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October 4, 2018 2:25 AM   Subscribe

Who was the "One Tin Soldier?"

"Listen, children, to a story
That was written long ago,
‘Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley-folk below..."

The song, written by Canadians Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, became a Northern American sensation when Skeeter Davis recorded the single, which also coincided with the Billy Jack phenomenon.

It was originally recorded by the Canadian pop group The Original Caste and was a success in Canada. When it was selected as the theme song for the 1971 film "Billy Jack," Jinx Dawson, lead singer of the American rock band Coven was asked to sing it for the film. She agreed, and Coven's version, titled "One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)" was used in the film and released as a single in the fall of '71.

One Tin Soldier was named the 'Number One All Time Requested Song' in 1971 and 1973 by the American Radio Broadcasters Association. (Fun fact: Coven lead singer Jinx Dawson was the only member of the band to perform on the movie version of the song that appears on the soundtrack; she got the gig singing it because Linda Ronstadt, who was the first choice, wasn't available.)

An animated version was created by animator John David Wilson for The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, for an episode that aired just before Christmas, Sunday, December 20, 1972 on CBS, where Cher's vocal was overlaid with the cartoon.
posted by I_Love_Bananas (47 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow, that subversify article seems to be written by a real piece of work. “Buy guns” is just a great solution, pal.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:04 AM on October 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


"Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end."

Great song - I prefer the Original Caste version.
posted by parki at 3:17 AM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Wow, that subversify article seems to be written by a real piece of work.

Whoa. Yeah, you weren't kidding - it's proof that he missed the damn point of the damn song to begin with. He's so caught up in figuring out who the mountain people and the valley people "were" that he totally missed what the actual treasure was.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:22 AM on October 4, 2018 [12 favorites]


I believe the author misheard “Peace on Earth” as “Piece on Earth.”

Also, he seems to really dislike Cher.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:47 AM on October 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


Little 12 year old, Doonesbury reading, future and current liberal me LOVED THIS SONG.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 4:43 AM on October 4, 2018 [23 favorites]


The first article was a great example of someone beanplating an admirably straightforward song. I'd never heard it until 1984, when I was part of a summer internship program run by a professor who was hanging onto his hippie ideals, and who seemed surprised that many of us didn't already know it. (Part of the reason for that may be that I didn't see and still haven't seen Billy Jack.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:46 AM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


(Obligatory?) Me First And The Gimme Gimmes cover.
posted by tocts at 4:58 AM on October 4, 2018 [6 favorites]




Little 12 year old, Doonesbury reading, future and current liberal me LOVED THIS SONG.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon

Ha ha, Doonesbury was my gateway to liberalism as well, at the same age!

posted by mecran01 at 5:16 AM on October 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


Rediscovering this song as an adult brought me a lot of confusion, because none of the versions I could find sounded like what I remembered it being like; the rhythmic stress/spacing was subtly but jarringly different.

After a lot of puzzlement, Youtube searching, etc., I finally realized that I first learned the song when my Dad would sing it to me, playing his guitar, and while he had the same basic timing for the lyrics, the position of them in the measure was different:
he'd sing "listen" as pickup notes, with "children", "story", "written" etc. falling on the first beat of the measure.
......listen
children, to a
story, that was
written long a-
-go, 'bout a
kingdom, on a
mountain, and the
valley far be-
-low...

I might need to get him to record it for me, since everyone else plays it wrong.
posted by NMcCoy at 5:32 AM on October 4, 2018 [16 favorites]


The article nearly lost me at Cher's "glassy fish eyes," and a few paragraphs later, I started wondering about Poe's law.

A lot of protest folk music isn't subtle by design. In that way, it foreshadows a lot of the rock that followed. I don't think there's a deeper message beyond "don't use moralism to rationalize your wars."
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 5:34 AM on October 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


Our grade school music teacher had us sing this song, we all loved it. It made my 2nd grade self just sob after class though. Maybe that's why I'm a big ol' bleeding heart liberal...(that, and being raised in a solid Democratic/union family?)

