Article by Tom Konecny Originally posted on

The ever-popular Johnny Cash produced some 1,200 songs throughout his illustrious 50-year career, but there’s sudden reinterest in one of his tracks that didn’t even crack the Top 30 when it was released in 1974.

“Ragged Old Flag” is the title piece of Cash’s 47th album, but this grand, spoken word tribute to patriotism was originally written, it seems, with a heavy and concerned heart as American leadership sat at crossroads. When it was released in April 1974, America was absorbed with the ongoing Watergate scandal and the disconcerting feeling it was leaving behind. Cash had long been known as an outspoken entertainer, and had even visited President Richard Nixon in 1972. However, he didn’t like seeing the unfolding – if not embarrassing – narrative taking place and how it reflected on America.

Cash had supported Nixon’s candidacy, but he was also beginning to question policies around the Vietnam War. He wrote the song, according to Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash biography, to “reaffirm faith in the country and the goodness of the American people.” Cash wanted to remind Americans what patriotism meant and of his own faith in America at a time when many were divided.

Cash’s song tells a story about a visitor encountering an old man in a town square, and they talk about what both the flag and American has been through together. The song is reflective of Cash’s patriotism and love of America, and that’s part of the reason Cash gained such crossover appeal among fans of country, rock and roll, blues, folk and gospel.

The tune enjoyed a bump in popularity while featured at the beginning of FOX’s telecast of the Super Bowl in February 2017. The three-and-a-half minute clip showed war recreations and present-day actors in a town square. The network could have used that time to sell prime ad space, but its patriotic sports director instead chose to use Cash’s song to promote his love of the United States.

“Ragged Old Flag” was well-liked with fans during Cash’s live performances, and it gained even more popularity after 9/11. It’s often recited at events around the nation, it has been played by the U.S. Army’s West Point Band, and it’s regularly recited by veterans groups on national holidays.

While Cash’s intention behind the song may have been forgotten some 40 years later, the legacy lives on in various ways. It stands well enough on its own as a truly patriotic tune, and many also consider it as an anti-flag burning song.

Although “The Man in Black” passed away in 2003, he’s probably smiling at that sentiment – because he was proud of that ragged old flag.

Image Details: This is the cover art for Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” album. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the record label or the graphic artist(s). Source: Wikipedia.

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