Post-Industrial Songs (Not that kind)
March 31, 2015 7:43 PM   Subscribe

No, I don't want to know what Nurse With Wound is doing lately. I want to hear more songs about the death of industries. The more specific, the better.

Lately, I've been fascinated by songs about how major technological/economic changes feel to the people involved. Like the many old folk songs about industrialized processes replacing hand labor: John Henry and the steel drill, of course, and songs of the textile trade like Four Loom Weaver. It was actually various Stan Rogers songs that got me started on this train of thought: Free in the Harbour (Maritime fisheries die and young men have to travel to the Alberta oil fields), Tiny Fish For Japan (Great Lakes fisheries die and young men are forced to catch smelt for export). It's the specificity that gets me in the gut: what exactly happens when you can't do what you've been doing.

So, what else is there along these lines? What are the great songs about the death of Rust Belt factories, about the end of the garment district in NYC, the furniture companies of North Carolina closing down? All countries, all languages welcome.
posted by neroli to Society & Culture (45 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Oh I love this question!

I don't know if it's quite in the right vein, but Woody Guthrie's album "Dust Bowl Ballads" is all about how the dust storms in 1930's Oklahoma and surrounds ruined the farms and forced all the farmers there to flee to California to find work.

Although ostensibly a natural phenomenon, the reason for the dust storms was related to industrial farming practices (planting the same crop over and over, ruining the soil so when there was a drought it all just blew away etc). The farms got repossessed by the banks and the Okies were "dustbowl refugees" who were reviled by the Californians. Lots of sorrow, if that's what you're after :)

It's a great album!
posted by beccyjoe at 8:01 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

North Country Blues - Bob Dylan

Maybe too obvious, but depending on your tolerance for Billy Joel, songs like Allentown and Downeaster Alexa run along this theme too
posted by eponym at 8:09 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here are some I found by browsing through Rise Up Singing.

Daddy, What's a Train? (lyrics)
We climbed into the car, drove down into town
Right up to the depot house, but no one was around
We searched the yard together for something I could show
But I knew there hadn't been a train for a dozen years or so

All the things I did when I was just a kid
How far away those memories appear
I guess it's plain to see they still mean a lot to me
'Cause my ambition was to be an engineer
Ol' Texas (lyrics)
I'm gonna leave
Ol' Texas now
They've got no use
For the long-horned cow
They've plowed and fenced
My cattle range
And the people there
Are all so strange
posted by mbrubeck at 8:11 PM on March 31, 2015

Little Man by Alan Jackson
posted by Ideefixe at 8:15 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about Ewan MacColl's My Old Man?

Ordinary Man by Christy Moore?

I sort of think of John Cougar Mellencamp's Rain on the Scarecrow as the definitive song about the '80s farm crisis, but I have no idea whether people who were actually living in the rural Midwestern US at the time would agree with that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:16 PM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore (lyrics)
I was born and raised at the mouth of Hazard Hollow
The coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row all empty
Because the L&N don't stop here anymore
posted by mbrubeck at 8:20 PM on March 31, 2015

Shipbuilding by Robert Wyatt is the obvious classic.
posted by w0mbat at 8:29 PM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

My Hometown by Bruce Springsteen (lyrics)
Now Main Street's whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain't nobody wants to come down here no more
They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back to your hometown
Video Killed the Radio Star fromThe Buggles’ The Age Of Plastic concept album (lyrics)
In my mind and in my car
We can't rewind we've gone to far
Pictures came and broke your heart
Put the blame on VCR
posted by mbrubeck at 8:34 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: All great stuff so far! Thank you!
posted by neroli at 8:36 PM on March 31, 2015

Youngstown — Bruce Springsteen
From the Monongahela valley
To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia
The story's always the same
700 tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the worlds changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name
In Youngstown
In Youngstown
My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown
posted by wemayfreeze at 8:42 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

