The Hidden Meaning Of Johnny Cash's You Are My Sunshine

For a song that's been adapted into multiple children's games and musical anthologies, Johnny Cash's take on "You Are My Sunshine" is nothing short of dark. Originally written by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell in 1939, the song has spawned countless covers and modified versions since its inception, making it one of the most commercially programmed numbers in American popular music, according to Salon. In fact, it has even been declared one of the state songs of Louisiana — a fittingly saccharine song for the Sugar State. Or so it would seem. 

Yet, one of the most popular versions of the tune remains to be The Man in Black's bleak interpretation –- which first appeared on 2003 compilation album Unearthed -– displays a decidedly different tone, one far away from the sweet, simple ode that we are used to hearing, and closer to its true meaning — that of "a troubled love affair," as Salon describes.

A darker, truer take

With lyrics such as "the other night dear, as I lay sleeping/I dreamed I held you in my arms/But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken/So I hung my head and I cried," it's not surprising why Cash's version is not the first choice for bedtime lullabies.

"You can really feel his pain, like he's trying to collect himself and pay homage to his former love," comedian Bob Saget spoke of the song in a 2014 Wall Street Journal column. "He's alone in bed, she's gone, and he's singing about how much he loves her. It's a breakup lullaby."

But despite the gloominess of the lyrics, the song ends on an eerily positive note, according to the comedian: "In all my dreams, dear, you seem to leave me/When I awake my poor heart pains/So when you come back and make me happy/I'll forgive you dear, I'll take all the blame."