Songfacts®: You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.
Folk music historian Gary Theroux explains the origin of this song:
Pete Seeger and Lee Hays were founding members of People's Songs, a music publishing company that specialized in tunes that supported various left wing causes - including hammer and sickle Communism. At it s first board of directors meeting, Seeger and Hayes staved off boredom by passing a sheet of paper back and forth, collaborating on the lyrics that became "If I Had A Hammer." That Labor Day, at a show promoted in a Communist newspaper, Seeger debuted the song in concert (his co-star on the bill was Paul Robeson). Impressed by the crowd reaction, Seeger and Hays then recorded "If I Had A Hammer" with their new group, The Weavers, as their first release on the tiny Charter Records label. (Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellermen rounded out the quartet.) It was a collector's item, said Hayes. Nobody but collectors ever bought it. In 1952, the lyrics were revised a bit by a fellow radical activist, Libby Frank, who insisted on singing "my brothers and my sisters" instead of what Seeger and Hayes had written: "all of my brothers." Hayes objected ("It doesn't ripple off the tongue as well. How about 'all of my siblings ?") but finally agreed. A decade later, the melody itself was rewritten - by Peter, Paul & Mary. Most people nowadays sing it as they heard it on PPM's record, says Seeger. That version reached #10 in October 1962. A Latin-tinged interpretation, recorded live at PJs nightclub in Hollywood, became an even bigger hit (#3) for Trini Lopez the following September. (this appeared in the Forgotten Hits newsletter, which you can subscribe to at The60sshop@aol.com)
In a 1988 interview with Paul Zollo, Pete Seeger said: "The way I sing it now, what I often do is joke with an audience. I point out that you can sing it the way I wrote it or the way Peter, Paul and Mary rewrote it, or half a dozen other ways, and they all harmonize with each other. I say, 'This is a good moral for the world.' As a matter of fact, I'm convinced that musicians have got a more important role to play in putting a world together than they're usually given credit for. Because musicians can teach the politicians: Not everybody has to sing the melody." (this appears in Zollo's book Songwriters On Songwriting
In Rich Podolsky's book Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear
, Rich tells how his father was a record buyer for a Philadelphia chain store, and would bring home stacks of 45 RPM records for his son to sort through looking for good candidates. Rich thought of it as a fun game called "find the hit." This song was his first pick, from a pile of records he describes as "one bomb after another."
The cover of this song by Peter, Paul, and Mary was their first hit. They were virtually unknown before this.
President John F. Kennedy claimed that this was his favorite song.
Songs About Movies
Iron Maiden, Adele, Toto, Eminem and Earth, Wind & Fire are just some of the artists with songs directly inspired by movies - and not always good ones.
Jesus Christ Superstar: Ted Neeley Tells the Inside Story
Expect to see protests even in today's society, as Jesus Christ Superstar
, the film, marks its 40th anniversary with a worldwide theater tour. Here, we take a walk down film location lane with Ted Neeley, or "Christ," if you prefer.
Did Eric Clapton really steal George's wife? What's the George Harrison-Monty Python connection? Set the record straight with our Fact or Fiction quiz.
Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root
Michael tells the story of "Send Me On My Way," and explains why some of the words in the song don't have a literal meaning.