For the computer age, a trio of American Pie parodies from the Computer Songs and Poems archive:
  1. The Day SunOS Died
  2. The Day Bell System Died
  3. The VMS Mourning Song

posted by mbrubeck at 8:44 PM on March 31, 2015

Goodbye to the Thirty-Foot Trailer by Ewan MacColl (lyrics and info)
So goodbye to the tent and the old caravan
To the tinker, the gypsy, the travelling man
And goodbye to the thirty-foot trailer

Fareweel to the cant and the travelling tongue
Fareweel to the Romany talking
The buying and selling, the old fortune telling
The knock on the door and the hawking
posted by mbrubeck at 9:14 PM on March 31, 2015

This Billy Bragg song brushes past the subject.
posted by Duffington at 9:57 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

John Prine - Paradise

And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

Dave Alvin - Gary, Indiana 1959

Now the years have disappeared in the blink of an eye
And I feel like a stranger in world that isn't mine
My dear wife died, my kids all moved away
Cause there's nothing round here to make them want to stay
Cause the factories are in ruins, decent jobs are hard to find
And you can't get ahead no matter how hard you try
posted by irisclara at 10:02 PM on March 31, 2015

Sting has been on a post-shipbuilding kick for a while now. He's from Newcastle or someplace where the shipbuilding industry was big. He has a musical called The Last Ship about a group of workers trying to steal the last ship they would ever build and sailing away to something better.
posted by irisclara at 10:08 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Allentown - Billy Joel

We're living here in Allentown
And they're closing all the factories down.

And how about one in praise of the new ways?
Peg and Awl - trad

They invented a new machine
Prettiest thing I ever seen
Pegs a hundred pair to my one
Peggin' shoes it ain't no fun
In the year of eighteen and three
New machine it set me free
posted by irisclara at 10:16 PM on March 31, 2015

Steel River by Chris Rea is about the death of industry in Middlesbrough.

They say that salmon swim in steel river
They say it's good to see them back again
I know it hurts to see what really happened
I know one salmon ain't no good to them
They were born and raised to serve their steel mother
It was they taught and all they ever knew
And they believed that she would keep their children
Even though not a single word was true
Say goodbye steel river..
posted by neilb449 at 10:59 PM on March 31, 2015

Billy Edd Wheeler - Coal Tattoo

Some day when I'm dead and gone to heaven, the land of my dreams.
I won't have to worry on losin' my job, on bad times and big machines.
I ain't gonna pay my money away on dues or hospital plans.
I'm gonna pick coal where the blue heavens roll and sing with the angel band.
posted by irisclara at 11:05 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Carolina Tar Heels - Peg & Awl
They've invented a new machine
Peg and awl.
They've invented a new machine
Peg and awl.
They've invented a new machine
Prettiest little thing you ever seen.
Throw away my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.

Make one hundred pair to my one
Peg and awl.
Make one hundred pair to my one
Peg and awl.
Make one hundred pair to my one
Peggin' shoes it ain't no fun.
Throw away my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:37 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

The 2013 Broadway musical penned by Sting - The Last Ship is autobiography at its core, but the story and the songs focus on the end of the shipbuilding industry in the NE of England which employed the former Police frontman's father during his youth. The corresponding studio album is actually some of Sting's finest work, IMO.
posted by myrrh at 1:02 AM on April 1, 2015

Iris Clara already mentioned Coal Tattoo, so how about We Work the Black Seam also about coal mining?

And then there's Belfast Mill, less about a whole industry than about a specific establishment, but very poignant.
posted by wjm at 1:20 AM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

James McMurtry We Can't Make it Here Anymore
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:40 AM on April 1, 2015

During the miner's strike in Britain in the 1980s there was a folk song written by Kay Sutcliff called "Coal Not Dole" which is about the end of the coal industry. It became a rallying cry for the resistance to Thatcher's war on unions.
It stands so proud, the wheel so still
A ghostlike figure on the hill.
It seems so strange, there is no sound
Now there are no men underground.

What will become of this pit yard
Where men once trampled, faces hard?
Tired and weary, their shift done
Never having seen the sun.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:50 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Definitely Our Town, by Iris Dement

It's here I had my babies and I had my first kiss.
I've walked down Main Street in the cold morning mist.
Over there is where I bought my first car.
It turned over once but then it never went far.

