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Sixteens Tons




A lot 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.”

The 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.

During 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.

Tennessee Ernie Ford

Merle Travis




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Copyright © 2005 Ron Hoysted
Last modified: November 10, 2006