The Story Behind “The Chicken In Black,” The Johnny Cash Song That’s Taken Over TikTok

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash

If you’re on TikTok, chances are you’ve come across this one a time or two or a million in the past couple of weeks.

One of the cool things about the app is that classic songs are often given new life and end up taking off with a brand new audience. It’s happened to songs from Keith Whitley and Brooks & Dunn, among many others. And the most recent song to blow up over there is “The Chicken in Black,” the humorous 1984 single from Johnny Cash.

The song tells the story of Johnny Cash getting a brain transplant, but his new brain came from a dead bank robber and instead of singing, Johnny too turns to robbing banks (and the crowd at the Grand Ole Opry). And when he calls and asks for his old brain back, it turns out it’s been implanted in a chicken who has turned into a country music star and has his own TV show, “The Johnny Chicken Show.”

Yeah, it was kind of out there.

Now, obviously this song wasn’t as big as hits like “Ring of Fire” or “Folsom Prison Blues,” but it still peaked at #45 on the charts.

And now it’s taken off again on TikTok, with people making their own videos featuring their pets instead of the guitar that Johnny used for his holdups.

@_jen_hamilton_♬ The Chicken in Black – Johnny Cash

@sadiemillerofficial professional bandit #barrelracer #equestrian #raccoon #petraccoon ♬ The Chicken in Black – Johnny Cash

@romanalexandermusic You heard what the wiener said…#johnnycash #stickemup ♬ The Chicken in Black – Johnny Cash

But how did the bizarre song come to be for the man behind classics like “I Walk The Line?”

Well “The Chicken in Black” was written by Gary Gentry, and as the story goes, Cash decided to record the song because he thought his label would hate it, and he wanted out of his record deal.

The only problem is…that story’s not true.

As our friend Dillon Weldon explains, Gentry wrote the song and Cash loved it at the time: After all, he had recorded several silly songs over the years, including “A Boy Named Sue,” which was a #1 hit for the Man in Black back in 1969.

So Cash released the song, his label loved it, and they even made a video to promote it, with the brain-transplanted Cash donning a yellow spandex bodysuit when he conducts his robberies.

But as it turns out, not everybody was as pleased with the song as Cash and his label. Johnny’s friends and family poked fun at the song, and even Waylon Jennings gave his friend a hard time about dressing up in yellow spandex for a music video.

Not happy with all the reaction and being made fun of, Cash told his label to stop promoting the song. And in his autobiography back in 2003, Cash called the song “intentionally atrocious” and said he wasn’t surprised that his label decided not to renew his contract just a few years later:

“If I were running a record company and one of my artists did that, I know exactly how I’d respond, so I wasn’t surprised when Rick Blackburn at CBS Nashville declined to renew my contract in 1986.”

@dillon.weldon This rumor about Johnny Cash isn’t true! #johnnycash #chickeninblack #garygentry #countrymusic #foryou #fyp ♬ The Chicken in Black – Johnny Cash

Well Cash may not have been a big fan of the song in his later years, but it seems that the folks over on TikTok are loving it.

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