Another day older…. true. Deeper in debt…. fortunately false! Thankfully the headline is not hinting at my current misfortune but indeed one of my favorite songs. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 1955 hit “Sixteen Tons” has been one of my favorite oldies since I first heard it. It has a catchy tune and great lyrics. When you get down to the words line by line, they are oddly applicable to many modern situations at hand today, which is why I believe this song to still be so popular to cover amongst artists.
But most importantly, it is a song that my dad and I can sing to together. Just recently we heard it in the car and both busted out in song. I know Mom can only shrug and laugh as her daughters sing along with Dad to songs like Ring of Fire, Battle of New Orleans, Red Headed Stranger, Seven Spanish Angles, etc. All of these songs were well before our time; however, it’s the nights on the patio with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles listening to old music and drinking some cold beverages that continues this tradition no matter how many years past they may be. It reminds me of this one time, in the car again, when my youngest sisters had to be four and six years old and they were singing Ring of Fire, word for word. It makes me so very happy knowing that my youngest sisters know more Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash songs by heart than Justin Bieber… It really is the little things in life!
Tennessee Ernie Ford was known for his radio, television and singing careers. His nickname, “Tennessee Ernie”, came about while he was an early morning country disc jokey for a radio station out in California. He became a huge hit there. He released 50 singles over his career with Sixteen Tons being one of the biggest. Sixteen Tons spent ten weeks atop the country music charts and an impressive eight atop the pop counterpart. To this day, this hit has sold more than 90 million records according to his website! With his popularity growing due his successes in radio and musical performances, he had his own variety show on NBC called “The Ford Show.” However, fun fact, the Ford Show was not named after the host. In fact, it was titled after its largest sponsor, Ford Motor Company. The show was broadcasted from 1956-1961, with 1958 being the first year it was produced in color.
But back to the featured, Sixteen Tons. This record was first recorded in 1964 by Merle Travis. And once Tennessee Ernie experienced such success with the song, many other versions were recorded. Below you will first find Tennessee Ernie Ford’s live performance, then the likes of Johnny Cash, LeAnn Rimes, Jeff Beck & ZZ Top, Rockapella, Stevie Wonder, etc.
This is all probably over kill but if you are a music nut like me, you may find some entertainment and interest in how different yet alike all of these covers are!