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Nearly four years after launching our last new subscriptions, March marks the launch of the fourth VMP subscription: Country. New subscribers are able to sign up here now, and current subscribers who want to join the VMP Country wagon train can join by adding Country to their subscription or by switching one of their Tracks to VMP Country (the titles will come to Swaps, if they don’t sell out, in future months to ensure people who want to sign up for the new sub can do so).
The first-ever VMP Country Record of the Month is widely considered as one of the best Country albums of all time: Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison. VMP’s edition has been remastered by Ryan Smith, and plated at QRP and comes on exclusive color vinyl. It, like all Tracks starting in April 2021, comes with a unique Listening Notes booklet, and people who join this month will receive a limited Vinyl Me, Pardner bandana with their subscription to VMP Country, to honor the name we had for the subscription internally. Below, read why we picked this record, and why it made perfect sense to do this as the first VMP Country title. Also, get the skinny on when you can expect to learn the next VMP Country Records of the Month.
VMP Country is finally launching this month! How long has this been an idea at VMP?
VMP Classics and Country Director Andrew Winistorfer: It’s been on the proverbial whiteboard for ideas at VMP going back to like my third or fourth month working here in 2016; it’s been an idea for at least as long as we’ve even had the idea of doing additional subscriptions, so this has been a long time coming (laughs).
So why now, why make it the fourth Track?
Because we realized a while back, when we did Loretta Lynn’s Coal Miner’s Daughter in Essentials in 2019, that there are so many major country albums that are deserving of the VMP treatment — a beloved album getting the deluxe vinyl reissue they deserve. Country is a genre that has ardent supporters, and those ardent supporters would love to be able buy the albums they love from their heroes on the same kind of big deal vinyl reissues that fans of jazz, blues, rock, and hip-hop get to. It just felt like there’s this big audience out there — of country fans, and of people, like me, it should be noted, that grew up listening to country music, and really came back to it in their 20s — who would love more country on vinyl. The mission of VMP is to give people albums worth owning, and worth exploring more deeply, and there are so many country albums worthy of that distinction.
So how did Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison become one of those albums?
We’ve obviously thought about doing VMP Country for a while, so there were tons of ideas of what albums to feature, and there are millions of ways we could take this subscription that I’ve thought about a lot as the Country director. But then it kind of hit us: for our first-ever release, we shouldn’t overthink it, we should try to start with one of the genre’s best albums, to really kick this thing off with a bang.
The idea to feature Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison came shortly after that; it’s universally one or two on every “Best Country Album Ever” list on the internet, it saved Johnny’s career, and it really broke country through to the rock audience in the late ’60s in a way no one ever thought was possible. It made him the Man in Black, and it made so many things happen. There is no outlaw country without this record; there’s no Merle, Willie, Waylon, Sturgill, no Garth Brooks being arguably the biggest performer of the ’90s, no alt-country rebelling against the genre’s norms, no Taylor Swift, if Johnny Cash doesn’t walk into Folsom and record this album. In a lot of ways, it’s the pivotal building block for the music since 1968, and it made too much sense for it to be the building block for our subscription: Every record that follows At Folsom Prison, whether it’s VMP Country album 2, or VMP Country album 100, will owe a debt to At Folsom Prison.
And on top of that, when I sat down to write the liner notes for this, and listening to this album and thinking about it with new ears, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it must have been like for an inmate of Folsom Prison in the late ’60s to have this experience of being ushered into the cafeteria to watch this performance. There’s some amount of cynicism that you think of the prison, through a 2021 lens, that Cash was maybe there to use the prison as a prop or something, but like right now, people in jail are basically just ignored, if they’re thought of at all. Society sets you up to just willfully forget that we have millions of people in this country being basically warehoused, and often these inmates are not being treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. And Johnny Cash deciding to make his album there was as much about it being a shot-in-the-arm for his career as it was being able to humanize these people he clearly related to, and saw himself in. He drank their water, sang songs they could relate to, and genuinely hoped to connect with them. The fact that Merle Haggard came out of an earlier prison concert a reformed man wasn’t bluster: Johnny Cash cared for and respected the inmates he performed for, and they could feel that in a real way.
So tell us the details here.
This one comes on exclusive color vinyl — like all VMP Country titles will — and it was remastered by Ryan Smith, and plated at QRP. It’s 180g vinyl, with a tip-on jacket, and in style is pretty similar to our VMP Classics subscription. It’s also the second track to get full-time Listening Notes: Starting in April, all four subscriptions will come with their own unique booklet, and this one does as well. Everyone who gets Johnny Cash will also get a Vinyl Me, Pardner bandana, which is the nickname I gave to this subscription in like 2017, as a way to pay homage to that (laughs).
Can you give us any hint of future Records of the Month in VMP Country?
Internally, I’ve talked of the first four albums as part of like a VMP Country extended universe: all of the first four albums really speak to each other like they’re the Thor movie leading up to Avengers or something. They all connect in ways that are both obvious and not, even though they are from different eras and different performers. We’re excited to announce the next three when we announce our April through June Records of the Month with all the other tracks. And then, after the first four, we have a lot of different albums I’m really excited about that I will not share here. We look forward to presenting all of the different spectrums of country music through VMP Country: stone-cold classics, deep-cut gems, out-of-print rarities, and new releases.