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9. Johnny Cash – Hurt


By the time he came to record Hurt, Johnny Cash could have lent Old Testament gravitas to a recitation of the phone book, so shot were his vocal cords and battered was he by life’s misfortunes. But Hurt’s magic doesn’t simply derive from Cash’s newfound heavy-headed tone, and the serendipity of its arrival shouldn’t detract from the song’s grandeur – on the contrary, it is precisely that pure, unforced sadness that makes the song so affecting. But it’s not just Cash’s quivering voice: Rick Rubin’s production is a masterstroke too. Embracing the natural distortion of the final crescendo and retaining each of Cash’s ageing wheezes may go against the traditional rules of pop, but they leave the record feeling unfettered and uncorrupted by outside interests, and consequently sounding deeply personal. The outcome is a song that is entirely Cash, with the according fragility of a recently unearthed lost recording. But aside from its form, Hurt is so moving because it sounds like a legend dying (in a way, it is – Cash succumbed to chronic illness within a year of its release). Alongside its promo video, which acts like an epitaph to a great career, Cash took a song written by a 29-year-old about self-harm and heroin, and made it his own, with the same lyrics but new themes of missed lovers and one’s own mortality. No other record this decade sounded as heartfelt. No other record this decade sounded as soulful. And no other record this decade left as strong a taste in the mouth.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Rob permalink
    16/12/2009 5:34 pm

    Love it! The crescendo, as you say, is simply fantastic. This is the kind of song that I play loud enough to leave a ringing in the ears…literally and metaphorically.

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