83. Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings & Kris Kristofferson – ‘Highwayman’ (1985)

“I fly a starship
Across the universe divide
And when I reach the other side
I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can
Perhaps I may become a highwayman again
Or I may simply be a single drop of rain
But I will remain
And I’ll be back again”

Written by Jimmy Webb

Produced by Chips Moman

Taken from the album Highwayman

Also released on Super Hits, The Essential Johnny Cash, The Essential Willie Nelson, The Essential Kris Kristofferson and The Essential Waylon Jennings

This epic collaboration brings out the best of every participant, and brings together four country legends to take on one of the most impressive songs I’ve ever heard. There are many changes to hear their voice blend on the amazing Highwayman album, but here Johnny, Willie, Waylon and Kris split the four verses equally, each playing a different part. The song tells the story of one soul that has four incarnations through history: highwayman, sailor, construction worker, astronaut.

Each of the first three verses ends with the character being killed in one way or another, be it by hanging or by tragic accident, but with a reassurance that “I am still alive”, or “I will always be around”. The story of a soul travelling through American history, from one event to the next, from one time period to the next, is a story worthy of a series of blockbuster films, let alone a song that barely reaches three minutes. But here, guided by a keen sense of melody and some of the best vocalists country music has ever produced, all we need to know is captured.

Predictably, when Johnny Cash begins singing the final verse, you feel like the legend to end all legends has entered the room, and he completely steals the show. “I may simply be a single drop of rain, but I will remain”, he sings, at once talking about his place within this song and his place within music history. “Historic” is the word I think sums this up nicely: for country, for rock and roll, and the song itself is a love letter to America.

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