How Johnny Cash’s ‘American IV: The Man Comes Around’ Helped Define The Country Crooner’s Legacy

On what would have been Johnny Cash’s 84th birthday, the full, in-depth story behind the fourth instalment of The Man In Black’s iconic ‘American’ covers series uncovered…


‘American IV: The Man Comes Around’ is a testament to the inimitable power of Johnny Cash. Though the 2002 release predominantly featured a host of cover versions (from Depeche Mode to Sting), it’s still lauded as a seminal work today, proving that Cash can flip any track on its head and make it his own. We take a look at the story of its creation…


Largely recorded in Rubin’s living room, the first, stripped-back ‘American Recordings’ album was released in 1994 to great acclaim, re-establishing Cash as a creative force. 1996’s ‘Unchained’ and 2000’s ‘American III: Solitary Man’ duly followed. ‘American IV: The Man Comes Around’ would be the last album Cash released before his death in September 2003.


At Rubin’s suggestion, Cash sang ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ as a love song not to a person, but to God. “That idea really excited him,” said the producer. “The idea was to give something a new point of view, or give it a touchstone.”



The idea for the song ‘The Man Comes Around’ came from a dream of Cash’s, where he was in Buckingham Palace and the Queen said to him, “Johnny Cash, you’re just like a thorn tree in a whirlwind.”


The video for ‘Hurt’ – which NME called the greatest ever made in 2011 – was partly filmed at the House of Cash museum in Hendersonville, Tennessee (which closed in 1999).


During recording, Cash struggled with pneumonia and autonomic neuropathy arising from his diabetes. “Sometimes I came to the studio and I couldn’t sing,” he recalled shortly before his death. “I came in with no voice when I could have stayed at home and pouted in my room and cried in my beer or my milk, but I didn’t let that happen.”

Johnny Cash With Wife June And Son John

The quote from ‘The Man Comes Around’ (“One of the four beasts sang, ‘Come and see’, and I saw/ And behold, a white horse”) that opens the album is taken from Revelation 6:1-2, which describes John the Apostle’s vision of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.



Regret and redemption are the key themes of the album, and Sting’s 1996 murder ballad ‘I Hung My Head’ – about a man who accidentally kills someone and is made to face up to his crime – neatly encapsulates both.


In his own words: “We put more blood, sweat, and tears and love into this one than anything we’ve ever done. It reaches out even farther and in more directions than the others did.” Johnny Cash, 2003