We shall overcome.
April 27, 2006 7:32 PM   Subscribe

The songs of the Pete Seeger Sessions presents an ultra-detailed listing of prior recordings of the songs included in Bruce Springsteen's excellent "We shall overcome" album, a majestic tribute to the American musical tradition, with some songs written over two centuries ago. The site lists more than 1,560 eariler recordings, by nearly as many artists, with some full-length audio clips included. Aft
posted by keepoutofreach (32 comments total)
Bruce's album of the Seeger Sessions is highly recommended. I somehow snagged a copy a week ago and if it were vinyl it would already be burned out.
posted by caddis at 8:04 PM on April 27, 2006

This is pretty cool. I love Pete Seeger but I'd love to hear some of the other variations of classic ballads.
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:07 PM on April 27, 2006

For example, I know for a fact that Sam Hinton's "Old Dan Tucker" and "Froggie Went a' Courtin" are superior.
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:08 PM on April 27, 2006

The video for "Oh Mary Don't You Weep" goes on forever, but you don't care.
posted by dhartung at 8:23 PM on April 27, 2006

Wow, there really is a wealth of information and music here.
Nice link.
posted by caddis at 8:23 PM on April 27, 2006

Excellent. I'm really glad to see a way to access lesser-known versions of these songs. Pete was a great popularizer of folk music, but so many people gravitated to his work and persona that many didn't realize he was drawing on the performances and knowledge of hundreds, maybe thousands, of musicians and singers before him. It's great to point out that Pete was just one interpreter of this body of American traditional music.
posted by Miko at 8:28 PM on April 27, 2006

Pete Seeger was my favorite folk musician who took his orders directly from Stalin. Although that is true, he was a fine musician. I love the Boss very very much as well and am looking forward to listening to the new album. All these versions really put these songs in perspective as well. Great link.
posted by Falconetti at 8:37 PM on April 27, 2006

Great link, thanks. I bought the Springsteen album last night and haven't been able to stop playing it.
posted by marxchivist at 8:44 PM on April 27, 2006

Although it's not quite as rollicking, if anyone enjoys the new Springsteen disc give Dave Alvin's album Public Domain a try.
posted by marxchivist at 8:49 PM on April 27, 2006

Springsteen's album is very entertaining, but it certainly sounds similar (influenced by?) to any number of Dylan albums.
posted by milnak at 10:07 PM on April 27, 2006

Falconneti, that blog entry on Seeger and Stalinism/Communism was pretty pathetic. I'm not familiar enough with Seegers pre/during WWII music to debate the change that the author spoke of, but the rest of his argument is terribly flawed. First off, Stalinism is not equal to Communism (especially as practiced in the US). Communism is an ideology. Stalinism was a regime that claimed to be Communist. I'd argue it had more in common with Fascism than Communism.

Saying that Pete Seeger was a party-line Stalinist and that historians give him a free ride because we like Stalinists better than Nazi's is just bunk. Communism in the United States preceded Stalin by a good while. It was well rooted in the Labor movement (see the Wobblies). The labor movement and folk music had a very close relationship. This is the background from which Seeger sprung. Hardworking people that saw the promises of Communism as the savior of the common man.

I don't think the promises of Communism were ever realistic or practical. But then again, I don't think the promises of Democracy are either and plenty of decent people believe in that too.

Saying that Pete Seeger's affiliation with Communism made him a stooge of Stalin and indirectly complicit in Stalin's crimes though is beneath the pale.
posted by afflatus at 10:22 PM on April 27, 2006

I agree that the Nazi comparison in that blog was stupid. I also know the history of that period. I am anti-Communist, but I didn't mean much by the link, just thought it was interesting that Seeger changed his "tune" regarding WWII based on the position of the Soviet Union. Still a great and important musician (who I like). I overstated my case for sure, I should have been clearer.
posted by Falconetti at 10:35 PM on April 27, 2006

Influenced by Dylan? Sheesh. Of course (as if Bruce wasn't before?), but it swings more like Merle in full western swing mode, and maybe hews more closely to John Prine material (strictly musically, that is, although "Old Dan Tucker" is as absurd as anything Prine ever thought up). It has the same intensity level as E Street Band live material too. But the E Street band never swings.
posted by raysmj at 10:55 PM on April 27, 2006

They might not swing, but they at least shuffle.
posted by Falconetti at 11:07 PM on April 27, 2006

Seeger left the Communist Party in 1950, thereby beating the mad rush out caused by the 1956 revelations of Stalin's atrocities at the same time that the Soviet Union brutally crushed the Hungarian uprising. I'm reasonably sure he's aligned with Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a reform oriented ex-CP group.