But...even us 2nd graders got the point more than the author of that first article.
posted by TheFantasticNumberFour at 5:35 AM on October 4, 2018 [12 favorites]


Essential Coven. Jinx is still at it.
posted by NoMich at 5:53 AM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


We sang this one in middle school choir quite a few times. Definitely one of my favorites. Mr Weber, wherever you are, thank you!
posted by Slinga at 6:40 AM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


by all means join the suicide bombers, Tea Party Christians, atheists and serial killers in the world and continue wallowing in your hate as regularly scheduled

Whoa, buddy. One of these things is not like the others by a long shot. The whole thing ends in such galaxy-brain "everyone is stupid except me" smugness, coupled with weird omni-directional resentment.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:52 AM on October 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


The best Melanie song that Melanie never did.
posted by Chitownfats at 7:15 AM on October 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


Ah, a view of other articles by "the Late Mitchell Warren" reveals he's a committed ammosexual and total "both sides"er.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:15 AM on October 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Camp song!
posted by Stewriffic at 7:25 AM on October 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


It's a little funny to me that I can't not hear the Killdozer version of this song in my head every time someone brings it up
posted by pagrus at 7:34 AM on October 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


I remember singing this in Grade 5 chorus, and Mom getting upset about the bloody imagery. I loved it, though.
The lyrics never explained whether the Mountain People were being elitist in their wanting to share their treasure only with “brothers” instead of the entire land.

This has to be deliberately missing the point, doesn't it? Nobody could really be that stupid, right?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:48 AM on October 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


NoMich, I saw Coven at that same performance at Roadburn. They're back on small tour circuits playing to metal fans.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:52 AM on October 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Billy Jack is my favorite hate-watch movie of all time. I think I've seen it about 111 times because for some reason, it was on TBS about four times a week back when TBS still showed movies. (Actually, The Trial of Billy Jack is a way better hate watch, but it never got shown very often, presumably because it was too abysmal even for Billy Jack fans.)
posted by holborne at 8:06 AM on October 4, 2018


We used to sing this at my hippie Quaker summer camp in Vermont because of course we did! It is such a good song for teaching kids about imperialism and war, because the imagery is so clear. I’ve forgotten a lot of the songs we sang but that one has stayed with me.

When YouTube became a thing, I was so excited to see all the different version available (I’d stumbled across the Me First version on Napster years earlier) but like NMcCoy, it’s always been a bit jarring that none of the versions are rhythmically the same as how we sang it.
posted by lunasol at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


I am a "lyrics person." So, I had to look them up. Here is a link to the lyrics on genius.com.
posted by swlabr at 8:10 AM on October 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


We sang this in grade school music class, too. I guess I didn't hang with a very Billy Jack crowd after that because until hearing the song again years later I almost thought I'd made it up.
posted by camyram at 8:36 AM on October 4, 2018


We sang this in grade school music class, too.

This and "Delta Dawn" and "Billy Don't Be A Hero" and "There's Got To Be A Morning After" all seem to me like different aspects of the same song, because of grade school music class.
posted by thelonius at 9:02 AM on October 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


Instant flashback to Canadian summer camp sing-alongs, with the camp counsellors playing guitar & harmonica. I loved this song (I have always been a sucker for melancholy themes).

And wow, the guy who wrote that first article super missed the point so hard he must have been trying to miss it.
"the story itself is rather abstract; the motivation is treasure and two neighboring people, the Mountain People and the Valley People, want it. The Mountain People want to share the treasure with their brothers while the Valley People wanted it for themselves.

