The “Spike Driver Blues” by folk legend Mississippi John Hurt retells the famous story of John Henry, who died by fighting a machine. The upbeat banjo contrasts the melancholy loop of the strumming of the guitar. Like other songs based off of Mr. Henry, the lyrics are very somber, but what sets this song apart is the perspective of the narrator. The speaker appeared to have witnessed John dying by the machine and it appears to awake a rebellious tone: “John Henry he left his hammer All over in red, all over in red, that's why I'm gone.” Maybe it is not so much that the worker is sad about his friend Johnny, but more that Hurt is bringing awareness to the dangerous conditions that workers have to face on a daily basis. Overall, the song’s rebellious tone becomes more clear as the song continues.
I listened to “Streets of Laredo” by Marty Robbins. This ballad had a slower beat than the other ballads we’ve listened to. Unlike the other ballads the slow beat of the song actually matched the calm story being told within the song as well as the sad ending. Within the words there’s several uses of repetition, rhyme, and even slight foreshadow for the later learned death of the cowboy. In the first stanza we learn that the cowboy he sees is wearing all white linen and although you may not understand at first, once you learn that the cowboy’s been dead this whole time you can conclude that the white linen symbolized that he was an angel. The slow and long carrying out of the words allows you to really try and listen to what he’s saying. His voice is more powerful than the beat so you pay more attention to the story rather than the instruments. This is also different from other ballads and even songs in general because you’re able to truly appreciate the thought of the story and words used rather than being distracted by the beat.
The ballad I chose was Barbara Allen by Joan Baez. I chose this song because it had kind of a slow song feel to it and I thought her voice mathed the style very well. This song is a ballad because there’s no chorus to it and it’s telling a narrative of two lovers. I could also tell because of the repetition of the names Barbara Allen and sweet William. “Barbara Allen” is a song about a man who passes away and how his lover can’t stand to live without him so decides to die and be buried next to her lover. Then from their grave flowers grew from each one individually until they intertwined, representing their true love. To me, the lyrics and meaning behind them matched well with the melody and vibe of the song, both giving off kind of a blue and calming feeling.
Stagger Lee/Stagolee is an American folk song by Mississippi John hurt, and the song retells the incident between a “bad man” who got shot named Billy Lyon and how he swiped Lee Shelton’s hat off his head. It could also be a reference to Jim Stack Lee, the son of a confederate officer, but this version became more well-known. The song features very straight-forward language with each stanza ending with a repetitive phrase: “that cruel man ole’Stagolee.” The stanzas consistently follow an ABAB rhyme pattern, and it is probably told from a third-person narrator. It is not obvious if the speaker is Billy Lyon or another person because it switches from a third-person perspective to Billy’s perspective. The lyrics themselves are very sparse compared to the song length, and you’re listening more to the groove of the song than the lyrics. Mississippi John Hurt has a tone from his voice that gives it a “ballad” feel. It sounds somber/lightly mournful, and it supports the blues sound from the guitars.
The definition of a ballad is a song that tells a story, and that is exactly what the song “Pretty Polly” does. It takes the listener through the story of a murder, thereby making it a “murder ballad”. The story which is sung over the fast paced banjo strumming is quite hard to understand without listening carefully. Without knowing what it is about, it would call for one to try and hop into a line dance or something of the sort. It tells of the pretty girl who was promised marriage, but when turned out to be pregnant was brutally murdered as she pleaded for her life. She was then buried in a shallow grave and left behind by the man. What makes it an eternal ballad is the timelessness of the song. Whether it was a century ago, or now, or the future, the story is still relevant because it can and does happen. It is a story which will be repeated endlessly as long as people are there to fulfill it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwEIb7vuEykStagolee is an eternal ballad about the murder of Billy Lyons by Stack “Stagolee” Lee. The song is told from the perspective of a bystander who sees the fight, the murder, and the aftermath. Billy Lyons won a bet and took Stagolee’s Stetson hat, which made the “bad man Stagolee” mad and asked for his gun. Billy begs for his life but Stagolee doesn’t care and kills him with six shots. Even the deputies are scared to arrest him but they try to hang him because the high sheriff said so. However Stagolee’s neck didn’t snap but they killed him anyways. The last two stanzas are Stagolee in Hell talking to the Devil saying he’s going to rule Hell now. Each stanza is rhymed abcb. Some are very loose rhymes, but if sung in the correct accent they rhyme. The music to the ballad brings you to the old desert town where it takes place by using an old piano sound you might hear in a saloon.
