A majority of the songs involve dying. Death concludes "The Man on the Hill", "Hank and Joe and Me", "Clementine" and "My Grandfather's Clock." "Don't Step on Mother's Roses" is about a family losing their parents to death; first Mother, then Daddy. "The Great Speckled Bird" is a spiritual about the Second Coming of Jesus. "The Caretaker" is the story of a cemetery caretaker wondering who will mourn for him when his time comes. Even "Five Feet High and Rising" ("the hives are gone; I lost my bees") and "Old Apache Squaw" ("...the next white man that sees my face is gonna be a dead white man") mention death in some way. "I Want to Go Home" is a retitled version of the nautical standard "The John B. Sails".
By his own admission, Cash was becoming fascinated by death during this time, in part due to his growing amphetamine and barbiturate dependence.