That said, it's good to hear that his music's making a splash again. We need more left-wing folk in this country.
posted by graymouser at 4:02 AM on April 28, 2006

I loved the bits of the Springsteen album I heard the other day; it's the first time he's interested me in a long while. Thanks for this excellent post!

Falconetti, no need to apologize—that was a very useful link. I knew Seeger, like so many progressives at the time, had been a Communist, but it's one thing to go to a few meetings and rallies, quite another to do this:
...after the Hitler-Stalin pact, he and his group the Almanac Singers put out an album titled Songs of John Doe that called Franklin D Roosevelt a warmongering lackey of JP Morgan.
Franklin D, listen to me,
You ain't a-gonna send me 'cross the sea.
You may say it's for defense
That kinda talk ain't got no sense.
Then within months Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. The album was pulled from the market and reportedly destroyed. The Almanac Singers quickly produced a new album, Dear Mr President, that took a different view of FDR and the war:
Now, Mr President
You're commander-in-chief of our armed forces
The ships and the planes and the tanks and the horses
I guess you know best just where I can fight ...
So what I want is you to give me a gun
So we can hurry up and get the job done!
That's just disgusting. It doesn't make me reject Seeger, who was a good man, but it's important to see the depths to which a good man can sink when he gets entangled with politics.

And afflatus, you're completely wrong about Stalinism. It's the logical continuation of Leninism (surely you're not one of those fools who think Lenin was some kind of misty-eyed idealist whose legacy was betrayed by that nasty Stalin—he started the policy of brutal repression immediately after taking power), and Leninism is Communism: the defining feature of each is absolute control by the Party, which does the proletariat's thinking for it. If there's no centralized control, it may be Marxism but it's not Communism. And to say "I don't think the promises of Communism were ever realistic or practical"; is not enough; the promises were lies from the beginning. It's very important not to let a disgust with "democratic" military-industrial states seduce us into accepting, or even tolerating, a self-proclaimed alternative that's done nothing but evil in the world.
posted by languagehat at 5:36 AM on April 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

"..but it certainly sounds similar (influenced by?) to any number of Dylan albums...."


So, have you not listened to a lot of Bob Dylan, then?
posted by kbanas at 6:01 AM on April 28, 2006

I am listening to the new Bruce album right now, and it kicks multitudes of ass. 'Old Dan Tucker', 'Jesse James' and 'Pay Me My Money Down' are my particular favorites. For a dude from New Jersey, the Boss really can swing. With the banjos and fiddles blasting, the album feels like a good ole fashioned hoe down. If you had told me anytime within the last fifteen years that Bruce Springsteen's new album would be in the running for my favorite album of the year (so far), I would have laughed, but here we are. If you haven't heard it, check it out.
posted by ND¢ at 6:09 AM on April 28, 2006

Seeger's activities surrounding World War II aside, he was masterful at presenting left-wing ideas in an entertaining form with populist flavor. It's no coincidence that Bruce chose Seeger, and these songs, at this time. Make no mistake, it's a protest album, but one done Bruce's way -- by appealing to the most rooted sense of what it means to be American, allying with the working and struggling classes through songs of work and struggle, and having a damn good time.

Also, Bruce will be happy to tell you himself that Dylan is his biggest influence, and has been since his very first album, if not before. He would take no umbrage at the suggestion that he is working in the same tradition - which is not Dylan's tradition alone, but in fact extends back through Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly to the places of American music's origin, in the hearts and minds of thousands of nameless songwriters.
posted by Miko at 7:05 AM on April 28, 2006

I'd really digging the new Springsteen. Pete Seeger is one of my heroes and was my first concert when I was 5.

But that link misses the Old Crow Medicine Show version of "Gospel Plow" (Eyes on the Prize). That may be my favorite version of that song.
posted by maurice at 8:51 AM on April 28, 2006

languagehat -- that's a rather trite and boring anticommunist rant you've got there, and while I could go on presenting Trotsky's whole case against Stalin and for Lenin, I'm not going to; it's out there for those who are interested, and I don't have the time to rehearse the debate.

Miko -- The line from Seeger and Guthrie goes back to the Industrial Workers of the World in the early 20th century; have you ever listened to any of the recordings of Joe Hill's material or the Little Red Songbook? Red folk music has a long history, and it's fascinating how intertwined it all is.
posted by graymouser at 9:07 AM on April 28, 2006

This thread convinced me to buy the album - I grew up on Pete Seeger and similar populist songs. ("This Land Is Your Land" is the only lullabye I remember my mother singing!)

