And her name was Polly Ann
November 21, 2007 9:05 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for as many different recordings or versions of John Henry as possible (ie Johnny Cash at Folsom). I'd like to get dozens of copies of this song sung in different ways or by different people. The more obscure the better, but don't assume that I know about a common recording.
posted by Pants! to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you seen this page? Be sure to check out the Smothers Brothers version if you aren't aware of it.
posted by marxchivist at 9:10 AM on November 21, 2007

You've probably seen it already, but Allmusic might also be helpful.
posted by box at 9:21 AM on November 21, 2007

Here's a MeFi thread about John Henry.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:34 AM on November 21, 2007

eMusic is great for this sort of thing. A search reveals there are nearly 300 tracks by that name available there. You have to subscribe to download the full tracks, but you can listen to 30-second snippets without a subscription by clicking the speaker icon. eMusic won't have every version, but it will definitely have lots of obscure versions, and you won't have to pay $1/track for them.
posted by drew3d at 9:34 AM on November 21, 2007

My favorite is Big Bill Broonzy with Sonny Terry on harmonica. I just like hearing grown men go "WOoOoO" alot.
posted by jlowen at 9:37 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

My favorite version is from Joe Jencks on the "Rise as One" CD. It's a live album of labor music-- very inspiring stuff.
posted by Gable Oak at 9:51 AM on November 21, 2007

The Smothers Brothers do an amusing take on the song that I used to love as a kid.
posted by ORthey at 9:53 AM on November 21, 2007

I'm partial to John Fahey's version which appears on the album Legend of Bind Joe Death. Fahey recorded the same album several times and the current release of this album collects several different versions of the same songs together. I like the 1967 version. Fahey, being the card that he was, puts a fadeout in the middle of the song where John Henry enters the tunnel. The music fades back in when he reaches the other side. The
posted by clockwork at 10:10 AM on November 21, 2007

Seconding eMusic. I did the same thing with "Rock Island Line" and found about a dozen matches. Listening to radically different interpretations of a traditional folk tune is endlessly fascinating (well, to me anyway).
posted by aladfar at 10:16 AM on November 21, 2007

Springsteen did a great version on the Seeger Sessions CD
posted by HuronBob at 10:23 AM on November 21, 2007

It's in both of the lists linked above, but I've always loved Doc Watson's takes.
posted by pupdog at 10:39 AM on November 21, 2007

In an early Simpsons episode--first season, maybe--Bart is forced to sing "John Henry" as punishment on a field trip.
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:56 AM on November 21, 2007

Also in the link, but the Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry one is amazing.
posted by one_bean at 11:00 AM on November 21, 2007

Harry Belafonte sings a great version, especially on his Live at Carnegie Hall allbum.
posted by ubiquity at 11:19 AM on November 21, 2007

Oops.. One_bean got it right. My favorite is Brownie McGhee (not Big Bill Broonzy) with Sonny Terry. But the WoOing part still stands.
posted by jlowen at 4:37 PM on November 27, 2007

The Wayfaring Strangers (Matt Glaser's American group, not the folk duo from across the Atlantic) did John Henry on Live at the Somerville Theater. Used to be a freebie on their website, but the site appears to be down.
posted by eritain at 1:01 PM on January 11, 2008

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