of hit songs became hit songs because someone sat down to write a hit and
that was that. But a lot of songs became hits because of some very unusual
and unforeseen circumstances. In December of 1955, a former radio
disc jockey was on his way to topping both the country and pop music
charts for 18 weeks because of a song written about Kentucky
coalmining. “Sixteen Tons” became one of the most popular songs of its
day because Tennessee Ernie Ford was “behind schedule.”
song was written by Merle Travis in 1947. Capitol Records had asked him to
include some songs about “mining” in a new album he was recording.
When he couldn’t locate any such songs, he wrote some---including a tune
he titled “Sixteen Tons. ”Ford had been so busy with a five day a week
television program that he fell behind on his recording schedule for
Capitol Records. After several reminders from the record label, Ford
agreed to go into the studio and record two songs for a new release. He
had been performing “Sixteen Tons” on his television program and
picked it as one of the songs to record.
rehearsal for the record session, Ford was snapping his fingers to the
rhythm and record producer Lee Gillette liked the effect. He told Ford to
include his finger snapping in the recording. "Sixteen Tons”
entered the country music charts November 12th, 1955, and climbed to
number one where it stayed for 21 weeks. It was Ford’s 18th charted
country hit. The song was also number one on the pop music charts for
seven weeks, beginning on November 28th, 1955.