One Piece at a Time

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"One Piece at a Time"
Single by Johnny Cash
from the album One Piece at a Time
B-side "Go On Blues"
Released March 1976
Format 7" single
Genre Country, country rock, country novelty
Length 4:00
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Wayne Kemp
Producer(s)

Charlie Bragg / Don Davis

Audio sample
file info · help
Johnny Cash singles chronology
"Strawberry Cake"
(1976)
"One Piece at a Time"
(1976)
"Sold Out of Flagpoles"
(1976)

"One Piece at a Time" is a country novelty song written by Wayne Kemp[1] and recorded by Johnny Cash in 1976. It would be the last song performed by Cash to reach number one on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1976) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 29
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 6
Canadian RPM Country Tracks 1
Canadian RPM Top Singles 40
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary Tracks 1
U.K. Singles Chart 32

Content[edit]

Johnny Cash in the driver's seat and Bruce Fitzpatrick at the far right.

The song tells of a man who, in 1949, leaves his home in Kentucky to pursue work at General Motors in Detroit, Michigan. The singer assembles wheels on Cadillacs, watching each one roll by day after day on the assembly line, knowing that he will never be able to afford one.

Beginning almost immediately, he and a co-worker decide to steal a Cadillac, using their assembly line jobs to obtain the parts via salami slicing. He takes the small parts home hidden in his large lunchbox; larger parts are smuggled out in his co-worker's motor home.

The process of accumulating all the necessary parts turns out to take over 24 years (when asked what year model, the worker starts with 1949 and ends at 1973 when the song fades out), but once they have what they think is a complete car, they attempt to assemble the pieces. The result is an odd-looking Cadillac created from parts of many different models (the song mentions that the transmission was from 1953 and the engine was from 1973) and whose pieces do not fit together very well (for example, it had only one tail fin and three headlights – two on the left and one on the right, though all three headlights worked when activated).

The singer's wife is surprised at the outcome but wants a ride. However, the folks at the courthouse were not as pleased—it took the "whole staff" to type up the vehicle title, which ended up weighing 60 pounds.

The song ends with a Citizens Band radio conversation between the singer and a truck driver inquiring about the "psychobilly Cadillac", in which the singer replies, "you could say I went ... to the factory and picked it up, it's cheaper that way".

The song is in a moderate tempo in the key of F major, with a main chord pattern of F-B-C7-F. The verses are spoken-word.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Bruce Fitzpatrick, owner of Abernathy Auto Parts and Hilltop Auto Salvage in Nashville, Tennessee, was asked by the promoters of the song to build the vehicle for international promotion. Fitzpatrick had all the models of Cadillacs mentioned in the song when it was released and built a car using the song as a model. The result was presented to Cash in April 1976. It was parked outside The House Of Cash[3] in Hendersonville, Tennessee, until someone could find a place to store it. After House of Cash Museum closed, Bruce Fitzpatrick retrieved the '49–'70 Cadillac with a wrecker and brought it back to Abernathy Auto Parts and Hilltop Auto Salvage in Nashville, Tennessee,and crushed it.

[4]

  • The song was covered by Chicago rock band Tub Ring for the 2001 Johnny Cash tribute album, Cash from Chaos.
  • The car from the "One Piece at a Time" video is at the Historic Auto Attractions museum in Roscoe, Illinois. This is a different car than the one made by Bruce Fitzpatrick.
  • An attempt at building a vehicle "one piece at a time" was completed successfully over a five-year period by a Chinese motorcycle assembly line worker in Chongqing.[5]
  • This is the first recorded usage of the term "psychobilly". Aided by its later usage by The Cramps and Reverend Horton Heat, the term came to be identified with a genre of music (one that existed since the 1960s, see the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and Hasil Adkins, for instance) crossing rockabilly with punk rock.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Hall of Fame - Wayne Kemp". Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Foundation, Inc. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "'One Piece at a Time' sheet music". MusicNotes.com. Retrieved 5 November 2014. 
  3. ^ The House Of Cash. Stevenmenke.com. Retrieved on 2013-04-09.
  4. ^ http://www.motorbooks.com/motorbooks-blog/American-Auto-Legends/183
  5. ^ "Man stole motorbike - part by part". Ananova. Archived from the original on 22 August 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"After All the Good Is Gone"
by Conway Twitty
Billboard Hot Country Singles
number-one single

May 29-June 6, 1976
Succeeded by
"I'll Get Over You"
by Crystal Gayle
RPM Country Tracks
number-one single

June 19, 1976
Succeeded by
"El Paso City"
by Marty Robbins