Talking Union
February 20, 2011 2:55 PM   Subscribe

In 1941, Pete Seeger, Lee Hayes, Josh White and Millard Lampell [otherwise known as the Almanac Singers] recorded an album of union songs. (Pete Seeger discusses The Almanac Singers with Tim Robbins.[13m45s]) The six songs they chose were a mix of original compositions and legacy songs, all aimed at helping bolster organized labor. The album, Talking Union and Other Union Songs, would be re-released 14 years later in an expanded version on Smithsonian Folkways.

The original six tracks:

All I Want (I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister) Performed here by The Almanac Singers (written by Jim Garland) liner notes and lyrics

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (written by Lampell, Hays, Seeger) liner notes and lyrics

Talking Union (written by Lampell, Hays, Seeger) [performed here by Pete Seeger, Tom Glazer, Hally Wood Faulk, and Ronnie Gilbert] lyrics

The Union Maid (written by Woody Guthrie) [performed here by Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie] lyrics

Union Train (written by Lee Hays) lyrics

Which Side Are You On? (Written by Florence Reece) [live performance by Pete Seeger] lyrics

The expanded album featured additional songs by Pete Seeger And Chorus:

We Shall Not Be Moved (written by Pete Seeger) lyrics

Roll The Union On (written by John Handcox & Lee Hays) lyrics

Casey Jones (The Union Scab) [performed here by Bucky Halker] (written by Joe Hill) lyrics

Miner's Lifeguard [performed here by The Wilsons] (traditional) lyrics

Solidarity Forever [performed here by Pete Seeger & The Weavers] (written by Ralph Chaplin) lyrics and liner notes

You've Got To Go Down And Join The Union (written by Woody Guthrie) lyrics

Hold The Fort [performed here by Gary Wilson] (traditional) lyrics

The complete album in its 1955 running order can be heard here. [32m30s]


Bonus union songs:

Bread And Roses (performed by Joan Baez and Mimi Farina) lyrics and liner notes

Union Burying Ground (performed by Woody Guthrie) lyrics

Dump The Bosses Off Your Back (performed by Utah Phillips after a long introduction) lyrics

There Is Power In A Union (performed by Billy Bragg) lyrics

Pie In The Sky (The Preacher And The Slave) (performed by Utah Phillips and Ani DeFranco) lyrics and liner notes

John Henry (performed by Bruce Springsteen) lyrics

Maggie's Farm (performed by Rage Against The Machine) lyrics

Going DownThe Road Feeling Bad (performed by Woody Guthrie) lyrics

Bonus video footage: Democracy Now's hour long interview with Pete Seeger. Video links (sadly RealMedia) and transcript on the show page.
posted by hippybear (29 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Sadly I was unable to find individual video performances of two of the original songs. If anyone digs them up, please link them here!
posted by hippybear at 3:19 PM on February 20, 2011

Dick Gaughan doing Woody's Ludlow Massacre.
posted by Abiezer at 3:21 PM on February 20, 2011

Sadly missing Banks of Marble.
posted by RogerB at 3:23 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Am I a commie socialist undesirable if all of these are already on my MP3 player?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:24 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

The best kind, yes.
posted by RogerB at 3:26 PM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Chumbawamba's version of Coal Not Dole would seem to fit with this list. The song was written in response to the big UK miners' strike in the mid 80s. (I recommend the whole English Rebel Songs album to interested parties.)
posted by immlass at 4:12 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Many of these songs, performed by Pete, are on the album "If I Had a Hammer", which just happens to be what I have queued up now.
posted by orthogonality at 4:16 PM on February 20, 2011

I grew up hearing—and singing— these songs, although I was of the generation following the "red diaper" babies. Thanks so much for posting this!!
posted by Maias at 4:23 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Very timely thanks... The playlist should be required listening for, well, everyone right now.

I was able to see Pete sing a year or two ago. It was a moving experience.
posted by tomswift at 4:49 PM on February 20, 2011

I've been obsessed with labor songs and union singing for a few years, and am helping to organize the entertainment at the end of Tuesday's rally at the Minnesota State Capitol after the Wisconsin Solidarity Rally.

I'm in love with the song "Joe Hill" as sung by Paul Robeson, if for no other reason than it includes the line, "...takes more than guns to kill a man, says Joe, 'I didn't die...'"

You can get it from on the Smithsonian Folkways Classic Labor Songs album, which I enjoy and really recommend.
posted by elmer benson at 5:03 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seeger said here that Woody's definition of fascism is "when the rich people get the generals to help them stay in charge." Hmmm. Let's look at the last 150 years of American history again, shall we?

