For Americana, Neil Young’s first album with the band Crazy Horse in nearly nine years, the singer-songwriter revisits classic American folk songs and delivers the tunes, which encompass familiar protest songs, murder ballads and campfire songs, with electrifying ferocity. In spite of — or perhaps because of the approach, the universal appeal of the songs is neither lost nor diminished and they retain their relevance in these challenging times.
Wikipedia says of the history of the song:
The words are those of a bereaved lover singing about his darling, the daughter of a miner in the 1849 California Gold Rush. He loses her in a drowning accident, though he consoles himself towards the end of the song with Clementine’s “little sister”.
The verse about the little sister was often left out of folk song books intended for children, presumably because it seemed morally questionable.
Another theory is that the song is from the view of Clementine’s father, and not a lover.
Gerald Brenan attributes the melody to originally being an old Spanish ballad in his book South from Granada. It was made popular by Mexican miners during the Gold Rush. It was also given various English texts. No particular source is cited to verify that the song he used to hear in the 1920s in a remote Spanish village was not an old text with new music, but Brenan states in his preface that all facts mentioned in the book have been checked reasonably well. The song is using the melody placed on Romances, in particular the one of Romance del Conde Olinos o Niño, a sad love story very popular in the Spanish folk some of which were compiled at the court of Alfonso X and others like the Cancionero de Uppsala later by the House of Trastamara.
It is unclear when, where and by whom the song was first recorded in English for others to hear.
The video for “Clementine” as for all of the clips produced for Americana is authentic found footage, adding a unique visual element to a project steeped in America’s rich, lyrical history.
“The Americana arrangement extends the folk process using many of the original words and a new melody. The song tells the story of either a bereaved lover recalling his lost sweetheart, or a father missing his lost daughter. In both cases the daughter has drowned in an accident. The verse about Clementine’s sister has been omitted from most children’s versions. This verse has different meanings depending on whether the point of view of the singer is taken as the lover or the father.”
You’ve never heard “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain” quite like this. For their first album together in nine years, Neil Young and Crazy Horse have taken classic American folk music and reinvigorated these songs with muscle, radiance and a whole lot of electric guitar.
This song, as with all the songs on the record, have been paired up with archival footage. This footage is from an early scene in D.W. Griffith’s controversial 1915 film Birth of a Nation, in which the Southern Cameron family hosts a farewell ball for soldiers fighting for the Confederacy.
As for the song itself, Neil Young writes in the liner notes toAmericana:
Written in the 1800s based on an old Negro spiritual, this song refers to the second coming of Jesus, and “she” is the chariot Jesus is coming on. Some interpret this as the end of the world. Others have said that “she” refers to union organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones going to promote formation of labor unions in the Appalachian coal-mining camps. The Americana arrangement continues the folk process with a new melody, a new title and a combination of lyric sources.
The Ghost of Tom Joad is a fantastic and often overlooked song by Bruce Springsteen. It is the title track on his album from 1995. The album, The Ghost of Tom Joad, has a focus on storytelling. It is largely accoustic and the songs are stories of people in difficulties and struggles. The influence of Guthrie and Dylan is clear.
Recorded sometime April–June 1995 at Thrill Hill West (Bruce’s Los Angeles home studio). Springsteen handles guitar and vocals and his 4-man backing band on this recording is Danny Federici (keyboards), Garry Tallent (bass), Marty Rifkin (pedal steel, dobro) and Gary Mallaber (drums). (from Brucebase)
The character Tom Joad is the lead character in John Steinbeck’s classic 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath, is mentioned in the title and narrative. Near the end of the story, Tom makes his famous “I’ll be there” speech, which is also noted in the lyrics.
The idea is that the ghost of Tom Joad, the spirit of working together as a community, will prevail in times of great injustice and depression. I think it means that our times are mirror images of past times, the ghost of the depression in the late twenties to the early forties.
The song also takes inspiration from The Ballad of Tom Joad by Woody Guthrie and by the John Ford film The Grapes of Wrath.
Another inspiration is this speech by George Bush in 1990:
“Until now, the world we’ve known has been a world divided – a world of barbed wire and concrete block, conflict and cold war. Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order. In the words of Winston Churchill, a ‘world order’ in which ‘the principles of justice and fair play … protect the weak against the strong …’ “
Springsteen was clearly ironically quoting Bush’s speech when he wrote the line, “Welcome to the new world order” in the first verse.
So it’s a song with several origins and a very political song.
It was originally done as a sombre protest/folk song by Springsteen but has later been done in a radically louder arrangement by Rage Against the Machine.
Men walkin’ ‘long the railroad tracks
Goin’ someplace there’s no goin’ back
Highway patrol choppers comin’ up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin’ round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin’ in their cars in the southwest
No home no job no peace no rest
The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Searchin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad
Bruce Springsteen has also performed the song in various arrangements, solo in very quiet shows and as a more hard and up-tempo rock song.
Here’s the fabulous album version from 1995:
He pulls prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waitin’ for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box ‘neath the underpass
Got a one-way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand
Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin’ in the city aqueduct
The highway is alive tonight
But where it’s headed everybody knows
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Waitin’ on the ghost of Tom Joad
The great cover version by Rage Against The Machine:
These are the 25 chosen albums from 2011. The list is a collaboration between Egil and Hallgeir, and has been decided through discussion and mathematics. The Math have had second place, our feelings comes first. We both presented our individual lists as a starting point, the result is the list we present here, the best list of the best albums from a good year!
Click on the album cover or the link to get our descriptions of the album and a list of our chosen tracks for each record.