This Week's Pick: "A Boy Named Sue" by Johnny Cash (Year: 1969)
Would you ever consider recording a song while performing at a prison? And would you ever believe that such a song would be capable of becoming a major, crossover hit? Probably not. But these things are possible, a fact illustrated by Johnny Cash's recording of "A Boy Named Sue."
The year was 1969. Cash had taken up performing concerts at prisons throughout the United States (eventually even performing at a Swedish prison in the 1970s), and interestingly enough, this practice resulted in the recording of some successful live albums such as Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and Johnny Cash at San Quentin.
Apparently Cash wasn't afraid to try new things while performing for fans at these venues. While performing at California's San Quentin Prison, he went ahead and played a new song called "A Boy Named Sue." (Cool song fact: the song was penned by poet/children's writer Shel Silverstein. And I'll be honest and admit that I only learned this recently. Shameful, I know.)
The tale the song tells is a pretty obvious one, so I'm not really going to explore that further. Cash apparently barely knew the words when he performed (it looks like he referred to a lyrics sheet while performing), but he struck a chord with the prisoners, who weren't the only ones capable of enjoying the song. Simultaneously silly and poignant, the song wound up at the top of country music and adult contemporary charts, while also spending three weeks at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. It's funny how these things work, isn't it?
Check out the video of Cash performing "A Boy Named Sue" at San Quentin below: