Happy Birthday, Woody Guthrie!
Guthrie, born on July 14, 1912, passed away on October 3, 1967 at the age of 55. One hundred and ten years have passed since Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, and a lot of things have changed in the music world since then. Yet, without Guthrie, music wouldn’t be what it is today. Guthrie influenced some of the best folk and rock ‘n’ roll legends, like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Jerry Garcia, and Bob Weir. In celebration of his 110th birthday, here are some of Woody Guthrie’s 10 best songs.
10. “Do Re Mi”
Guthrie comments on the migration of the East to the West in this Dust Bowl ballad. He warns those coming from the East to return home because there already aren’t enough jobs to meet ends.
‘Cause I look through the want ads every day
But the headlines on the papers always say
If you ain’t got the do re mi boys you ain’t got the do re mi
Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas
Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee
9. “Cumberland Gap”
Guthrie’s rendition of this song is a homage to everything Tennessee. You can celebrate Appalachia with this folk song, and we don’t mind if you start to stop and holler.
8. “Hobo’s Lullaby”
Guthrie puts a spin on a typical lullaby with the song. Instead of being for a child, the lullaby is for the worker. A “Hobo’s Lullaby” is an ode to the days ridin’ the train. From the 1880s to 1930s, hobos were migrant workers that travel to find work.
7. “Gypsy Davy”
“Gypsy Davy” depicts the tale of a lady who abandons her husband and child to run away with a gypsy. The man goes after the wife as he commands:
Go saddle for me my buskin’ horse
And a hundred dollars saddle
Point out to me their wagon tracks
And after them I’ll travel, after them I’ll ride.
Unfortunately, the wife does not return with her husband. But, hey, good for Gypsy Davy.
6. “Bury Me Beneath The Willows”
The song is a classic breakup song as Guthrie claims, I’m a poor boy, broken-hearted / Listenin’ to the wind that blows. A willow tree’s leaves droop down making it look like raindrops or like the tree is crying. Thus, the tree is a physical symbol of the speaker’s sorrow and a broken heart.
5. “The House of the Rising Sun”
You probably also know “The House of the Rising Sun” The Animals’ rendition. The song tells the downfall of someone’s life in New Orleans. It’s a classic folk song that also urges siblings, parents, or children to avoid the same fate.
4. “Crawdad Song”
“Crawdad Song” explains the simple pleasures of fishing and catching crawdads. This easy-going song is one of Guthrie’s most well-known songs. Originally, the song was recorded by Leadbelly but Guthrie made it a hit.
3. “My Daddy (Flies A Ship In The Sky)”
In “My Daddy,” Guthrie comments on the collectiveness of work through the eyes of children. He changes the perspective from a little girl whose father flies planes, to a boy whose father built the planes, and another child whose dad works where planes land.
2. “Tear The Fascists Down”
Guthrie was known for his anti-fascism and anti-racism sentiments during his lifetime. His guitar was even depicted with the label “This machine kills fascists,” and “Tear The Fascists Down” was his anthem for the movement. During the years of World War II, he believed that performing his anti-fascist songs was the best use of his talents.
1. “This Land Is Your Land”
“This Land Is Your Land” was recorded by Guthrie in 1944 and was his response to “God Bless America.” The song is pro-American from every background. He saw “God Bless America” as too sappy and didn’t do it for those Americans facing the rough edges of the Great Depression.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images