The lyrics never explained whether the Mountain People were being elitist in their wanting to share their treasure only with “brothers” instead of the entire land. Were the Mountain People acting just as greedily as the Valley People by insisting the treasure was theirs?"
Like, dude... no. You're bad at this. What is he even basing his interpretation off of - the Sonny & Cher animated short's Mountain King looking a bit scowly?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:25 AM on October 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


I had to sing this song a lot in various youth groups and camps growing up. It's a fun song to sing, partly because kids would belt out the "ON THE BLOODY MORNING AFTEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEER!" like they were getting away with a swear word, even though I doubt anyone was aware of "bloody" in the British sense.

But the reason the author of the first article can't get his head around the point of the song is that the central metaphor makes no sense. "They killed us because we..." what? Believed in Peace? Treasured Peace? Understood Piece? Had a secret for keeping the Peace? I can't put anything in that sentence that doesn't sound as deluded and self-serving and as Americans saying, "The terrorists attack us because they hate our Freedom!"

The irony of the "Peace on Earth, it said," reveal doesn't resonate with any real-world ironies.

Maybe you could see it as a metaphor for the USA trying to stamp out the utopian ideal of communism, but communism isn't about peace, it's about disrupting peace in the name of justice. There's nothing ironic about rich people trying to stamp out movements to distribute wealth more justly. I don't think the point of the song was supposed to be right-wing propaganda "They are going to war to take our treasure, but they don't realize our real treasure is Free Markets that create wealth!"
posted by straight at 9:47 AM on October 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


I guess it's not supposed to correspond with anything but the feeling: "People were fighting a war for a stupid reason, and I ride away from the carnage, disillusioned." The reveal of the message under the stone is just the moment that you realize the war was utterly stupid. But as a kid having to sing it, I got super hung up on what the various details were supposed to mean.
posted by straight at 9:55 AM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


I remember being absolutely fascinated by this song when we learned it at summer camp - it felt so grown up. All the other songs were about, like, talking bears and mischievous goats and then there was this one telling me to go ahead and draw my sword? I MAY BE 10 BUT I'M AN ADULT NOW
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:56 AM on October 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's hard to understand at all. The valley people heard that the mountain people had a treasure. The mountain people offered to share, but that wasn't good enough for the valley people who wanted the treasure all to themselves. After the valley people killed the mountain people, they found out that the treasure was peace. If they had agreed to share, they could have all lived in peace together. Seems fairly simple to me.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:04 AM on October 4, 2018 [18 favorites]


Some other MeFites had much cooler grade school music teachers than I did. Granted, much of my grade school education was in Catholic schools, but there was still small chance of our singing "Delta Dawn" (which I got to hear Tanya Tucker sing at a county fair in the mid-seventies), with its implication that the "mysterious dark-haired man" had been Delta's lover. We got to do such hip, with-it numbers as, heaven help me, "The Caissons Go Rolling Along."
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:27 AM on October 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is one of the first songs I hated as a kid, all the way from it's condescending first line to the Wow, Really Makes You Think ending.
God I still hate it, I hate it so much.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:28 AM on October 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


Well, to the extent that it is a metaphor, that the CIA sponsored a proxy war for cheap bananas and coffee was a thing that happened. There's a bunch of related skulduggery in favor of protecting cheap food exports to Europe which arguably is the roots of the Vietnam War.

But I don't think the song is that kind of metaphor at all, it's primarily a moral fable against the certainty of a just-war doctrine. And I don't think it's all that good of a fable myself, but trying to pin down the Mountain or Valley folk to 60s politics is kinda like declaring that Sauron was Stalin all along because there's a war and he's kinda in the East.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:54 AM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


We also sang this one in second grade (1984ish?) as well as The 59th Street Bridge Song and Punky's Dilemma (I have no idea what our music teacher thought we would get out of the latter; I suspect he had us sing it for his own amusement).
posted by elsietheeel at 11:23 AM on October 4, 2018


Guys, guys, what if the peace in the song was the peace of the grave? Then the song would be about the unjust persecution necromancers have had to suffer all these centuries!
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:06 PM on October 4, 2018 [11 favorites]


The Coven version is that one that lives in my heart. I had the 45, and must have listened to it a bajillion times. The way her voice breaks on "heaven" and "sword" has always given me goosebumps.

