Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Rosanne Cash, Part Two

Part One was written by Leeann Ward and published last month.

I grew up with Rosanne Cash.

She was one of those artists that my parents listened to in the car. The CD was always Hits: 1979-1989.  My dad loved “My Baby Thinks He’s a Train” and my mom, “Tennessee Flat-Top Box.”  They both loved “Seven Year Ache.”

But by the time I was listening to country music independently, with CMT as my primary conduit for new music, Cash had already left country music behind. Given that she was never big on making music videos in the first place, I saw the clip for “The Wheel” a few times, and that was it.

Eventually, I rediscovered Cash, thanks to the reissue boom overseas that paired her Columbia albums two to a disc, and her increased musical output in the new century.  Hearing her classic early albums, it became clear that Cash would’ve been a favorite artist of mine in the nineties if she had stuck to the genre.

I like a lot of her more recent stuff, and the lack of much of it on my list shouldn’t be considered a rejection of it. I just prefer a bigger production and some catchy hooks to go with clever and incisive songwriting, so I like her eighties stuff a lot more.

Rosanne Cash The Wheel


“If There’s a God on My Side”
The Wheel, 1993

This longing closer from Cash’s adult pop album is doubly provocative, as she doubts the existence of God while simultaneously declaring Her essence as feminine.

Rosanne Cash Retrospective

“I’m Only Sleeping”
Retrospective, 1995

Her paint-by-numbers cover of “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” was Cash’s eleventh and final #1 country single, but it is her cover of this classic from Revolver that reveals new layers of meaning through her committed performance.


“Like Fugitives”
Black Cadillac, 2005

This feminist reflection also takes a few shots at those who used her late father’s name to attack Cash’s opposition to the Iraq War.

Rosanne Cash King's Record Shop

“I Don’t Have to Crawl”
King’s Record Shop, 1987

I spent years looking for this song, after the Women of Country CBS special featured a brief clip of Emmylou Harris singing it. In the end, I heard Cash’s version first, which replaces the bitterness of the Harris version with plaintive pleading.

Rosanne Cash Seven Year Ache

“You Don’t Have Very Far to Go”
Seven Year Ache, 1981

Cash’s earlier albums followed the template set down by Emmylou Harris, with a balance of new material and smart covers. Cash delivers this Merle Haggard song so well that she surpasses even the original recording by Hag himself.


Rosanne Cash Rhythm and Romance

“Closing Time”
Rhythm & Romance, 1985

My favorite Cash album appropriately closes with this number, which has Cash lamenting that “my heart desires so many things that my pride just can’t allow.”Rosanne Cash The Wheel

“The Wheel”
The Wheel, 1993

Proof positive that Cash could’ve been a great nineties pop star in the vein of Shawn Colvin or Sheryl Crow. I don’t understand the lyrics at all, but she sings it beautifully and the guitar riff is enticing.


Rosanne Cash King's Record Shop

“Runaway Train”
King’s Record Shop, 1987

Mary Chapin Carpenter recorded the demo for this urgent, pulsating train song, which is superior to Cash’s other #1 train song in every way. (Sorry, Dad.)

“God is in the Roses”
Black Cadillac, 2005

Love and loss are inseparably intertwined, both in this life and the next.

Rosanne Cash Seven Year Ache

“What Kinda Girl?”
Seven Year Ache, 1981

Cash covered “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” on her first album, but it was this Steve Forbert cover that more successfully made a feminist statement with a simple pronoun swap.

Rosanne Cash Ten Song Demo

“Just Don’t Talk About it”
10 Song Demo, 1996

Dark and foreboding, “Just Don’t Talk About it” wallows in misery and self-pity, and best fulfills the sparse concept that 10 Song Demo promises with its title.ROdney Crowell Diamonds and Dirt

“It’s Such a Small World” (with Rodney Crowell)
Diamonds and Dirt, 1988

There was never a cooler or smarter country power couple than Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash, and their chart-topping collaboration remains a highlight of both of their catalogs.

“I Was Watching You”
Black Cadillac, 2005

Cash finds beauty and truth within her grief in this stunning piano ballad.

Rosanne Cash King's Record Shop

“Rosie Strike Back”
King’s Record Shop, 1987

Cash’s most celebrated mainstream country album kicks off with this urgent challenge to a friend being victimized by domestic abuse.

