Johnny Cash Christmas Specials:1978 & 1979

Jessica Suarez

While there are Christmas songs interspersed throughout the specials, the majority of the music consists of standard country tunes.

The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1978

Distributor: Shout! Factory
Cast: Johnny Cash
US Release Date: 2008-10-07

The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1979

Distributor: Shout! Factory
Cast: Johnny Cash
US Release Date: 2008-10-07

The Johnny Cash Christmas Specials were the third and fourth installments of his annual tradition. They offer a glimpse into the 1970s country music world as they include performances by June Carter Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Tom T. Hall, and Anne Murray.

Comedy relief comes in the form of appearances by Steve Martin and Andy Kauffman, appealing to a country audience by keeping much of their material related to Cash. Surprisingly, Martin does not choose to show off his famous banjo-playing skills, but he does perform as a French Johnny Cash-like figure. Kauffman is in character as Latka from Taxi for the most part, until he switches into his uncannily good Elvis Presley impression.

The 1978 special was filmed in Los Angeles, because as Cash explained, three of his daughters and many of the family's friends live in the area so they decided to spend the holidays in California. Moving the show to LA marked a shift to a more Hollywood-style production, as opposed to the more laid back, homey feeling of the1979 special back in Nashville.

Each of the specials begins with a short introductory comedy sketch and then with a short “My name is Johnny Cash”, Cash immediately launches into a song. As each of the specials runs just under one hour, Cash and his guests make great use of their time singing solos, duets, and group numbers, alongside Cash's stories of family Christmases and even a recitation of Edna St. Vincent Millay's “The Ballad of the Harp Weaver”, along with the comic portions, these specials offer a wonderful variety of material that seems almost unimaginable today.

Both of these specials include performances of non-Christmas related songs and comedy material. In fact, as far as the comedic parts go, there is really only one gag that is holiday themed and it features Andy Kauffman in a Santa Claus suit without pants. Not exactly traditional Christmas fare.

While there are Christmas songs interspersed throughout the specials, the majority of the music consists of standard country tunes. Highlights include Cash's “Ballad of a Teenage Queen”, his two duets with June Carter Cash (“You're a Part of Me” and “If I Were a Carpenter”), Cash and Kristofferson's duet on “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and Hall's “That's Why You Have to Be You”.

Both Rita Coolidge and Anne Murray also sing solos, “Love Me Again” and “You Needed Me”, respectively, yet they stand out as something closer to pop ballads than the rest of the more traditional country songs. However, both of their duets and group sing-alongs stick closer to this, particularly Murray's song with Cash, “That Christmasy Feeling”.

Part of what makes these specials as engaging as they are is Cash himself, particularly his easygoing rapport with guests and the obvious love he has for his family. The moments with June are especially charming – their duet on the aforementioned “If I Were a Carpenter” exudes such warmth and affection that many may be surprised to see him so relaxed. The 1978 special includes Cash singing “Silent Night” surrounded by daughters Carlene, Tara, Rosanne, Cindy, Kathy, and Rosie and while a few of them seem less than enthused to be singing along, Cash is all smiles as the proud father.

There's also a portion of the 1979 special devoted to family recollections with his father, Ray, and older brother, Roy, visiting their small, childhood home in Dyess, Arkansas. They reminisce about a bad flood that sent their farm animals to seek shelter in the home. The obvious hardship of Cash’s early life is clear, but the simplicity and humor used in retelling their story is a welcome antidote to the increasingly cheap tactics used to illicit an emotional response in much of reality television today.

Having cleaned up his act from his many addictions and rediscovered his Christian faith ten years earlier, there is a matter-of-factness to the way Cash speaks of God and religion in the specials. There is no proselytizing or any overtly religion scenes, but it is clearly and unapologetically a part of the programs. The 1979 special has Cash telling of a recent family trip to “the Holy Land”, Jerusalem, and the feeling of “coming home” he felt during their visit.

Unfortunately, there are no bonus features to speak of, but these specials made available through a partnership with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, offer enough to entice both Johnny Cash and country music fans to this collection.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.