The Man Comes Around (song)

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"The Man Comes Around"
"The Man Comes Around" cover
Song by Johnny Cash from the album American IV: The Man Comes Around
Released May 24, 2002
Recorded 4:26
Writer(s) Johnny Cash

"The Man Comes Around" is the title track from Johnny Cash's American IV: The Man Comes Around, released in 2002. It was actually written a few years earlier; however, Cash updated it for the album. It is one of the last songs Cash wrote before his death.[4] Both sung and spoken, the song makes numerous Biblical references, especially to the Book of Revelation.[5]

Symbols and references in the lyrics[edit]

There are numerous Biblical references in the lyrics.[5] A spoken portion from Revelation 6:1–2 in the King James Version[REV 6:1-6:2] introduces the song.[6] This portion of Scripture describes the coming of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, each heralded by one of the "four beasts" first mentioned in Revelation 4:6–9. The musical portion then begins with Cash reciting that "the man" (Jesus Christ) will one day come to pass judgment. The chorus indicates that these events will be accompanied by trumpets, (as in Revelation ch.8,9,11), pipers (Rev.18:22), and "one hundred million angels singing". The voice of the Lord in Revelation is often likened to the sound of a loud trumpet (Revelation 1:10; 4:1; and 8:13). Revelation 5:11 states that John saw that there are millions of angels in Heaven.

The song also alludes to the Parable of the Ten Virgins from the Gospel of Matthew (25:1–13) with the lyrics “The virgins are all trimming their wicks,” a reference to the virgins’ preparation of the Second Coming of Christ. The reference to the whirlwind might point to the prophet Elijah, one of the few Biblical characters taken to heaven without dying. He was transported by a "chariot of fire" borne by a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Or it could allude to Hosea 8:7 where evildoers "sow the wind and reap the whirlwind."

The phrase "It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks" is a quote from Acts 26:14, where Paul the Apostle describes his meeting Jesus while traveling to Damascus. It is a reference to a Greek proverb where a kicking ox only injures himself by attempting to kick against a goad, an illustration of the futility of resisting the Lord.

Elsewhere, the song mentions the wise men who bow before the Lord's throne, and cast their "golden crowns" at the feet of God. Revelation 4 refers to elders who worship the Lord and "lay their crowns" before Him (Revelation 4:10), while Matthew 2 contains the well-known scene of the Wise Men bowing before the Lord's manger.

The lyric "Then the father hen will call his chickens home" could refer to Jesus' lament over Jerusalem in Luke 13:34: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling."

The "potter's ground" may refer to Matthew 27:3-10 and the demise of Judas Iscariot, symbolising condemnation.

"Alpha and Omega" refers to Jesus Christ (Rev.1:8,11, 21:6, 22:13).

"Whoever is unjust... etc" is a quote from Revelation 22:11.


The arrangement of the song is sparse (although not so much as in some of Cash's later compositions, such as 'God's Gonna Cut You Down'); two guitars, piano (played in the bass register), and an electric organ.


Of the album's fifteen tracks, only three were written by Cash, with "The Man Comes Around" the sole song specifically penned for it, and the only song Cash wrote in its entirety.

The song was inspired by a dream Cash had about Queen Elizabeth II in which the queen compared Cash to "a thorn tree in a whirlwind." Haunted by the dream, Cash became curious if the phrase was a biblical reference and eventually found a similar phrase in the Book of Job.[7]

An alternative "early take" of the song appears on the Unearthed box set (2003) and The Legend of Johnny Cash (2005). The "Legend" version omits the spoken word intro and outro.


The song was listed as the 296th best song of the 2000s by Pitchfork Media.

In popular culture[edit]

In 2003:

  • The song was used during the opening credits and closing credits of the 2003 film The Hunted.

In 2004:

In 2008:

  • The song was used during a scene in the 2008 in the movie My Best Friend's Girl
  • The song was featured prominently in the final scenes of the season one finale of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  • The song was featured in the closing scenes of the HBO miniseries Generation Kill
  • The song was used during the opening and closing credits of the film Linewatch
  • The song was used in the opening sequence of the Criminal Minds episode "Elephant's Memory" (season 3, episode 16)
  • The album Sleepytime Tunes Lullaby Renditions of Johnny Cash, credited to The Lullaby Players, features an instrumental cover version done in a lullaby arrangement for children

In 2009:

  • The song was used on the final episode of BBC's Being Human in the warm up to what is supposed to be a battle between Mitchell and Herrick
  • The song was used in the opening sequence of the CSI episode "Better Off Dead" (season 10, episode 10)

In 2012:

  • The song was sampled in English DJ/Producer Doctor P's, song "Flying Spaghetti Monster" as part of his Animal Vegetable Mineral – Part 1 EP
  • The song was used in the climactic penultimate episode of the first season of the new Dallas series in August 2012
  • The song was used in the trailer and soundtrack for the 2012 film Killing Them Softly[8]

In 2013:

  • The first lines of the song were used in the pilot Sleepy Hollow.

In 2014:

  • The song was used in episode 11 of the first season of The Blacklist

In 2015:

  • The song was the soundtrack for an ESPN promotional TV spot for SEC football featuring each team's coach.
  • The song was used in the promo for Bray Wyatt vs Undertaker at Wrestlemania 31.

In 2016:

  • Parodying its use in the opening sequence of Dawn of the Dead, the song was used in the closing film of the "Patriotism" episode (series 4, episode 3) of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle.
  • The song was used during the opening and closing of SkySports coverage of the United States Grand Prix.


  1. ^ Google Books
  2. ^ American IV: The Man Comes Around album review - PopMatters Retrieved 10 February 2015
  3. ^ Johnny Cash Joins Gospel Hall of Fame - Country Weekly Retrieved 10 February 2015
  4. ^ Brinkley, T. (October 15, 2006), "Walking the Line", The New York Times (review), one of his last original compositions . (login required)
  5. ^ a b In the album's liner notes, Cash states that the song is "based, loosely, on the book of Revelation, with a couple of lines or a chorus, from other biblical sources".
  6. ^ Beckett, Colin (1 September 2003). "Johnny Cash - American IV: The Man Comes Around". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  7. ^ Kamp, David (October 2004). "American Communion". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Lewis, J. S. (27 October 2014). "Movie Music Moment: Dawn of the Dead ("When the Man Comes Around")". Cineflect. Retrieved 2016-08-09. 

External links[edit]