Johnny Cash’s ‘Get Rhythm’: Story Behind the Song Originally Written For Elvis Presley

“Get Rhythm” is one of Johnny Cash’s more popular songs, but do you know the full story behind the 1956 hit?

“Get Rhythm” was originally released in 1956 as the B-side of Cash’s number one song, “I Walk the Line.” However, not many people gave much attention to the upbeat tune.

Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley

The song was written by Cash but was not initially supposed to be recorded by him. Cash admitted that he wrote the hit for another legendary artist, Elvis Presley, whom he admired.

“Elvis was such a nice guy, and so talented and charismatic – he had it all – that some people just couldn’t handle it and reacted with jealousy,” recalls Cash in his autobiography. “It’s only human, I suppose, but it’s sad. He and I liked each other, but we weren’t that tight.”

When Presley left Sun Records, producer Sam Phillips did not allow Presley to take the rights of the song with him, therefore Cash recorded the song.

After not doing very well the first time, Johnny Cash re-released the song in September of 1969. In addition, this version was overdubbed with “live” recording effects. This time, the song was featured as an A-side single. “Get Rhythm” peaked at number 60 on the Billboard Pop charts, however, it reached number 23 on the country charts.

The song talks about a positive young boy who has a job as a shoe shiner. Whenever he becomes upset or “gets the blues,” he turns his frown upside down and “gets rhythm.” It talks about perspective and how you can choose to be down and dreary, or you can choose to be happy and find the good in life—a good lesson to live by.

In 1991, Martin Delray recorded a cover of the song for his debut album. Delray kept features of the original song like Cash’s vocals and image in the “Get Rhythm” lyrics and video. However, this version made it to number 27 on the country charts.