I Walk the Line

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
"I Walk the Line"
Single by Johnny Cash
from the album With His Hot and Blue Guitar, Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous, Sings Hank Williams, and I Walk the Line
B-side "Get Rhythm"
Released May 1, 1956
Format 7" single
Recorded April 2, 1956, Sun Studio, Memphis, Tennessee
Genre Country, rock and roll, rockabilly
Length 2:45
Label Sun
Writer(s) Johnny Cash
Producer(s) Sam Phillips
Johnny Cash singles chronology
"Folsom Prison Blues"
I Walk the Line"
"There You Go"

"I Walk the Line" is a song written and recorded in 1956 by Johnny Cash. After three attempts with moderate chart ratings, it became Cash's first number one hit on the Billboard charts. It reached number 17 on the US pop charts. It remained on the record charts for over 43 weeks, and sold over 2 million copies.[1] It has also been used on many LP's released from Sun Records, such as With His Hot and Blue Guitar, Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous, and Sings Hank Williams. It was the title song for a 1970 film starring Gregory Peck.

Background of the song

The unique chord progression for the song was inspired by backwards playback of guitar runs on Cash's tape recorder[2] while he was in the Air Force stationed in Germany. Later in a telephone interview, Cash stated, “I wrote the song backstage one night in 1956 in Gladewater, Texas. I was newly married at the time, and I suppose I was laying out my pledge of devotion."[3] After the writing of the song Cash had a discussion with fellow performer Carl Perkins who encouraged him to adopt "I Walk the Line" as the song title. Cash originally intended the song as a slow ballad, but producer Sam Phillips preferred a faster arrangement,[4] which Cash grew to like as the uptempo recording met with success.

Once while performing the song on his TV show, Cash told the audience, with a smile, "People ask me why I always hum whenever I sing this song. It's to get my pitch." The humming was necessary since the song required Cash to change keys several times while singing it.

The song was originally recorded at Sun Studio on April 2, 1956, and was released on May 1. It spent six weeks at the top spot on the U.S. country Juke Box charts that summer, one week on the C&W Jockey charts and number two on the C&W Best Seller charts.[5] "I Walk the Line" crossed over and reached number 19 on the pop music charts.[6]

It was performed with the help of Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins, two mechanics that his brother introduced him to following his discharge from the Air Force. Cash and his wife, Vivian, were living in Memphis, Tennessee, at the time. Cash became the front man for the group and precipitated the introduction of the group to Sam Phillips of Sun Records. In 1955 they began recording under the Sun label.

The song was re-recorded four times during Cash's career. In 1964 for the I Walk the Line album, again in 1969 for the At San Quentin album, (a live performance)in 1970 for the I Walk the Line soundtrack, and finally in 1988 for the Classic Cash: Hall of Fame Series album. Additional live performances have been released since Cash's death, along with a demo version recorded prior to the formal 1956 recording session that was released on Bootleg Vol. II: From Memphis to Hollywood (Columbia/Legacy) in 2011.

In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song at #30 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[7]

Writing and composition

The song is very simple and like most Cash songs, the lyrics tell more of a story than the music conveys. (You've got a way to keep me on your side/You give me cause for love that I can't hide/For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide).

It is based upon the "boom-chicka-boom" or "freight train" rhythm common in many of Cash's songs. In the original recording of the song, there is a key change between each of the five verses, and Cash hums the new root note before singing each verse. The final verse, a reprise of the first, is sung a full octave lower than the first verse.

When performing this song on record, and in later live and television appearances, Cash would place a piece of paper under the strings of his guitar towards the tuning end. As he explained during a 1990s appearance on The Nashville Network, he did this in order to simulate the sound of a snare drum, an instrument he did not have access to during the original Sun session.

Johnny, with the Temptations outside his door and a new wife at home, wanted the lyrics to say, "I’m going to be true to those who believe in me and depend on me to myself and God. Something like I’m still being true, or I’m 'Walking The Line.' "The lyrics came as fast as I could write," says Johnny. "In 20 minutes, I had it finished." [1]


  • In 1998, then son-in-law Rodney Crowell covered the song as a duet with Cash on Crowell's album The Houston Kid. This version was titled "I Walk the Line Revisited" and peaked at No. 61 on the country music charts.[8] The cover does not utilize the original melody of the song, instead lyrics from the song, sung by Cash to a different melody, are incorporated into a new song by Crowell.
  • Jaye P. Morgan covered the song in 1960, the single charting at No. 66.
  • In 2014, Craig Wayne Boyd covered this song during season 7 of The Voice. The cover reached the Top 15 on the iTunes US Country charts. [9]
  • Frank Iero released their cover of this as part of his EP For Jamia
  • In 2015, Halsey released her cover as part of the deluxe edition of her debut album Badlands.

Chart positions

Chart (1957) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 17

Laurent Wolf version

"Walk the Line Remix"
File:LW - Walk the Line cover.jpeg
Single by Laurent Wolf
from the album Harmony
Released 22 August 2009
Format CD maxi, Digital download
Genre House
Length 2:53
Label Columbia
Producer(s) Laurent Wolf
Laurent Wolf singles chronology
"Wash My World"

The song was covered by French house music DJ and producer Laurent Wolf and released in August 2009 as Walk the Line Remix.

Track listings

CD single
No. Title Length
1. "Walk the Line" (Radio Edit Version) 3:28
2. "Walk the Line" (Club Version) 6:59
3. "No Stress" (Zen @ Acoustic) 7:35
4. "Colombia"   5:06


Chart (2008-2009) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[10] 18
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[11] 23
France (SNEP)[12] 8
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[13] 83


  1. Johnny Cash - Biography.” CMT.com. MTV Networks. Web. http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/cash_johnny/bio.jhtml%7C Retrieved on 2010-07-11
  2. "Johnny then in the Air Force, discovered that his buddies had borrowed his reel-to-reel tape recorder. When he turned it on, he heard a haunting, organ-like sound. In Truth, it was guitar runs recorded with a tape running one direction and played back in the other ..." Johnny Cash, I Walk The Line - Through the eyes of a fan
  3. Horstman, Dorothy (1976). Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, Country Music Foundation. p. 144.
  4. Grant, Marshall (2006). I Was There When It Happened: My Life With Johnny Cash, Cumberland House Publishing. p. 54.
  5. Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 74.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: Eighth Edition. Record Research. p. 110.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". RollingStone.com. Retrieved 2007-06-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 109. ISBN 0-89820-177-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Digital Downloads". roughtstock.com. Retrieved 27 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Ultratop.be – Laurent Wolf – Walk the Line Remix" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  11. "Ultratop.be – Laurent Wolf – Walk the Line Remix" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  12. "Lescharts.com – Laurent Wolf – Walk the Line Remix" (in French). Les classement single.
  13. "Dutchcharts.nl – Laurent Wolf – Walk the Line Remix" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.