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June 14

Why today? It was on Flag Day in 1977 that Johnny Cash went to the U.S. Capitol to recite before Congress his self-penned tribute to our national standard.

About the record: Columbia 4-46028, recorded Jan. 28, 1974, at the House of Cash complex in Hendersonville, Tenn. Released that April, eventually reaching No. 31 on Billboard‘s country chart. First LP appearance was on Ragged Old Flag, Columbia KC-32917. Released April 5, 1974, it eventually reached No. 16 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

In early 1974, the Man in Black had been recording more than 18 years, with a whopping 56 albums to his credit. But as great a composer as he was, not one of those LPs was all his; each contained at least one song he didn’t write. “It’s something I always wanted to do,” Cash declared in the liner notes to Ragged Old Flag, “write an album of all my own songs and for some reason, I just never got around to it.”

By ’74, he’d gotten around to it: “In the last year or two, these songs started bubbling out of me more than ever and I started putting down everything that came out. I sang them for my family and my friends, and all they had to do was say they liked one and I’d go write another one.”

Twelve of them became the album Ragged Old Flag. The title cut, Cash said, practically wrote itself: “You’ve heard of people who write songs in ten minutes? ‘Ragged Old Flag’ was one of those songs.”

It was recorded at the family’s business headquarters, the House of Cash complex not far from his lakeside home northeast of Nashville. The occasion was a luncheon for CBS Records folks, and it’s their applause you hear as big John completes his stirring recitation. That’s Cash’s labelmate Earl Scruggs on the banjo, and an orchestra and chorus arranged by Chuck Cochran.

While not a huge hit, the song made an impression during those tumultuous days of Watergate and the Vietnam War’s last gasp. And so, three years later, on June 14, Johnny Cash was in Washington, declaring before Congress his mighty pride in that ragged old flag.

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