Songs in a miner key
July 10, 2015 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Lots of laboring jobs have a history of singing while working. Does mining? Are there miner songs?
posted by curious nu to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The Men Of The Deeps, a men's choir composed of Cape Breton coal miners. Singing "Working Man".
posted by GuyZero at 1:18 PM on July 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

How about Working in the Coalmine?
posted by honey wheat at 1:24 PM on July 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is ersatz but Heigh Ho from Snow White is a mining work song.
posted by vunder at 1:24 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ignorant guess re: History: There may be mining songs, but I would be doubtful if miners sang while mining.

I've been in modern mines and they are awfully difficult places to breath. Been told by foremen that it's a lot better today than it used to be.
posted by French Fry at 1:27 PM on July 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Springhill mine disaster


Music of Coal

Good link here about coal mining songs

Tons of 'em (no pun intended).
posted by Melismata at 1:28 PM on July 10, 2015

I doubt anyone ever sang it in a real mine, but there's Sixteen Tons.
posted by thetortoise at 1:35 PM on July 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

You want the The Miner chapter of Ted Gioia's Work Songs.
posted by zamboni at 1:37 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are many Welsh coal mining songs; for instance:

Rhos Male Voice Choir -- Music From The Welsh Mines 1957
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:39 PM on July 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Big Bad John.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:47 PM on July 10, 2015

Here's a list of miner songs (with sound clips) from a compilation. It's called Music of Coal: Mining Songs from the Appalachian Coal Fields.

Here are Songs and Ballads of Anthracite Miners. Here are Songs and Ballads of Bituminous Coal Miners (both Library of Congress collections).
posted by colfax at 1:47 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are many Welsh coal mining songs; for instance:

That's a Welsh choir that happens to be from a mine- their occupation is incidental. As best I can tell, none of those songs are about mining.
posted by zamboni at 1:55 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Miner's Lullaby -- Utah Phillips', but I'm fond of a version by Clandestine.
posted by solitary dancer at 2:00 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another collection of songs about mining (and specifically disasters that occurred while mining) but probably not likely to be sung on the job: the Disaster Songs collection managed by Heather Sparling, an ethnomusicologist at Cape Breton University.
posted by dr. boludo at 2:05 PM on July 10, 2015

Singing while working is useful for coordinating teamwork. The military does this with cadences when running and I have seen indication they do this at archaeological digs in the middle east sometimes. I think they show this middle eastern tradition in one of the Indiana Jones movies. It can be helpful for morale as well but the main purpose is to create a steady rhythm that coordinates the efforts of the group. So you see this also with drums when men march to war or to coordinate rowing on a galley ship.

I do not think this is applicable to mining. I do not think mining is conducive to nor benefits from this form of rhythmic coordination of group effort. So while there are no doubt songs about mining, just because you can find songs about just about anything, I doubt you will find the mining equivalent of military cadences or marching songs.
posted by Michele in California at 2:08 PM on July 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

Actual mining work songs are rare, but not totally unknown. There's a couple listed in Gioia.

I'm intrigued by the account of phosphate Jesses, but I can't find any extant examples of their songs. Other ones mentioned are Shosholoza, although that seems more like a traveling song, and Tracks 24-26 from L. H. Corrêa de Azevedo: Music of Ceará and Minas Gerais .
posted by zamboni at 2:44 PM on July 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Another one about mining rather than a work song, but one of my favourites. The Testimony of Patience Kershaw, as sung by The Unthanks. Lyrics.

Wikipedia article on the song's context.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:06 PM on July 10, 2015

Well, you can have a song without singing being involved. I don't know if gumboot dancing involved anything that you might call a song when it developed in mines where talking was banned, but I suppose it's possible that gumboot dance in the camps had songs.

And depending how you define "song", modern interpretations might qualify.
posted by yohko at 3:19 PM on July 10, 2015

Even if you can't sing in a mine due to air quality, there are mining activities like panning and sluicing that are done on the surface. Panning easily can be done as a solitary activity, and can be rather dull -- it seems very likely that some people would have sung while panning, but I don't have anything to cite for that.
posted by yohko at 3:24 PM on July 10, 2015

As a slight aside, I was told that the reason there is such a strong history of wonderful male voice choirs in Wales was down to the mining industry - after enduring the poor air and cramped conditions, it was an opportunity to breathe deeply and exercise lungs and chest. I have no idea if that is anything other than apocryphal and the strong choral tradition might just as well have been linked to the Nonconformist churches that dominated for several hundred years.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:38 PM on July 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite songs ever is buried alive by the Dropkick Murphy's. Newer than you might be looking for but they're an Irishy, Folky, Punk band.
posted by dstopps at 5:28 PM on July 10, 2015

I'm just going to leave this here
posted by thetortoise at 5:51 PM on July 10, 2015

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Dwarven classic Diggy Diggy Hole
posted by bowmaniac at 7:08 PM on July 10, 2015

Tom Waits did a version of Heigh Ho that's a must-listen.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:17 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

16 tons has to qualify, right? (It's also a great song.)
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:16 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

this is an amazing song.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:09 AM on July 11, 2015

It's Prince of Darkness by Ed Miller.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:09 AM on July 11, 2015

Canción del Minero by Victor Jara is a powerful one.
posted by umbú at 12:14 PM on July 11, 2015

Like Wales, the North East of England had a strong mining community with a history of singing, although not as beautifully as the Welsh. I really like Bob Fox's album How Are You Off For Coals? (spotify link) I don't know if they were sung underground, but several of them would definitely have been sung on the picket line!
posted by sarahdal at 5:55 AM on July 12, 2015

Ballad of John Henry of course. And I would think Coal Miner's Daughter would count.
posted by cleroy at 4:40 PM on July 12, 2015

Oh, and Oh, My Darling Clementine!
posted by cleroy at 5:35 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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