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Robert Silva

Country Song of the Week: 'Tear Stained Letter'

By October 21, 2011

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Johnny Cash's "Tear Stained Letter" has something of a complex history.

Written by Cash, the tune originally appeared on his 1972 album A Thing Called Love. It's a quiet monologue of heartbreak, told by a man making one last stab at bringing his lover back to him -- courtesy of a lachrymose letter. It's well in the tradition of Rex Griffin's suicidal "The Last Letter."

A Thing Called Love was never reissued on CD, and "Tear Stained Letter" was nigh forgotten until Cash revisited the song on American IV: The Man Comes Around in 2003. This version has a completely different feel than the original -- rollicking and light, where the other was slow and mournful. New lyrics add a wicked humor to the heartsick man's pleading which, we soon realize, is mostly devised as a guilt trip on his ex. (Which, if you ask me, is more true to life, and don't ask me how I know.)

The rewrite turns a good song into a great one.

  • Listen to Johnny Cash's sick and sad "Tear Stained Letter" from A Thing Called Love
  • Listen to Johnny Cash's ironic and danceable "Tear Stained Letter" from American IV: The Man Comes Around

Image courtesy of American Recordings


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