Sixteen Tons

Album: Sixteen Tons (1955)
Charted: 1 1
  • songfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • Some people say a man is made outta mud
    A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
    Muscle and blood and skin and bones
    A mind that's weak and a back that's strong

    You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
    Another day older and deeper in debt
    Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
    I owe my soul to the company store

    I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
    I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
    I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
    And the straw boss said "well, bless my soul"

    You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
    Another day older and deeper in debt
    Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
    I owe my soul to the company store

    I was born one mornin', it was drizzlin' rain
    Fightin' and trouble are my middle name
    I was raised in the canebrake by an ol' mama lion
    Can't no high-toned woman make me walk the line

    You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
    Another day older and deeper in debt
    Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
    I owe my soul to the company store

    If you see me comin', better step aside
    A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died
    One fist of iron, the other of steel
    If the right one don't get you, then the left one will

    You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
    Another day older and deeper in debt
    Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
    I owe my soul
    To the company storeWriter/s: MERLE TRAVIS
    Publisher: Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
    Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind
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Comments: 10

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 4th 1967, Tom Jones appeared on the premier episode of the CBS-TV program 'Spotlight'*...
    One month later on August 6th, 1967 his covered version of "Sixteen Tons" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #87; it stayed on the chart for 4 weeks, peaking at #68...
    *'Spotlight' ran for nine episodes, it was a summer replacement for 'The Red Skelton Hour'.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 18th 1976, "Sixteen Tons" by the Don Harrison Band entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #90; and on June 6th it peaked at #47 and spent 9 weeks on the Top 100...
    The band's bassist, Stu Cook, and drummer, Doug Clifford, were former members of Creedence Clearwater Revival...
    As stated above; many artists have covered it, with two of these versions making the Top 100. In 1955 Johnny Desmond took it to #17 and Tom Jones reached #68 with his version in 1967...
    Doug Clifford will celebrate his 69th birthday in six days on April 24th, and one day later, on April 25th, Stu Cook will be celebrating his 69th birthday.
  • Fred from Laurel, MdI recall seeing him do this song on TV, some time in the 50's - might have been on "Your Hit Parade," or on his own show, a bit later. Heck, it could've been both!
    Looks like the YouTube vid here has Dinah Shore (in the 60's?) intro'ing an older video of him singing it in 1956.
  • Albert from Oceanport, NjI used the song as a cadence while marching. It has a good beat
  • Marissa from Akron, OhI remember my grandpa playing this song on his big stereo when I was a kid. Granted, that was in the 90's. But still, this song is great.
  • Steve Dotstar from Los Angeles, CaGritty song and a gritty, deep vocal by Tennessee
    Ernie...cool!
  • Alejandro from Raleigh, NcI think Bo Diddley version of this song is the best. You can find it on the "Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger" album. Man, he rocks the hell out of it...
  • Joseph from Columbus, OhThe song has been adopted as a kind of anthem for the American miner, who endured atrocious working conditions for a relative pittance of pay in the early 20th century. Mine safety was lacking prior to formation of the miner's union, hours were long and pay was low. Miners were paid in script, not real money. Mining companies operated company-owned stores that would sell miners the necessities of life, and since regular stores would not accept their script for payment, workers had to use the company store, purchasing items at often greatly inflated prices. When they ran out of money, the store would run a tab for the workers, which would indebt them to the store. Hence the line, "owe my soul to the company store". Mining companies often owned the housing that miners lived in. Living in these conditions often led men to become cynical, bitter, and hopeless, which is reflected in the lyrics of the song. Thankfully, today, while still dangerous, conditions have improved, and at least workers are paid in cash for their labors.
  • Joshua from Twin Cities, MnRupert Holmes has cited this song as being part of the inspiration for the infamous cannibalism ballad "Timothy" that he wrote for the Buoys.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnOne of the first storysongs of the rock era. Tennessee Ernie Ford gave a more powerful rendition than Merle Travis' original.
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