About The Song

Background

Released in 1984 as a single alongside “Battle of Nashville,” “The Chicken in Black” is a unique entry in Johnny Cash’s vast and celebrated discography. Unlike his more serious and introspective works, “The Chicken in Black” is a humorous novelty song written by Gary Gentry. While not a major chart success, peaking at number 45 on the U.S. Billboard’s country chart, the song has become a fan favorite for its absurdity and its showcase of Cash’s comedic delivery.

Musical Style

The song is a classic country tune with a driving, toe-tapping tempo. The instrumentation features a prominent electric guitar with a twangy sound, a steady backbeat on the drums, and a simple but effective bass line. Cash’s iconic baritone voice takes center stage, delivering the witty lyrics with a playful wink. Backing vocals join in on the choruses, adding a touch of harmony and reinforcing the catchy nature of the song.

Lyrics

The story unfolds through playful lyrics that paint a picture of mistaken identity and the unexpected consequences of medical intervention. The song opens with Johnny Cash experiencing persistent headaches, leading him to a doctor who diagnoses his body as having “outlived” his brain. Seeking a solution, Cash is referred to a specialist in New York City who performs a brain transplant using the brain of a deceased bank robber.

The hilarity ensues when Cash, with his new bank robber brain, attempts to rob a bank. He shouts out orders, demanding money in his guitar case, but is recognized by a confused customer who calls him Johnny Cash. This throws Cash into a state of bewilderment, as he insists he’s not the Man in Black but the “Manhattan Flash,” the supposed best bank robber in New York.

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The story takes another turn when Cash attempts to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, the legendary country music venue. However, his new brain disrupts his ability to sing, leading him to resort to bank robbing demands in the middle of his performance. Desperate, Cash calls the doctor who performed the transplant, begging to get his old brain back. Unfortunately, the doctor informs him the brain has been implanted in a chicken, who is now singing Cash’s songs and enjoying a lucrative recording career.

The song ends with Cash lamenting his situation, stuck with a bank robber brain and yearning for his own musical identity back. The lyrics are filled with witty wordplay and absurdist humor, making “The Chicken in Black” a delightful departure from Cash’s usual repertoire.

Cultural Impact

While not a mainstream hit, “The Chicken in Black” has garnered a devoted following among Cash fans. It showcases his versatility as a performer, his willingness to embrace humor, and his ability to connect with audiences through unconventional storytelling. The song’s popularity is further solidified by its presence on the 1998 compilation album “A Boy Named Sue and Other Story Songs,” a collection of Cash’s most notable narrative-driven tunes.

The song’s quirky nature has resonated with fans who appreciate its lighthearted approach. “The Chicken in Black” serves as a reminder of Cash’s ability to entertain beyond the realm of his more serious and introspective works.

Conclusion

“The Chicken in Black” stands as a unique and memorable entry in Johnny Cash’s discography. It offers a humorous glimpse into a world of mistaken identity and the unexpected consequences of medical science. The song’s catchy melody, witty lyrics, and Cash’s playful delivery ensure its place as a cult classic among fans of the Man in Black. While not a reflection of Cash’s usual musical style, “The Chicken in Black” showcases his versatility and his ability to connect with audiences through humor and unconventional storytelling.

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Video

Lyrics

🎵 Let’s sing along with the lyrics! 🎤

For two long years my head hurt badSo the doctor checked me an he shook his headHe said, “I’m sorry to tell youBut your body’s outlived your brain”He said, “I know this doctor in New York, sonAnd he’ll fix you right up with a brand new one”So the head doctor met me when I stepped down off of the train
He said, “We had this bank robber killed last nightHis body’s shot but his brain’s alrightI’ll give you a transplant, boy, and you’ll be okay”I got my new brain in and I was feelin’ greatI went right back to Nashville with no headacheBut something strange happened when I walked in the bank one day
I said, “Stick ’em up everybody, I’m robbin’ this placeDrop all of your money in my guitar caseDon’t nobody move and don’t nobody reach for that door”A lady said, “Why, you’re Johnny Cash”I said, “No ma’am, I’m the Manhattan FlashAnd I am the best bank robber in New York”
Now the other night, Roy Acuff called meHe said, “John, I’d like for you to do the OprySo I went out on the stage, but I couldn’t sing”I got into a half a verse of “I Walk The Line”And something snapped in this head of mineI yelled, “Stick ’em upGive me your money, your watches and rings”
Well, I called New York and talked to that brain quackI said, “Doc, I’ve gotta have my old brain back”He said, “I’m sorry there, Mr. Cash, but I can’t do that”He said, “I put your brain in a chicken last MondayHe’s singing your songs and makin’ lots of moneyAnd I got him signed to a ten-year recording contract”
Now, friends, if you see me walkin’ down the streetRemember what you see ain’t necessarily meAnd if I try to hold you up, don’t pay me no mindBut when you got ten bucks that you can blowYou oughta catch that Johnny Chicken showHe’s doin’ fairs and concert dates all up and down the line
I said, “Stick ’em up everybody, I’m robbin’ this placeDrop all of your money in my guitar caseDon’t nobody move and don’t nobody reach for that door”A lady said, “Why, you’re Johnny Cash”I said, “No ma’am, I’m the Manhattan FlashAnd I am the best bank robber in New York”
Well, I don’t pay any income taxYou don’t pay tax on money you stealYou oughta catch that Johnny Chicken showChicken in black

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