I Walk the Line

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"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"
ReleasedMay 1, 1956
Format7-inch & 10-inch singles[1]
RecordedApril 2, 1956, Sun Studio, Memphis, Tennessee
Songwriter(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.[4] 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[edit]

The unique chord progression for the song was inspired by backwards playback of guitar runs on Cash's tape recorder[5] 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."[6] 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,[7] 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's lyrics refer to marital fidelity, personal responsibility, and avoiding temptation and criminal behavior.[8]

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.[9] "I Walk the Line" crossed over and reached number 19 on the pop music charts.[10]

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.

Writing and composition[edit]

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 almost a full octave lower than the first verse, from D5 down to E4.

When performing this song in recording, 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 to which he did not have access 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."[11]


The song is included in "The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll", a permanent exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[12][13] In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song at No. 30 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[14] and also ranked it #1 on its list of the 100 greatest country songs of all time in June 2014.[15]


  • Everly Brothers recorded the song in 1963 on their album The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits.
  • Dolly Parton included a cover of the song on her 1984 album of covers The Great Pretender.
  • Glen Campbell recorded an infamously unreleased cover of the song. It was finally released in 1994 on his The Essential Glen Campbell Volume One album.
  • In 1998, Cash's former 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.[16] 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 2004, the American rock band Live released a cover on their greatest hits album Awake: The Best of Live.
  • 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.[17]
  • 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. It appeared in the official teaser trailer for Power Rangers.
  • Tapio Rautavaara made a Finnish-language version of the song, called "Yölinjalla" (‘On the night line’). The Finnish lyrics tell about the hard life of truck drivers, who often had to drive through the night; the melody was originally credited as Rautavaara's own composition but this was revised in 2008.[18]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1957) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[19] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[20] 17

Laurent Wolf version[edit]

"Walk the Line Remix"
LW - Walk the Line cover.jpeg
Single by Laurent Wolf
from the album Harmony
Released22 August 2009
FormatCD maxi, Digital download
Songwriter(s)Johnny Cash
Producer(s)Laurent Wolf
Laurent Wolf singles chronology
"Walk the Line Remix"

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[edit]

CD single
1."Walk the Line" (Radio Edit Version)2:53
2."Walk the Line" (Club Version)6:59
3."No Stress" (Zen @ Acoustic)7:35


Chart (2008-2009) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[21] 18
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[22] 23
France (SNEP)[23] 8
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[24] 83


  1. ^ "Johnny Cash And Tennessee Two* - Get Rhythm / I Walk The Line". Discogs. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  2. ^ "I Walk the Line - Johnny Cash - Song Info - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  3. ^ "Johnny Cash". Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  4. ^ Johnny Cash - Biography.” CMT.com. MTV Networks. Web. http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/cash_johnny/bio.jhtml%7C Retrieved on 2010-07-11
  5. ^ "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
  6. ^ Horstman, Dorothy (1976). Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, Country Music Foundation. p. 144.
  7. ^ Grant, Marshall (2006). I Was There When It Happened: My Life With Johnny Cash, Cumberland House Publishing. p. 54.
  8. ^ Winkler, Alice. "I Walk the Line." NPR. "All Things Considered." 14 Feb 2017 <https://www.npr.org/2000/12/23/1115971/npr-100-i-walk-the-line>
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 74.
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: Eighth Edition. Record Research. p. 110.
  11. ^ ""I Walk the Line" - Reverse Speech". theopenscroll.com. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  12. ^ Henke, James. "500 Songs That Shaped Rock" (pdf). Infoplease. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
  13. ^ "Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: I Walk the Line". Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. August 23, 2016. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  14. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". RollingStone.com. Retrieved 2007-06-02.
  15. ^ "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  16. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 109. ISBN 0-89820-177-2.
  17. ^ "Digital Downloads". roughstock.com. Retrieved 27 December 2014.
  18. ^ Koppinen, Mari (2015-03-08). "Kantri-Tapsa lauloi tarinat kuin Johnny Cash. Sata vuotta sitten syntynyt Tapio Rautavaara kuului Suomi-countryn esitaistelijoihin" [‘Country Tapio sang the stories just like Johnny Cash’]. Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish). Helsinki: Sanoma. p. C 17. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  19. ^ "Johnny Cash Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  20. ^ "Johnny Cash Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  21. ^ "Ultratop.be – Laurent Wolf – Walk the Line Remix" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  22. ^ "Ultratop.be – Laurent Wolf – Walk the Line Remix" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  23. ^ "Lescharts.com – Laurent Wolf – Walk the Line Remix" (in French). Les classement single.
  24. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Laurent Wolf – Walk the Line Remix" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.