I listened to Johnny Cash’s 1965 rendition of “Streets of Laredo.” Cash’s version is very different from Marty Robbins’s equally popular version, as his cover explains the plot of the ballad much more clearly and does not bear the religious undertones that Robbins’s does. Despite these differences, the song itself--in all its forms--has the hallmarks of a traditional ballad and has been a consistent staple of traditional American folk music. The song is formatted as if the singer is retelling a story from long ago, speaking in past tense with very simple language. Though there is not an explicit refrain, the fourth and last stanzas are the same phrases with tenses and pronouns changed, the latter lending the song a sense of conclusion with its repetition. The bulk of the lyrics are quotes from the subject of the story, a dying “young cowboy wrapped in white linen.” Each stanza of the song has either an abab or abcb rhyme scheme, giving the tune a rolling, somber tempo, apropos for the story it tells. “Streets of Laredo” is mourning and reflective, incorporating many aspects of the tune’s Irish heritage (the lines “Beat the drums slowly / Play the fife lowly” are distinctly non-American) as well as various aspects of traditional American culture, (the linen-wrapped dying cowboy asks for “six jolly cowboys” and “six dance-hall maidens” to participate in his funeral) epitomizing a classic ballad in every sense and reminding the listener of the glory and honor of the Old West.Johnny Cash's "Streets of Laredo": https://youtu.be/qsu5Jeowe6E
The opening lines of The Ballad of Jesse James states that Jesse was a man who robbed a train and killed many people, which makes him seem evil. Then the next lines say that he stole from the rich and gave to the poor, which confuse the listeners because it makes them question what kind of a person Jesse James really was. This is also similar to a very famous character: Robin Hood. The song, which basically retells Jesse James’ life, then says that Jesse was shot by a man named Robert Ford, who “ate of Jesse’s bread” and “slept in Jesse’s bed”. From this line, it becomes clear that this is a ballad of betrayal, one of the major themes that a traditional ballad can incorporate. When looking at the historical context, it is revealed that Jesse James was the leader of a gang around the time period of the Civil War. His gang was nearly destroyed because a few bank raids were unsuccessful (many members of the gang died), and the only people he trusted were the Ford brothers—Charley and Robert. Robert was a new recruit, and for protection, Jesse told him to stay with him and his family. However, Robert was making a deal with the Missouri governor to bring Jesse in, and one day, he visited Jesse (and later stated that Jesse realized that he was there to kill him). When Jesse was unarmed, Robert shot him in the head, and Jesse’s death was a national sensation. The ballad basically retells Jesse James’ story through a catchy tune and simple words.https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1kQBIO-VdQQ
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I chose to listen to the ballad “Barbara Allen” by Joan Baez. A slow and relaxed melody, Joan Baez speaks about the death of William. The soft but shaky tone of her voice brings out emotions of sadness and sorrow. Like other ballads, this song is about two people in love as well as the death of one. She tells the story of their love and the emotional reactions to what has happened. Although one has passed, they remain together forever. As time goes on and the other passes, they get buried together to truly stay with each other, tying their final knot in the grave. This ballad embodies both simple language, stories, and third person narration. Joan Baez narrates the story of William and Barbara Allen’s love life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqHJ4V893e0
I chose to listen to the ballad “Streets of Laredo” by Marty Robbins. The song tells the story of an interaction between two cowboys. One cowboy sees the other and immediately recognizes what he is. Following this new find, one cowboy tells the other that he has done wrong and that he is going to die. While listening to the story he is shot as he predicted and “meets his maker”. The lyrics themselves are quite simple, but the way that they are constructed is what makes this a ballad. The pattern changes from the abcb rhyme scheme to abab. The last give away is the dialogue. Lines like “I see by your outfit, that your are a cowboy”, “Come site down beside me and hear my sad story, For I’m shot in the chest, and today I must die”, and “Take me to the green valley, there lay the sod o’er me, For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong” all show the large amount of dialogue in the ballard.
