On This Day: Johnny Cash Tops the Billboard 200 Chart for the Last Time With ‘American V’ in 2006

by Jim Casey

Johnny Cash topped the all-genre Billboard 200 chart with his posthumously released album, American V: A Hundred Highways, on July 22, 2006. Interestingly enough, in Johnny’s storied career, he only topped the all-genre album chart twice. The first time was in 1969 with his epic live album, At San Quentin. A little more than 37 years later, Cash’s American V matched the feat.

The fifth volume of Johnny Cash’s stripped-down American series was released in early July 2006. American V also reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, a coup Johnny copped on 11 occasions.

The 12-song set included the last song Johnny penned, “Like the 309.”

In the same vein as Johnny’s 1955 single, “Hey, Porter,” “Like the 309” referenced one of his favorite subjects: trains. “It should be a while before I see doctor Death / So, it would sure would be nice if I could get my breath / Well, I’m not the cryin’, nor the whinin’ kind / Til I hear the whistle of the 309, of the 309, of the 309 / Put me in my box on the 309.”

Johnny’s Last Stand

The album also featured the Cash-penned “I Came to Believe.” Additional tracks included covers of Hank Williams’ “On the Evening Train,” “Bruce Springsteen’s “Further on Up the Road,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” among others.

Three songs on the album—”Help Me,” “I Came to Believe,” and “I’m Free From the Chain Gang Now”—were previously recorded by Johnny.

Johnny’s wife of 35 years, June Carter Cash, died in May 2003. Johnny passed away a few months later in September 2003. The Man in Black recorded much of American V in the summer of 2003, between June’s death and his own. The album’s finishing touches were added after Johnny’s death.

Once again, producer Rick Rubin helmed the project. Rubin also produced the previous four American albums, as well as 2010’s final installment, American VI.

“We felt Johnny’s presence during the whole process through to the end,” said Rick Rubin in a 2006 press release. “It felt like he was directing the proceedings, and I know that the musicians all felt that as well. Almost all of the songs were cut solely to Johnny’s original vocal tracks, the musicians all keyed off his voice and were playing to him, supporting the emotion of his performance. More than once, [engineer David “Fergie” Ferguson] and I would look at each other and say, ‘Johnny would love this.’ Because it was so good and so different from anything we’d done before, we knew he would be excited by what was happening.”

The album was certified Gold by the RIAA in 2006 for sales of 500,000 units.

“These songs are Johnny’s final statement,” added Rubin. “They are the truest reflection of the music that was central to his life at the time. This is the music that Johnny wanted us to hear.”