And I can see the sun's settin' fast,
And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts.
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye,
But hold on to your lover,
'Cause your heart's bound to die.
Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town.
Can't you see the sun's settin' down on our town, on our town,
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:17 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yesterday's Men
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:25 AM on April 1, 2015

Neko Case, Thrice All American

People they laugh when they hear you're from my town
They say it's a sour and used up all place
I defended its honor, shrugged off the put downs
You know that you're poor, from Tacoma

Buildings are empty like ghettos or ghost-towns
It gives me a chill to think what was inside
I can't seem to fathom the dark of my history
I invented my own in Tacoma
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:50 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Steve Earle - The Mountain

There's a hole in this mountain, dark and it's deep
And God only knows all the secrets it keeps
There's a chill in the air, only miners can feel
And there's ghosts in the tunnels that the company sealed

I was born on this mountain, this mountain's my home
And she holds me and keeps me from worry and woe
Well, they took everything that she gave, now they're gone
But I'll die on this mountain, this mountain's my home
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:52 AM on April 1, 2015

The Drive-By Truckers do this really well.

Puttin People on the Moon

The Day John Henry Died
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:13 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about "The City of New Orleans," by Arlo Guthrie?

Night time on the City Of New Orleans
Changing cars in Memphis Tennessee
Halfway home - we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness, rolling down to the sea
But, all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream
And the steel rail still ain't heard the news
The conductor sings his songs again - the passengers will please refrain
This train got the disappearing railroad blues
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 5:51 AM on April 1, 2015

Richard Thompson and (no relation) Danny Thompson's album Industry.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 6:11 AM on April 1, 2015

The Circus, by Erasure.

Father worked in industry
Now the work has moved on, and the factories gone
See them sell your history
Where once you were strong, and you used to belong
There was once a future for a working man
There was once a lifetime for a skillful hand...yesterday
posted by yawper at 6:54 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Factory- Warren Zevon The audio's not great on this link. It's off the Sentimental Hygiene album. (And Dylan played on the studio version.)

I was born in '63
Got a little job in the factory
I don't know much about Kennedy
I was too busy working in the factory

We got a kid that's two, we got another one due
We get by the best we can do
The factory's got a good medical plan
And cousin, I'm a union man
Saying, "Yes sir, no sir, yes sir, no sir
Yes sir, no sir, work"

I was born in Mechanicsburg
My Daddy worked for Pontiac 'til he got hurt
Now he's on disability
And I got his old job in the factory
Saying, "Yes sir, no sir, yes sir, no sir
Yes sir, no sir, work"

Early in the morning I feel a chill
The factory whistle blows loud and shrill
I'd kill my wife or she'd kill me
But we gotta go to work in the factory

Six days a week at the factory
Up early in the morning at the factory
I've been working in the factory
Johnny, I've been working in the factory

Kickin' asbestos in the factory
Punchin' out Chryslers in the factory
Breathin' that plastic in the factory
Makin' polyvinyl chloride in the factory
posted by dortmunder at 6:58 AM on April 1, 2015

I immediately thought of the new hit song "What Would You Do with a Canal to the Moon" which was written for an episode of This American Life. It's about the Erie Canal and what is going on with it lately, now that it's much faster to ship goods via rail or air.
posted by CathyG at 7:00 AM on April 1, 2015

"Shipbuilding" -- Elvis Costello (Robert Wyatt)
"The City of New Orleans" -- Steve Goodman (Arlo Guthrie)
"Makin' Thunderbirds" -- Bob Seger
posted by Herodios at 8:13 AM on April 1, 2015

James River Blues by Old Vrow Medicine Show is about boatmen losing their jobs to the railroads.

Oxycontin Blues by Steve Earl may be a longer look than you're looking for. It does mention shutting down coal mines but it's about the decades-long spiral from mines shutting down in these rural areas, having nothing to fill the void, and ultimately the current epidemic of prescription drug abuse in these remote former-towns (not that that's the only kind of place that has this problem).
posted by cmoj at 9:03 AM on April 1, 2015

Torn Screen Door by David Francey is about the end of a family farm.