Weirdly, listening to it now, the opening flute triggers a sense-memory of a Rankin-Bass "The Hobbit" sort of cartoon which is NOT the Sonny and Cher show
posted by hanov3r at 1:51 PM on October 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


regarding The Original Caste, their other hit 'Mr. Monday', had a rockin bass part.
posted by ovvl at 6:58 PM on October 4, 2018


I have never heard any version of it but Coven's, so I have some listening ahead of me, it seems.

I came by this honestly, on the radio, when it was released. I was in junior high, I think. I didn't see Billy Jack until years later (and have never been a fan), but the song always haunted me (and Jinx Dawson's voice is perfect). There was probably a time when I didn't get what it was about, but I no longer remember that.
posted by lhauser at 7:07 PM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


...written by Canadians Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter...

This was a big surprise to me, and it turns out to be not true. Lambert, an American, came from Brooklyn; the Englishman Potter from a town to the east of London. Working together in Los Angeles in the 1970s, they were responsible for writing or producing some of the biggest songs of that era, including "Ain't No Woman" (the Four Tops); "Don't Pull Your Love" (Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds); "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Country Boy" (Glen Campbell); "It Only Takes a Minute" (Tavares); and "Baby Come Back" (Player).
posted by LeLiLo at 7:53 PM on October 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


LeLiLo- thank you- I stand corrected!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:29 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


"Rhinestone Cowboy"

Now back there in the 70's, when this was a hit, I formed the impression that the song had a mocking attitude to its subject, that a "rhinestone cowboy" was a phony or weekend warrior. My point of reference, I suppose, was those jean jackets covered with rhinestones that were the style at the time. But, when Glen Campbell died, I gave it a good listen, and the lyrics seem to sincerely idealize the RC as a symbol of success and fulfillment. The theme of holding out in years of struggle seems to have been what appealed to Campbell, too. (I also hadn't know that the song was a cover, and checked out the original version at that time).
posted by thelonius at 5:36 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


Heard this song for the first time at Episcopal church camp "Happening"s and it doesn't get more liberal than that.
posted by josher71 at 7:49 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh my. I read the article and...um. It reminds me of the kind of student essay where, after reading it, I just put it down and stare into the distance for a while.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:44 PM on October 5, 2018 [9 favorites]


Oh my. I read the article and...um. It reminds me of the kind of student essay where, after reading it, I just put it down and stare into the distance for a while.

On the bloody morning after...
One tin grader looks away.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:55 PM on October 5, 2018 [6 favorites]


I actually like this lyric, not having known it as a child. It seems like quite a darkly funny irony that the valley people do win peace on earth (at least temporarily) by slaughtering the people who offered to share it with them. And that makes me imagine that the "one tin soldier" image refers to this repeating itself endlessly, with everyone fighting and dying for peace on earth until there are just two people fighting and then, on the bloody morning after, one tin soldier rides away.

I mean, who knows? But that's the story I told myself.
posted by howfar at 3:35 PM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


So, 20 days after this was posted, I have been having a "One Tin Soldier" earworm for days.

We went to see a show called Pearle Harbour's Chataqua the other day. The show is a narrative framed as a tent revival being lead by a drag queen (the eponymous Pearle Harbour). At one point in the show, she leads the audience (who are seated inside said tent) in a singalong of "One Tin Soldier."

That, in concert with having listened to it while reading this post originally, has set the song free from my childhood memory bank and it's been popping into my head on a near-hourly basis for the last few days.

I've tried everything from bluegrass to Black Sabbath to Fela Kuti to get it out. And it's still there.

Also, as I've reflected further on the piece that's the first link in the FPP, it occurred to me that the author has to be pretty delusional to think he's in any position to mansplain the singing of a song to Cher. That was also bugging me.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go fumigate this earworm with a metal playlist.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:28 PM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


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