Music Monday, and what do you get?
Hopefully only another day older, not deeper in debt!
Because that would stink, wouldn’t it?
Well, it’s Labor Day, and if you don’t know anything about the holiday, I’ll give you the short version of it:
It honors the American labor movement and contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being o the country. It is recognized as a federal holiday, and as such, the government (consisting of people who labor on a different level than the ones the day recognizes) closes.
Oh, and I’m off today. I’m not a hard labor type of worker, but where I work does make a difference in the lives of people who benefit from the services we provide.
The holiday “Labor Day” is recognized in over 80 countries on May 1st, called “International Workers’ Day,” while Canada celebrates “Labour Day” the same day Americans do. Other countries have adapted their own dates for Labor Day.
It also marks the unofficial end of summer, the week kids return to school, and well, if you’re me and don’t have children but hold down a full-time job, it is a three-day weekend. But not just, because without the people that have helped this country progress because of hard work (keep your cynical comments to yourself, folks, it isn’t up for argument and debate!), we wouldn’t have something to celebrate. We also wouldn’t have progress.
In honor of this holiday, how about a work song? Specifically, a “labor” song?
“Sixteen Tons” (mistakenly written on my writing schedule as “Fifteen Tons” – hey, I knew what song I was referring to!) is a song written by Merle Travis, about a coal miner. The song is based on life in the coal mines of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. The line “you load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” came from a letter written by Travis’ brother, John. The line “I can’t afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store” was written by their father, also a coal miner.
There are several versions of the song – the original 1947 Merle Travis version, a 1955 version by Tennessee Ernie Ford (inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry), and a version by Frankie Laine that was only released in Western Europe. Since 1955, there have been numerous performances of this song in concert by other artists, among them Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, and LeAnn Rimes.
Fun fact: the song was featured in a D-TV segment (remember those?), set to the Donald Duck cartoon “Donald’s Gold Mine,” as well as the roustabout scene in Dumbo.
Oh, and I remember it from a GE commercial featuring pretty people as coal miners.
The Tennessee Ernie Ford version of “Sixteen Tons” reached #1 on the Billboard Country Music Chart in 1955 (beginning in November), holding that spot for ten weeks. Then, it crossed over to the pop music chart, holding its own at #1 for eight weeks. To date, this is the most well-known version.
Kinda like how Nat King Cole recorded four different versions of “The Christmas Song,” (two in 1946, another in 1953, and his most famous version in 1961) but discussing hard labor and not chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
The coal miners would be like “that’s now how it works! You need COAL!”
Anyway, enough of that, how about what you came for?
The music, you came for the music!
Here’s the most well-regarded and well-known version, by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
And here’s that GE commercial:
And the D-TV music video:
Ain’t nothing pretty about hard labor, nor selling your soul.
A song that mentioned the difficult working conditions of the past, which is thankfully not the harsh reality of many workers today. All the more reason to be grateful to those who did work hard to drive progress in the right direction.
Because models working the coal mines just doesn’t seem realistic, does it?
Have a great Monday, and enjoy the music!