Song Lyric Sunday — “Working in the Coal Mine” and “Working Man”

Jim Adams continues to masterfully chaperone Song Lyric Sunday, originated by Helen Vahdati. Jim’s update on Helen’s health is here; I hope she feels better soon. I agree with her that SLS has become a community and, with Jim now at the helm, is no longer “hers.”  Seems to me that Jim’s stewardship has also brought in some new players, so our musical world is expanding. Thanks to both Jim and Helen!

This week’s topic, occupation, immediately reminded me of two songs that, although written more than twenty years apart, both describe the hardship of a coal miner’s life.  New Orleans jazz and blues songwriter/musician/producer, Allen Toussaint, penned my first choice “Working In The Coal Mine” in 1966. It became an international hit for singer Lee Dorsey. Dorsey’s peppy delivery, echoed by such subsequent artists as Devo (1981), belies the somber lyrics, so I’ve chosen a better-suited fan-made video with audio featuring Dorsey.

My second choice, “Working Man,” was released twenty-two years later in 1988, written and performed by Canadian Rita MacNeil. MacNeil was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada’s coal mining center from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s. Inspired to write the song during a visit to a local coal mine, she related in her autobiography that she wrote the melody and lyrics in her head as the tour guide talked. The video I’ve chosen comes from a Celtic Thunder 2010 tour and is sung by the late George Donaldson. (You can read my previous SLS posts featuring George here and here.) Never a coal miner, Donaldson, as the group’s oldest member, performs the song authentically, having been a working man building buses daily and singing in pubs nightly for many years before his success in Celtic Thunder.

 

 

Working in The Coal Mine

Workin’ in the coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down

Five o’clock in the mornin’
I’m already up and gone
Lord, I’m so tired
How long can this go on?

Daddy, workin’ in the coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down

‘Course I make a little money
Haulin’ coal by the ton
But when Saturday rolls around
I’m too tired for havin’ fun

Too tired for havin’, I’m just workin’ in the coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down

Lord I’m so tired
How long can this go on?

Daddy, workin’ in the coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down

Five o’clock in the mornin’
I’m already up and gone
Lord, I’m so tired
How long can this go on?

Daddy, workin’ in the coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down

‘Course I make a little money
Haulin’ coal by the ton
But when Saturday rolls around
I’m too tired for havin’ fun

Too tired for havin’, I’m just workin’ in the coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Goin’ down, down, down
Workin’ in a coal mine
Oops, about to slip down

Lord, I’m so tired

 

 

Working Man

It’s a working man I am
And I’ve been down underground
And I swear to God
If I ever see the sun
Oh for any length of time
I can hold it in my mind
I never again
Will go down underground
At the age of sixteen years
Oh he quarrels with his peers
He vowed they’d never
See another one
In the dark recess of the mine
Where you age before your time
And the coal dust lies heavy
On your lungs
It’s a working man I am
And I’ve been down underground
And I swear to God
If I ever see the sun
Oh for any length of time
I can hold it in my mind
I never again
Will go down underground
At the age of sixty four
He will greet you at the door
And he will gently lead you
By the arm
Through the dark recess of the mine
He will take you back in time
And he’ll tell you of
The hardships that were had
It’s a working man I am
And I’ve been down underground
And I swear to God
If I ever see the sun
Oh for any length of time
I can hold it in my mind
I never again will go down underground
I never again will go down underground
Songwriters: Rita Macneil
Working Man lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

 

 

 

Song Lyric Sunday — “Home From The Sea”

One of my all-time favorite singing groups is Celtic Thunder. It just so happens that a song on their sixth album, “Heritage”, fits the bill for this week’s Song Lyric Sunday theme, search.  Phil Coulter wrote “Home from the Sea” in honor of his brother, who was lost at sea. The song tells a tale of a lifeboat crew’s search for a lost fishing boat. You’ll have to take a listen (or read the lyrics) to see how it works out. Note that the video features George Donaldson, one of the original Celtic Thunder members who I wrote about a couple weeks ago for the SLS “glass” theme.

 

Home From The Sea

On a cold winters night
With a storm at its height
The lifeboat answered the call.
They pitched and they tossed
Till we thought they were lost
As we watched from the harbor wall.
Though the night was pitch black,
There was no turning back,
For someone was waiting out there,
But each volunteer
Had to live with his fear
As they joined in a silent prayer.
————————————–
[Chorus]
Home, home, home from the sea
Angels of mercy, answer our plea
And carry us home, home, home from the sea
Carry us safely home from the sea.
————————————–
As they battled their way
Past the mouth of the bay,
It was blowing like never before.
As they gallantly fought,
Every one of them thought
Of loved ones back on the shore.
Then a flicker of light
And they knew they were right.
There she was on the crest of a wave.
She’s an old fishing boat
And she’s barely afloat.
Please God, there are souls we can save.
—————————————
[Chorus]

—————————————

And back in the town
In a street that runs down
To the sea and the harbor wall,
They’d gathered in pairs
At the foot of the stairs
To wait for the radio call.
And just before dawn
When all hope had gone
Came a hush and a faraway sound.
‘Twas the coxswain he roared
All survivors on board
Thank God and we’re homeward bound.

————————————–

[Chorus]

————————————–

Song Lyric Sunday — “The Parting Glass”

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Helen Vahdati’s musing on that suject resulted in this week’s Song Lyric Sunday theme:  Glass. The glass I’ve chosen to write about is neither, as the full glass is drained for a toast.

“The Parting Glass”  is a bittersweet farewell to close friends. Having its roots in Scotland, it’s considered to be traditional in both Ireland and Scotland.  The lyrics in some form existed in the early 1600s, attributed by Sir Walter Scott to a man who was hanged after penning his farewell, now called “Armstrong’s Goodnight.”   Today’s lyrics were first seen on a handbill in the 1770s. As with other traditional songs, the music was also used for other songs, and was first published in Glasgow in 1782 as a fiddle tune called “The Peacock.” The song was popularlized in the 20th century by Irish recordings by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and by The Dubliners.

My favorite version of “The Parting Glass” could be considered a poignant farewell from the singer. George Donaldson was one of the original members of, and the only Scot in, Celtic Thunder, a singing group formed in Dublin in 2007. At 39 and the only married member, George was “the old man” to the others who ranged in age from 14 to 30. Well-beloved by cast, crew, and fans, he passed away unexpectedly at 46 from a massive heart attack in March 2014.

Released on his second solo album, “The Parting Glass” video was filmed and released a mere five months before his passing. I’d say “enjoy,” but I truly can’t hear and watch him sing this without choking up.

 

The Parting Glass

Of all the money e’er I had
I’ve spent it in good company
And all the harm e’er I’ve done
Alas it was to none but me
And all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Of all the comrades e’er I had
They are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I had
They would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all

A man may drink and not be drunk
A man may fight and not be slain
A man may court a pretty girl
And perhaps be welcomed back again
But since it has so ordered been
By a time to rise and a time to fall
Come fill to me the parting glass
Goodnight and joy be with you all
Goodnight and joy be with you all

*edited to add links to The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners versions