Rosanne Cash Rhythm and Romance

“Second to No One”
Rhythm & Romance, 1985

This album was the first true showcase for Cash’s songwriting, as it was the first set where she wrote the majority of the tracks. This top five hit finds Cash struggling with her spouse’s philandering, noting that “She thinks she’s got the key to your heart, now I’ve got to wait by the door.”Rosanne Cash King's Record Shop

“Why Don’t You Quit Leaving Me Alone”
King’s Record Shop, 1987

Another great piano ballad, which has Cash wandering around a lonely resort hotel and missing the man who was with her the last time that she visited. Rosanne Cash Rhythm and Romance

“I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”
Rhythm & Romance, 1985

This superb pop country hit was inspired by Cash’s Grammy loss, as she sang to herself on the way home from the ceremony, “I don’t know why you don’t want me!” She turned it into a love song, and ironically, the song landed her a Grammy shortly thereafter.

Rosanne Cash Rules of Travel

“Beautiful Pain”
Rules of Travel, 2003

Sheryl Crow provides harmony on this hilarious track that has Cash losing patience with the self-inflicted martyrdom being demonstrated by the object of her affection. Rosanne Cash Rhythm and Romance

“Halfway House”
Rhythm & Romance, 1985

The visceral metaphor of a halfway house is used to draw parallels between a troubled relationship and substance addiction, with recovery dependent on “trying to find the truth inside instead of getting by on dreams.”

Rosanne Cash Seven Year Ache

“Blue Moon with Heartache”
Seven Year Ache, 1981

Originally the B-side to “Seven Year Ache,” this melancholy ballad later became Cash’s third #1 hit. It’s simple and it’s sad, as she struggles to decide if it’s worth sticking around.  “Maybe I’ll just go away today,” she wonders.

Rosanne Cash King's Record Shop

“The Way We Make a Broken Heart”
King’s Record Shop, 1987

Originally a creepy duet with John Haitt, Cash transforms it into an exploration of cheater’s guilt that reveals callous indifference on the part of the cheaters.Rosanne Cash Rhythm and Romance

“Never Be You”
Rhythm & Romance, 1985

This killer Tom Petty cover features one of Cash’s strongest vocal performances, and is stacked throughout with catchy pop hooks.

Rosanne Cash Rules of Travel

“September When it Comes” (with Johnny Cash)
Rules of Travel, 2003

A powerful tribute to her father, Johnny Cash, as the two contemplate and prepare for his impending death. It’s one of the best songs ever written from a daughter to a father…Rosanne Cash Rhythm and Romance

“My Old Man”
Rhythm & Romance, 1985

…but it’s not the best that Rosanne Cash has done. That distinction belongs to “My Old Man,” which is all about Cash’s fierce protectiveness for the father that the world doesn’t understand, but thinks that it owns. There’s also a feeling of insecurity that will be familiar to any child who deeply respects their parent: “Ask him how he remembers me, ’cause I want to know where I stand. How I love my old man.”Rosanne Cash Seven Year Ache

“Seven Year Ache”
Seven Year Ache, 1981

It feels almost unfair to top this list with Cash’s breakthrough hit, as its placement implies that her career peaked close to its beginning. That’s not even remotely true.

But there’s no denying that this is a perfectly constructed pop country classic, balancing Cash’s brilliant wordplay and aching vulnerability with a pulsating urgency that transcends its early eighties sound.


  1. I have that Hits 1979 – 1989 album. My favorites – besides “Seven Year Ache” – are “The Way We Make a Broken Heart”, “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” and “I Wonder”. I’ll have to check out some of the other songs on this list.

    I’m very impressed by her recent response to some who suggested that she stick to music and keep her opinions to herself on an issue she feels very strongly about.

  2. I enjoyed reading your list, Kevin, and look forward to revisiting some great Rosanne Cash music soon. I think it’s very fitting that you and Leeann both covered Rosanne for this feature. Since you favor different eras of her career, the two of you were able to spotlight a lot of great selections from both.

  3. All of these are great choices, especially given the fact that Rosanne, much like her father and her stepsister Carlene Carter, really crossed genre boundary lines and got audiences to like the traditional spirit of the country music form while being progressive at the same time. “Seven Year Ache”, along with “My Baby Thinks He’s A Train”, are my favorites from her; but I also agree that her career encompasses even more than just the hits. She, like Emmylou, and Linda Ronstadt, is an album artist (IMHO).

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