In 1965 I was serving in as a teacher in the Peace Corps when a small ad in I can't remember which magazine caught my eye. It was an ad for the "Socialist Song Book." As I had an interest in history, in political sectariana, and in music, I wrote the check for one buck and sent away for a copy.
People in the National Office of the Young Peoples' Socialist League must have thought it strange to receive an order from as far away as Malaysia, but they did respond. I have kept my copy, with its very dogeared cover, for over 35 years. It did drop out of sight some years ago, but during my wife's major cleanup of our home office, the book surfaced. As it is no doubt long out of print, I felt it would be appropriate to put it on the Internet to make it much more widely available.
Many of the songs are illustrative of the politics, particulary left-wing politics, of mid century America. That was the time of the Depression, the Popular Front, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Red Scare, the Cold War, McCarthyism, and many other major political happenings, all of which are touched upon and often satirized in these songs. In fact, if one were familiar with every reference in the song, The Ultimate Sectarian (p. 34), one could claim a fairly good familiarity with radical movements in the U.S. and Europe.
Of course, many of these songs were created for political, rather than artistic reasons. Certainly, the librettist who pencilled the chorus to Mr. Block (p. 12):
Oh, Mr. Block, you were born by mistake,is unlikely to win any prizes for composition.
You take the cake,
You make me ache.
Tie a rock on your block and then jump in the lake,
Kindly do that for liberty's sake!
Nonetheless, every one of these songs holds some interest either for historical reasons, or political, or just because they are good songs and often fun to sing. Many have been recorded, although the recordings may be out of date and unavailable. Here are a few:
"The Original Talking Union with the Almanac Singers," Folkways
"American Favorite Ballads", Vols. 1 - 5, Pete Seeger, Folkways
"Songs of the Spanish Civil War," Vol 1., Folkways FH5436.
"Josh White," Decca, DL8665
"My Darling Party Line," Joe Glazer and Abe Brumberg, Sound Studios, SS-101.
I have tried to format these web pages pretty much as they were in the songbook, but I was not always successful. The songbook was printed by mimeograph, and space limitations often caused the typists (and I believe there were at least three judging by minor variations in style) to be highly creative in squeezing the songs onto a single page. Where this happened, I have reformatted to make the page more easily readable. However, to view the pages on screen in close to the original form requires a screen resolution of 1028 by 768 pixels.
Those mid-century, mechanical, American typewriters that were used to cut the mimeo masters lacked accents on letters of foreign language songs, a problem no longer present with current software. I have therefore taken it upon myself to restore the original German umlauts and other accents of French, Italian, and Spanish.
In addition, I have taken the liberty of correcting a number of spelling errors. However, in scanning these pages and using optical character recognition software, which was not entirely reliable (to understate the case), I have no doubt introduced a few new errors, which my spell checker will not have caught. For these I apologize.
Finally, I would like to dedicate this reproduction of the Socialist Songbook to Dr. James T. Burnett. Jim had once been National Secretary of the Young Peoples' Socialist League. He had an encyclopedic knowledge both of political theory in general and of radical movements in 20th century America. His judgment, his political savvy, and his wit made everlasting impressions on all those who knew him. We lost a great friend and comrade when he died in 1999.