Johnny Cash was nothing short of a workhorse. Over the course of his career, he released over sixty studio albums. That doesn’t count all the singles, compilations, and other releases. The Man In Black’s catalog is so vast it’d be a tough job to collect all of his releases. So, to find out that he went into the studio and cut three killer songs in one day shouldn’t come as a surprise. On this day sixty-two years ago, he stepped into the legendary Bradley Film & Recording Studio and did just that.
That day, Johnny Cash recorded “I Got Stripes,” “Five Feet High and Rising,” and “You Dreamer You,” all of which were released as singles. Let’s take a look at these singles. Then, we’ll talk about the historical significance of the Bradley studio.
Johnny Cash Tells a Personal Story – “Five Feet High and Rising”
The story-telling aspect of country music is what truly sets it apart from other genres of music. It is the stories in the songs that we connect most deeply with. Those are the songs that stick around because they resonate so deeply with their listeners. “Five Feet High and Rising,” is a first-hand account of a natural disaster that Johnny Cash survived in his youth.
The song tells the story of the 1937 Mississippi and Ohio River flood. At that time, Cash was just shy of five years old. His family lived in the community known as Dyess in northeastern Arkansas and worked the land to survive. When the flood came, it washed away a good portion of the town. “Five Feet High and Rising,” follows Johnny Cash and his family as they fled from their home to escape the quickly rising water. It doesn’t go into vivid detail. However, it feels like a story built completely from childhood memories. Check it out above and see for yourself.
The Flip Side of the Flood Ballad – “I Got Stripes”
Johnny Cash wrote and sang so many prison songs that many people still think he did time behind bars. He didn’t, though. On the other hand, his upbringing and time in the military gave him empathy for the downtrodden. He could relate to the incarcerated. “I Got Stripes,” is another one of Cash’s great prison stories.
“I Got Stripes,” tells the story of a man who is arrested, tried, and put in prison. There’s no talk of the charge nor pleas of innocence. This one is just a straight-forward story about life wearing prison stripes and doing hard labor. It works great alongside “Five Feet High and Rising,” because it follows the theme of loss and hardship. Cash made sorrow and hard times sound so good. The song reached number four on the Hot Country Songs chart.
As an interesting aside, “I Got Stripes” borrow heavily from “On a Monday,” by blues legend Leadbelly. It’s not a direct cover by any means but the influence is definitely there.
Johnny Cash Marries an Angel – “You Dreamer You”
Johnny Cash wasn’t all about sorrow and hard times. He could also write one heck of a love song. Some of his most well-known tunes are incredibly romantic. Give “I Walk the Line,” and “Ring of Fire,” another listen to see great examples of that. The Man in Black spoke from the heart on both of those. “You Dreamer You,” fits right along with those two classics.
The song talks about Johnny Cash’s dream of meeting and attempting to marry an angel. She turns him down but tells him she is a dream that can come true. Then, he wakes up to find his angel lying next to him.
Bradley’s Recording and Film Studio – the Birthplace of Music Row
Most of the biggest country songs and albums to come out of Nashville from the past six decades came from one area: Music Row. However, in the early fifties what is now known as Music Row was a residential area, according to “The Tennessean.”
Bradley’s Film and Recording Studio was the first recording studio to go up on what is now Music Row. Owen Bradley and his brother Harold started the whole thing in 1954. They bought the house at 804 16th Avenue South and converted it into a studio. The Bradley brothers tore out the first floor and set up a recording studio in the basement. They attached a Quonset hut to the back of the house to use as a television studio. Four years later, the basement studio was too small. So, they moved the whole operation into the hut.
That Quonset hut is where Johnny Cash cut these, and several other, songs. The studio also hosted big names like The Byrds and Bob Dylan. After the success of the Quonset Hut Studio, other studios and publishing companies started buying up properties in the area. Today, the area is the beating heart of the Nashville country music scene.