Pretty Polly by Ralph Stanley is about a murder. A woman named Polly is brought into a place as a trip by a man named Willie and is stabbed and buries in a grave he dug up prior to the date of the murder. The lyrics indicate marriage between Willie and Polly and that Polly never knew about Willie’s intentions to kill her. Polly and Willie went on a trip over the “hills and valleys so deep” and that was when Polly realized Willie’s intentions. The song, surprisingly is not a mysterious or a suspenseful beat, but rather a fast and cheerful beat, which does not quite seem to fit with the theme of the actual song. The song is sung by a man representing Willie and a woman representing Polly. In the video, both were not singing with any kind of expression that shows fear. As the song progresses and Polly finds out and says “Oh Willie, I’m afraid of your ways”, the instrumental of the guitar intensifies, but still not suspenseful at all.
JonahThis ballad called “The Street of Laredo” by Marty Robbins is a slow song about a cowboy who is shot through the chest in white linen.
MindyThe song “Young Johnny” has been rearranged many times. Winifred Bundy‘s recoding dose not have any instrumentals and the vocalist uses the tempo between the poem and a rhythmic adlibs between lines to keep the listeners attention. Each stanza is drawn out and it reminds me of Mildred Bailey’s singing, however after each melodic stanza is sung the listener is hit with a jumble of contrasting sounds. The first half of the ballad tells the story of young Johnny is mowing grass in a meadow and get bitten by a snake. In the second half Johnny decides to sell the snake, and he shows it to sally. in Bundy’s ending of the song Johnny warns sally about the snakes. However in other versions johnny dies at the end.https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197187/
KyraBallads are defined as poems or songs that narrates a story, traditionally set to music. Traditional ballads traveled to North America with settlers from Europe and tell stories about the attitudes and experiences of the nation as it develops. “Sweetest Love” by The Stanley Brothers is a ballad that includes strong associations with the childhood of two people. As ballads emphasize strong rhythms and repetition of key phrases, “Sweetest Love” has a stanza that repeats three times saying “Are you tired of the life that you're livin'? Does your mind wander back to the past? Do you think of the love you've forsaken? Darlin' true love is too sweet to last”. “Sweetest Love” is about two childhood sweethearts that fall in love. However, they separate when one finds someone new to love. This ballad evokes emotions of a broken heart as it recalls their past relationship.
“Spike Driver Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt, an African American blues singer, is a ballot about the folklore of John Henry. John Henry was an African American hero according the to the tales. He worked hammering a steel drill into large rocks. From there they could put explosives in them to make pieces for the railroad. He died of a heart condition on the job. The song talks about Hurt carrying John Henry’s hammer to his captain. He talks about how he wont let the hammer kill him like it did Henry. It is because of Henrys death, Hurt decides that he wants to go back home to Colorado so he wont face the same fate as Henry.
ChloeThe ballad I chose to research was “Barbara Allen” sung by Joan Baez. Looking at the lyrics, I could see that it matched all the qualities needed to be a ballad, including: simple language, a story, ballad stanzas, repetition, dialogue, and third-person objective narration. The whole song is written in third-person objective narration and uses simple language. The song also follows the concept of ballad stanzas, which are sets of four lines that rhyme abcb, for all stanzas except the second stanza which is longer. The ballad is about a man, William, who dies in love with a woman, Barbara Allen, and she finds out and feels so guilty she also dies but tells her parents to bury her beside him. A rose grows from his grave, while a briar grows from hers, and the two plans grow taller and intertwine together. I noticed that instead of repeating lines, in this ballad the repetition was in words or phrases within lines. For example one line was “good-bye, good-bye, to my friends all,” repeating good-bye. The song utilizes dialogue in the fifth and sixth stanza, when Barbara talks to her mother and father about burying her. Overall this song matched the characteristics of a ballad perfectly.