#21: Ballad Of A Teenage Queen by Johnny Cash

Peak Month: March 1958
11 weeks on CKWX’s Vancouver Chart
Peak Position ~ #1
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #14
Billboard Top 100 Singles 1958 Year End ~ #81
YouTube: “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen
Lyrics: “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen

John R. “Johnny” Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas, in 1932. At the age of five he started working with his sharecropping parents and siblings in the cotton fields. During his childhood his family home was flooded twice. He began singing and playing guitar by the age of 12. He moved to Detroit in his late teens for work. He was drafted and served in the U.S. Air Force as a Morse Code Intercept Operator for Soviet Army transmissions at a base in Germany from 1950 to 1954. When he was discharged from the military he and his new wife, Liberto, moved to Memphis. Cash worked as an appliance salesman while trying to get a break in the music industry. Cash got to audition with Sun Records in 1954. He had his first charting single on the Billboard Country charts in 1955 titled “Cry! Cry! Cry!” Subsequently single releases, “So Doggone Lonesome” and “I Walk The Line” climbed to #4 and #1 on the Country charts. The latter hit also was his first debut on the Billboard pop charts where it made it to #17 in 1956.

By the end of the 1950’s Johnny Cash was a household name. Cash appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and other variety shows. He managed to chart five singles to the #1 spot on the Billboard Country charts. Besides “I Walk The Line”, two of these, “Guess Things Happen That Way” and “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” were his most notable pop crossovers.

Ballad Of A Teenage Queen by Johnny Cash

“Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” is a story about “the prettiest girl in town” who is in love with “the boy next door who worked at the candy store.” She fell in love with him, although all the boys in town tried to get her attention. The boy next door planned to save his money and buy her a ring. But his plans were dashed when a Hollywood talent scout offered her a movie contract and she moved to Los Angeles to appear on the big screen. In a short time the teenage queen acquires a fancy house, swimming pool and shiny car. However, she discovers that what she wants most in life is her old hometown and the boy who works at the candy store. So she catches a train back home and reunites with the boy next door. The song is a tale of love’s triumph over the lure of wealth and fame.

“Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” was written by Jack Clement, who also wrote “Guess Things Happen That Way” for Cash. Jack Clement was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1931. Clement learned guitar at an early age and played steel guitar in a bluegrass band, and got the nickname “Cowboy” Jack Clement while he was still in high school. became a talent scout for Sun Records in Memphis in the mid-50s. He discovered Jerry Lee Lewis and produced “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” in 1957. It was Jack Clement who made some demos’ by Billy Lee Riley, and Riley ended up with a contract at Sun Records. And it was Clement who hired Billy Lee Riley to be in the house band for Sun Records.

Other recording artists who recorded songs by Clement include Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, George Jones, Bobby Bare, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Ray Charles, Sue Thompson, Burl Ives, Trini Lopez, Charley Pride, Tom Jones and Ivory Joe Hunter. He also wrote “It’ll Be Me“, a Top Ten hit for Cliff Richard in Vancouver (BC) in 1963, and “Big Brother” – a Top Ten hit for Dickey Lee in Vancouver in 1965. Jack Clement also produced Dickey Lee’s 1962 Top Ten hit “Patches”, and “Tragedy”, a Top Ten hit in 1959 for Thomas Wayne (Perkins) – the younger brother of Johnny Cash’s guitar player Luther Perkins. Jack Clement also discovered Charley Pride who became one of the first successful African-American country singers.

While it was a number-one hit on the Country charts, on the pop charts, “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” peaked at #1 in Vancouver (BC), Smiths Falls (ON) and Toronto, #2 in Buffalo (NY) and Albany (NY), #3 in La Crosse (WI), #4 in Burlington (VT) and Minneapolis/St. Paul, #5 in Ottawa (ON), and #8 in San Francisco and Fort Wayne (IN).

On this website the songs that are reviewed are chosen because they had far superior chart runs in Vancouver (BC) than on the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA. “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” would normally have made it to one of the top positions on this website countdown. However a second criteria for song selection was that the song not typically appear on the Billboard Year-End Top 100 songs of the year. This knocked off songs that ranked any better than song #89 for any given year. And “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” ranked #81 on the Top 100 songs of 1958. Consequently, although it peaked at number-one in Vancouver (BC) and only #14 during its chart run, the song is an Extra at the bottom of this Countdown list as song #1,316.

