The remarkable accomplishment of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" is its success in eliciting sympathy for the lonely, cold-hearted prisoner who "shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die." Riding a chugga-chugga train rhythm, the song gives voice to the frustrations of a condemned man sentenced to life in prison. Recorded for Sun records, the song was in the country Top Five in 1956, though Cash had written it while in the Air Force somewhere before 1954. "Folsom Prison Blues" follows the traditional symbol of the train whistle, as Hank Williams wrote about in "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle" (1951). That song tracks a man following the siren call of the rails, finding trouble along the way, and getting sent to jail: "All alone I bear the shame/I'm a number, not a name/I heard that lonesome whistle blow" (Williams/Davis). Cash's protagonist is already locked away, imagining life going on outside the prison walls: "I bet there's rich folks eating in a fancy dining car/They're probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars/But I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free/But those people keep on moving/And that's what tortures me." As the audience often confuses the singer with the song, "Folsom Prison Blues" was one of the tunes that -- along with his status as a musician that fell in between rockabilly, folk, and country genres -- led to Cash's reputation as a country music outlaw, the "Man in Black" who wrote about society's dispossessed castaways. "Folsom Prison Blues" rightly takes its place among the folk/country lexicon of prison songs. As such, it has become folk/country classic, a standard with countless cover versions. Among the best: Flatt and Scruggs play up the song's rowdy bluegrass elements on the 1996-released 1964-1969, Plus box set. On the Genuine Basement Tapes (1992 release), Bob Dylan and the Band inject some of the Highway 61 Revisited-like blues; and Jerry Reed Lord, Mr. Ford (1973) offers an unexpectedly funky reading of the song -- if ever there was such a thing as country-funk, it would have to sound something like this cross between the Bar-Kays and Waylon Jennings. But the finest renditions of the "Folsom Prison Blues" remain Cash's own live recordings from 1968's At Folsom Prison and 1969's At San Quentin. These highly energized, in-prison performances feature prisoners hooting in approval at that chilling line "But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die."