking to make a name for themselves, the sounds of songs like ‘Ring of Fire’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ feel like they have always been there and will continue to be there until the end of civilisation as we know it. While Mick Jagger has made many songs that can stand alongside Cash’s best work, he thought that Lou Reed was one of the few rock stars who could touch the country legend’s pedigree.
When looking at The Rolling Stones’ repertoire, they were never that far away from country music. Even though the band were clearly a rock and roll band from the moment they started, Keith Richards always had a unique fixation on the sounds of country music, usually making songs that reflected that kind of simplistic living with a handful of chords.
As the band started to move away from their bluesy roots in the 1970s, Richards could be heard contributing plenty of country tunes into the mix, from humorous songs like ‘Dead Flowers’ to ballads like ‘Far Away Eyes’. Then again, it’s not like Cash had gone anywhere throughout the 1970s.
Compared to the other country legends that came before him, Cash relished the opportunity to be the outlaw of the genre. In a land that wasn’t short on rhinestone cowboys, Cash played the role of the hardened gothic badass that wasn’t to be trifled with, being happy to relate to those on the wrong side of the tracks when he played to prisoners in Folsom Prison and San Quentin.
While Cash was documenting what he saw, Reed was also carving out his own voice in New York. Although Reed wouldn’t be caught dead singing about life growing up on a farm, his upbringing informed every piece of his writing, whether that was the whips and chains coating the song ‘Venus in Furs’ or the euphoria of being able to get hooked on junk in ‘Heroin’.
Like Cash, Reed also had a fixation with the underdog. Throughout both artists’ love songs, there’s always a tinge of regret or heartache, as if each of them knows that either love is fleeting or they won’t be able to hold on to their loved ones for as long as they can on ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ or ‘Give My Love to Rose’.
Reed also never stopped experimenting with what he could do. Up until the day he died, the former frontman had flexed his musical muscles throughout his solo career, making songs with Metallica for the album Lulu and making one of his final recordings by lending his talents to the Gorillaz song ‘Some Kind of Nature’.
Upon hearing of Reed’s death, Jagger would say that he thought Reed could have rivalled Cash’s image, saying, “He had style – that attitudinal New York hipster style. Everyone talks about punk, but to me, he was the Johnny Cash of New York rock; he was always the man in black”.
With Cash and Reed long since departed, both of them have been remembered for pushing the boundaries of what their genres could do, all while making songs that had to do with what the nasty side of life had to offer. There may have been a lot of darkness in both of their repertoires, but there was always a heart underneath that dark exterior.