I grew up listening to Seeger et al, my liberal 60's mom being a fan, so when he came to my tiny college in 1971 I was like...meh. (I was a jazz convert.) But there wasn't much else to do, so I went, and I was enthralled. He is a big-hearted man. And the audience participation thing was not corny, it was part of his performance. I still hate the banjo, though.
posted by kozad at 5:34 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wish unions were a bigger part of the current national conversation.
posted by DU at 5:34 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Related: Sing Out! magazine, started in 1950 as an outgrowth of the previous People's Songs newsletter started after WWII by Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, and Alan Lomax among others.

They have a fascinating history.
posted by foonly at 5:51 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wish unions were a bigger part of the current national conversation.

Well, stop wishing and start talking. The only way unions ever got to be a bigger part of the national conversation in their heyday was because they made themselves a bigger part of the national conversation. God knows, there wasn't a shortage of anti-union dollars, power and dirty tricks in those days either. The unions made themselves relevant, and they can do it again. All the recycled think tank analysis that gets peddled by the media about how unions have already been defeated because capital doesn't mind shipping jobs overseas anymore are just meant to discourage the movement so that it can't realize its own inherent power.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:21 PM on February 20, 2011 [10 favorites]

I just contacted the Smithsonian and suggested that at this of all moments they should consider giving this album away for free.
posted by Mngo at 7:36 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

they should consider giving this album away for free

Or at least not making you put in a shipping address to buy an MP3, jesus.
posted by enn at 8:55 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks, OP.

Even if I have a small heart attack when I read Pete's name in an FPP. I live in fear of the inevitable.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:05 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

My daughter's two and a couple of months, and the Pete Seeger/Judy Collins version of "Union Maid" (from "A Tribute to Woody Guthrie") is one of her current favorites. I'm a little sick of the song at this point (toddler repetition will do that), but of course it feels good to know that I'm helping to keep alive the New Deal and New Left traditions of my family and many other wonderful families that I knew growing up.

It's a shame that by the time Eleanor's old enough to fully appreciate the song, the only unions left will serve sitcom writers, wealthy pro athletes and frigging cops.

That's right. My kid's named "Eleanor". Yup, in tribute to that Eleanor. And we listen to Depression-era folk songs. God, I'm a bad stereotype.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:22 AM on February 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

Union Maid is definitely an earworm! But a good one..
posted by Maias at 1:36 PM on February 21, 2011

Love the Folkways catalogue. More power to the unions, they need it in this climate.
posted by arcticseal at 5:11 PM on February 21, 2011

I don't think the king woke up one morning
Said "all the people should be better paid" (No!)
Things were bad but things got changed
We're Plenty Tough and Union Made!
posted by scody at 9:49 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I too grew up with these songs, and am delighted to see this post! Thanks! Also delighted that others here appreciate these songs AND their message.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:35 PM on February 22, 2011

We'll march till we drop
The girls and the fellas
We'll fight till the death
Or else fold like umbrellas.

So we'll march day and night
By the big cooling tower
They have the plant
But we have the power.

posted by sillygwailo at 3:56 PM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here's my contribution to the union/work song tradition (from an album called "The Gilded Age" my wife and I put out a little while back).
posted by saulgoodman at 8:22 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Great post. I just learned about it from MetaTalk. I'd like to suggest that "Worker's Song" by the Dropkick Murphys is a worthy successor to this tradition.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:16 PM on February 25, 2011

Hazel Dickens, "Fire in the Hole," from the "Matewan" soundtrack.

"You can tell them in the country, tell them in the town
Miners down in Mingo laid their shovels down
we won't pull another pillar, load another ton
or lift another finger until the union we have won

Stand up boys, let the bosses know
Turn your buckets over, turn your lanterns low
There's fire in our hearts and fire in our soul
but there ain't gonna be no fire in the hole

Daddy died a miner and grandpa he did too,
I'll bet this coal will kill me before my working days is through
And a hole this dark and dirty an early grave I find
And I plan to make a union for the ones I leave behind

Stand up boys, let the bosses know
Turn you buckets over, turn your lanterns low
There's fire in our hearts and fire in our soul
but there ain't gonna be no fire in the hole

There ain't gonna be no fire in the hole"

Well done, hippybear.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:24 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

MeTa (But don't worry -- in a good way!)
posted by schmod at 9:07 PM on February 25, 2011

It's about occupational health and safety, rather than collective bargaining, but the chorus to Sweet Honey in the Rock's "More Than a Paycheck" has been sung at many a rally.
(Lyrics, scroll down halfway.)
posted by gingerest at 5:24 PM on February 27, 2011

Excellent version of "There Is Power in a Union" from Madison's bluegrass collective, Pickers Local 608: "The union forever, defending our rights / Down with the gov'ner, all workers unite!"
posted by scody at 12:43 AM on March 8, 2011

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