Through the crack in the windowpane
I hear the sound of the falling rain
Another farm being left run down
Another family moved into town
Had a life that they tried to save
But the banks took it all away
Hung a sign on a torn screen door
Nobody lives here no more
posted by Brodiggitty at 9:45 AM on April 1, 2015

The New World by X

Flint Ford Automobile, Alabama
Windshield Wiper, Buffalo, New York
Gary, Indiana, don't forget the Motor City
Baltimore and D.C., now all we need is

Don't forget the Motor City
This was supposed to be the new world
posted by nimmpau at 11:09 AM on April 1, 2015

Trickle Down by Ani DiFranco:

and every night were glued to the tv news at six o'clock
'cuz it was hard to tell what was real and what was talk
and they explained about the cutbacks all with earnest frowns
but what they didn't say was that the plant was slowly shutting down

(Also, for a very different take, "Blue Collar Man" by Styx.)
posted by kristi at 1:53 PM on April 1, 2015

Downeaster Alexa by Ye Olde Billy Joel is about the death of the fishing industry.
You didn't say it had to be a good song.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:17 PM on April 1, 2015

Well shoot you already got that one. There are lots of songs about the death of the cattle industry, but my favorite (because it's weirdly combined with a lament for the death of hobo culture) is "Cowboys and Horses and Hobos and Trains" by Boxcar Willie.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:20 PM on April 1, 2015

"Enemy of the People" by Killdozer

Right downtown next to the Kroger store
Is where my hardware store once stood
They're both gone now
Along with the rest of downtown
All the windows are boarded over with wood

We survived the arrival of the K-mart
And the Pamida that had come before
But not even they had the strength
To withstand the attack of that
Fucking Walmart store
posted by mcmile at 2:43 PM on April 1, 2015

I came here to mention three songs that immediately occurred to me but two have already been mentioned --
  • The L & N Don't Stop Here Any More (though I am partial to the Michelle Shocked version)
  • Shipbuilding (while the Robert Wyatt version is canonical, the trumpet solos give the Elvis Costello version the edge for me)
but so far nobody's mentioned my third pick.

Telegraph Road is the opener from Dire Straits' surprisingly under-appreciated 1982 (now there was a year for post-industrial) album "Love Over Gold". It's 14 minutes long and describes the rise and fall of an industrial town (presumably Detroit..)

The album also features another track in a significantly different tone that might also match your criteria (at any rate it's worth a listen.) While Telegraph Road is somewhat somber, the shorter, more uptempo Industrial Disease is sardonically comical..
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:01 PM on April 1, 2015

Not terribly specific, these are more about a mood of changing times and diminished expectations:
Rod Stewart - Country Comforts
Springsteen - The River
posted by Bron at 7:44 PM on April 1, 2015

The Song of Steel was my favourite of the 2006 BBC Radio Ballads
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 2:39 AM on April 2, 2015

Si Kahn's been a union/community organizer/historian/songwriter for half a century.

Aragon Mill so captures the melancholy of the textile trade moving to the Pacific Rim that many think it's a traditional folk song.

At the east end of town
At the foot of a hill
There's a chimney so tall
That says "Aragon Mill"
But there's no smoke at all
Comin' out of the stack
For the mill has pulled out
And they ain't comin' back

It's a theme he returns to often: Blue Ridge Refugee tells of an economic refugee to the North reflecting on what they've lost.
No More Fish, No Fishermen uses the same beautiful Victorian tune as "Coal not Dole," with lyrics addressing the crash of the Atlantic fisheries and its impact on fishing families on Canada's east coast:

Out along the harbour reach
Boats stand dried up on the beach
Ghost-like in the early dawn
Empty, now the fish are gone.

What will become of people now?
Try to build a life somehow
Hard, hard times are back again
No more fish, no fishermen.

Lyrics written by Shelley Posen, sung in close three part harmony by The Finest Kind
posted by Jesse the K at 9:25 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

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