Though he returned often to the Top Ten on the Billboard Country chart in the late 50’s with “All Over Again”, “Luther Played The Boogie”, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” and others, Johnny Cash struggled to do much better than crack the Top 40 on the pop charts.

By the time Cash released “The Rebel – Johnny Yuma” in 1961, he had sixteen Top Ten country hits in the USA, and three hits in the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. In Vancouver (BC), “The Rebel – Johnny Yuma” was the third Top Ten hit for Johnny Cash from September 1956 into the early 60’s.

“The Rebel – Johnny Yuma” was part of the wild west motif, iconic for American males to emulate. Cash had appeared in an episode of Shotgun Slade in 1959 and Wagon Train the same year. In 1961 he appeared in The Deputy, a TV show about a deputy who is also storekeeper who only used his gun reluctantly to confront criminals. His follow single to “The Rebel – Johnny Yuma” was “Tall Men“.

In 1961, Johnny Cash also starred in a crime film titled Five Minutes to Live. He later starred in a western in 1971 called A Gunfight. During the cultivation of his outlaw image, Johnny Cash was on a downward spiral starting in 1958 where for nine years he abused drugs and alcohol. His addiction to drugs and alcohol was owed, in part, to a schedule of up to 300 concerts a year for many years. He had more hits, especially on the Country charts with “Ring Of Fire”, “Understand Your Man” and “The One On The Right Is On The Left” among his biggest sellers. Nonetheless, the hectic pace was very stressful. Johnny Cash was arrested in 1965 for trying to smuggle amphetamines over the Mexican border in his guitar case. He was given a suspended sentence and fined. Cash’s struggles with drugs and alcohol led to divorce in 1966.

By 1968 Johnny Cash was pulling his life back together and recorded a live album in a jail called At Folsom Prison. Cash had a #2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969 titled “A Boy Named Sue”. The single went to number-one on the Billboard Country chart, and Top Ten on the pop charts in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. “A Boy Named Sue” received the Country Music Song of the Year award from the Country Music Association. As well, he received the Best Country Male Vocal for the song in 1970 at the Grammy Awards. Cash also won a Grammy Award that year for Best Album Notes for his text for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. In the fall of 1969 he hosted The Johnny Cash Show on ABC TV for two years. He used the show to explore controversial issues like the plight of the American Indian, prison reform and the conflict in Vietnam. During the Sixties, Johnny Cash racked up another sixteen Top Ten hits on the Billboard Country charts. In the Seventies, Cash charted another ten singles into the Top Ten on the Billboard Country charts, including three more number-one hits: “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”, “Flesh And Blood” and “One Piece At A Time”.

In 1982 Cash recorded an album with Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis called The Survivors Live. Each had been part of the Million Dollar Quartet at Sun Records with Elvis Presley on December 4, 1956. In 1986 Cash was joined by Perkins, Lewis and Roy Orbison to recored an album titled Class of ’55.

Between 1954 and 2003 Johnny Cash recorded 96 albums and 153 singles. Of these 89 singles made the Top 30 on the Billboard  Country singles chart. He kept on performing and recording into the last months of his life. He died at the age 0f 73 of diabetes. In 2005 Joaquin Phoenix played the starring role of Johnny Cash in the biopic of the artists tumultuous life.

August 10, 2020
Ray McGinnis

Johnny Cash – Biography, Johnny Cash.com
Johnny Cash – Biography, Rolling Stone.com
Five Minutes To Live ~ trailer, Sutton Pictures, 1961.
The Death of Gray episode, The Rebel, 1959.
James Mangold, Director, Walk The Line ~ Trailer, 20th Century Fox, 2005.
Jack Clement,” Country Music Hall of Fame.
‘Cowboy’ Jack Clement,” Scottymoore.com.
Top Fifty Songs for the Week,” CKWX 1130 AM, Vancouver, BC, March 16, 1958.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

2 responses to “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen by Johnny Cash”

  1. Tom Locke says:

    Johnny Cash was a great storytelling. I like this song a lot because it is rare – a country song that has a happy ending!

  2. Michael Ipsen says:

    Johnny Cash was a survivor and a great storyteller. I first heard of him when I was listening to the radio back in the 50s and “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” came on. I loved it. I am not a country music fan but I followed JC from that time on. The big disappointment for me was every time I saw him he never sang that song. RIP Johnny

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