Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

“Five Minutes to Live”: Death Sentence Commuted to 50 Years

My deep appreciation to Brian Horrorwitz of Trash Palace for introducing me to a great tune that was sung by Johnny Cash and featured in a mediocre film in which he starred:

Five Minutes to Live

Johnny Cash (1960)

I am especially in awe of Luther Perkins’ guitar lines, who plays exactly the right notes and not a single note more.  Luther’s terse instrumental passage preceding each verse captures perfectly the unrelenting dread – one imagines – of those awaiting execution, while the economy of his playing thrills me in the same way that complex and showy musicianship used to knock me out when I was a wide-eyed teen.

Five Minutes to Live poster

But if you search all of Cash’s Columbia single releases, you will discover that this obvious A-side was never issued as a 45 — nor was it released on any of Johnny’s Columbia albums either.  Neither was it issued as part of a soundtrack album for Five Minutes to Live (a.k.a. Door-to-Door Maniac), as far as I can tell.  Thus, this song, born in 1960, remained in solitary confinement for over 50 years until 2011’s Columbia Legacy release, Bootleg Vol. II – From Memphis to Hollywood.

Is it possible that the heavyweight topic of capital punishment made “Five Minutes to Live” too sensitive for radio play?

Record World

October 25, 1969

Thanks to In the Can for the recording session info:

Wednesday, November 2, 1960 = At Bradley Studio in Nashville, Johnny Cash
records “Five Minutes To Live” and “The Losing Kind”


Johnny Cash (vocals & guitar)

Luther Perkins & Johnny Western (guitars)

Marshall Grant (bass)

W.S. Holland (drums)

Produced by Don Law


History Bonus!

Ad in DC’s Unicorn Times

Nov. 1975

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