I love this album. I love the conversation here too, but goddamn, this is amazing.
posted by kalimac at 9:36 AM on April 28, 2006

Oh, absolutely, greymouser, but I'm less interested personally in original compositions by lefties than in the actual folk traditions they drew from and built on. "Pay Me My Money Down," a great example, is a sea chantey/maritime work song from the Caribbean, the complaint of black sailors whose pay was deferred to the point of denial.
posted by Miko at 9:53 AM on April 28, 2006

the seeger pieces are some great old tracks and springsteen does a nice job covering them. especially dig jos mrs. mcgrath.

but if i may throw in my two cents, yall outta try to get out and check out some of these travellin merrymen this spring and summer as they bring this tradition out of the museum and studios:

wooden wand
josephine foster
jack rose
sun city girls
sublime frequencies
dev banhardt
joanna newsome
and ben chasney

each play great songs, with powerful structures and a lot of lyrics touch on the leftish political anthem for a new tomorrow. they're the truth-tellin trostkites to seeger's stalinist songbook...
posted by neoistimpulse at 10:31 AM on April 28, 2006

Stream the Springsteen CD here (while you can).
posted by xowie at 12:06 PM on April 28, 2006

afflatus, the Wobblies are syndo-anarchists, not communists.

Is it really very surprising that during the Depression, a lot of folks, including a lot of folk singers, thought that Capitalism was failing?
posted by QIbHom at 8:56 AM on April 29, 2006

Is it really very surprising that during the Depression, a lot of folks, including a lot of folk singers, thought that Capitalism was failing?

Of course not, and if I'd been around then, I probably would have been a Trot myself, or at least flirted with the organized left. But there's a huge leap between that and cranking out propaganda lyrics at a word from Uncle Joe, and then turning on a dime when Uncle Joe changes his mind. That's not progressivism, that's soul-killing slavishness.
posted by languagehat at 9:04 AM on April 29, 2006

Ok, languagehat, I'm not familiar with all of Pete Seeger's works, and I know he is still a communist, but has apologized for following Stalin. Do you have any examples of propaganda lyrics written at Stalin's command? I don't mean to be snarky, I just am not quite sure how to research this one.
posted by QIbHom at 9:41 AM on April 29, 2006

Doesn't take that much research; I quoted one in my earlier comment. And I'm no expert on the subject of Seeger—I got that from Falconetti's comment. I don't want to come off as bashing Seeger; a lot of people made bad choices back then, and I don't bear eternal grudges about it (one of my favorite poets is Ezra Pound—need I say more?). I still like Seeger, I was just surprised and disappointed to find out what a lackey he was back then.
posted by languagehat at 12:43 PM on April 29, 2006

QIbHom: you are, of course, correct. I considered making the distinction right after I hit post. I'm even from Eugene and have spent a great deal of time at the WOW (Workers of the World) Hall. Its a good place to learn about the intertwined traditions of labor and music. That said, they had more than a passing intermixing with the Communist Party. Better examples could probably be had.

And Languagehat, I just don't see Stalinism as the logical extension of Leninism. But my point was that Communism is an ideology while Stalin was a particular regime that claimed to follow that ideology. Claiming to follow an ideology does not mean that one is being at all true to it. George Bush presides over a government that claims to be a Democracy (or a democratic republic depending on who you ask). I would argue that many of his administration's actions are profoundly anti-democratic. Ideology != implementation.

Folk music in the United States has a long tradition of supporting the proletariat and attacking corporate power structures. It predated Stalin by decades but has a natural synergy with Communism as an ideology. I have seen a total of two quotes in this thread that seem to indicate that Seeger changed his tune, as it were, based off the Soviet Union's foreign policy, but that doesn't persuade me that Seeger was Stalin's lackey nor does it even vaguely justify the broad tarring of leftist folk musicians that occurred in the linked article. And if you honestly think that Communism has done nothing but evil in this world...well, we'll just have to disagree I guess.
posted by afflatus at 11:33 PM on April 29, 2006

Folk music in the United States has a long tradition of supporting the proletariat and attacking corporate power structures. It predated Stalin by decades but has a natural synergy with Communism as an ideology.

It's not that folk music is synergystic with Communism, specifically. It's simply counterhegemonic. In a capitalist society, that's easily taken for - and used for - the purposes of promoting socialist and communist ideals, but it's not as though traditional music is naturally Communist.
posted by Miko at 12:38 PM on April 30, 2006

I prefer my folk music to be either murder ballads, about Giteau or John Henry, or nonsensical.
posted by Falconetti at 2:03 PM on April 30, 2006

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