Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Rosanne Cash, “Tennessee Flat Top Box”

“Tennessee Flat Top Box”

Rosanne Cash

Written by Johnny Cash

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

January 15, 1988


#1 (1 week)

February 13, 1988

Rosanne Cash revived a lesser known Johnny Cash hit and turned it into a bona fide smash, powering King’s Record Shop to gold-selling status.

There was a small kerfuffle surrounding “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” It was one of those songs that Rosanne knew by heart from growing up as Johnny’s daughter, but she didn’t realize he’d actually written it, and the Nashville press made a minor hullaballoo around that fact. This created an opening for Johnny himself to speak up, and express that he was even prouder that Rosanne recorded it, since she clearly did it on the merit of the song and not as a tribute for its own sake.

What’s so cool about this record is that it preserves the classic rhythm of those early Johnny Cash records, but updates the production just enough to make it fit as part of contemporary country radio in the late eighties. It’s part of a string of six consecutive No. 1 singles for Cash, and after “Seven Year Ache,” it is her most remembered country radio hit, and rightfully so.

“Tennessee Flat Top Box” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. I had heard the story of Rosanne recording that song without even realizing it was her father who had written it and had a minor hit with it in 1961-62. It may have been too easy for people to scream “Neoptism!” when it came to Rosanne, but she was and still remains her own person, as much an individualistic artist as her father had been for all those decades.

  2. Johnny’s single was released at a time when there was a glut of singles being released on Cash with Columbia releasing current material (much of it covers of classic country songs) and Sam Phillips at Sun releasing much old material from the Sun vaults.

    After 1960 Sun quit re-issuing old material until the late 1960s when the Sun catalogue was sold to Shelby Singleton (Plantation Records). I am not sure exactly how many songs Cash recorded for Sun (my guess is about 80), but by various combinations/permutations of songs being slapped on ten song albums, along with overdubbing (both with additional instruments and/or “live” applause, mono (plus stereo and reprocessed stereo versions), Singleton released at least 19 Johnny Cash albums between 1969-1982

    I actually prefer Johnny’s version of the song, but Roseanne’s version is also excellent and very worth the “A” you gave it.

  3. I’d heard the story that Rosanne didn’t realize this song was her father’s (or that he’d written it…whichever). I’d also heard that she denied it. Whatever the case, I couldn’t care less. This is an absolutely killer record that outshines the original by no small amount. I just listened to Johnny’s original hit and it holds up well. We’re not talking about the chasmic divide between Marty Stuart and Pam Tillis’ versions of “Don’t Tell Me What To Do” here. It’s a great song so any number of Nashville artists likely could have done justice to it. But Rosanne’s version is such a zippy, jangly force of nature that it instantly catapulted itself to near the top of my all-time favorite song list back in the late 80s and remains there today. It’s all kinetic energy from the opening beat to the closing fadeout, and never loses its shine or ability to get my heart thumping and my feet bouncing three and a half decades later.

    The fact that it was yet another curveball in Rosanne’s career trajectory made it that much more attractive. The same woman who gave us the jaw-droppingly progressive “Rhythm and Romance” album two years earlier and was hot off of a #1 with a dark cheatin’ song does a hard pivot to the countriest song of her commercial career and knocks it out of the park without seeming pandering or inauthentic. If there was any lingering question that Rosanne Cash was my favorite artist of the 80s before “Tennessee Flat Top Box”, the issue was settled after its release. The grade I’m about to serve up here is reserved for songs at the top of my top tier. It’s the first I’ve given in these reviews, although there will be others from the earlier years in the 80s if I ever get around to backfilling those reviews.

    Grade: A+

  4. I love this song, pretty much for all the reasons you mentioned! Keeping that classic Cash rhythm but improving the production made it an upgrade over his original, in my opinion. That previous Exile song sure sits on an island of mediocrity compared to all of the other wonderful songs that hit Number 1 around it.

  5. Country music’s rock star. Cash is cool, progressive, sentimental, and smart.

    The performance is alive and vital.

    What a classic that perfectly bridges country music’s past, its present and its future.

  6. THe Johnny Cash version is above average. The Roseanne Cash version is one of the greates country music records of all time! I cant say enough about it! A+

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