Monday, April 02, 2018

Cover Wars: "Which Side Are You On?"

Cover Wars is an idea that I came up with years ago as a segment on the radio.  A DJ would play a song and then play a cover version of the same song and ask people to call in to vote for their favorite.  Back in 2011 I did a series of Cover Wars posts and recently I decided to bring the concept back, this time as a poll on Twitter.

"Which Side Are You On?" was written in 1931 by Florence Reece who was the wife of Sam Reece, a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky (thank you Wikipedia).  The story behind the song is as follows (again thanks you Wikipedia):
In 1931, the miners and the mine owners of that region were locked in a bitter and violent struggle (called the Harlan County War). In an attempt to intimidate the Reece family, Sheriff J. H. Blair and his men (hired by the mining company) illegally entered their family home in search of Sam Reece. Sam had been warned in advance and escaped, but Florence and their children were terrorized in his place. That night, after the men had gone, Florence wrote the lyrics to "Which Side Are You On?" on a calendar that hung in the kitchen of her home. She took the melody from a traditional Baptist hymn, "Lay the Lily Low", or the traditional ballad "Jack Munro".[1]
Reece supported a second wave of miner strikes circa 1973, as recounted in the documentary Harlan County USA. She and others performed "Which Side Are You On?" a number of times throughout. Reece recorded the song later in life, and it can be heard on the album Coal Mining Women.
In the nearly 90 years since it was written "Which Side Are You On?" has been recorded by the likes of The Almanac Singers, Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg, the Dropkick Murphys, Natalie Merchant, and Ani DiFranco just to name a few.  I first heard the song through the Dropkick Murphys, their version appeared on the band's third full-length album Sing Loud, Sing Proud! in 2001.

For this week's poll, we're including the Dropkick Murphys' version along with versions recorded by the songwriter Florence Reece, folk legend Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg and his updated take on the song, and Natalie Merchant.

This week's song was suggested by my good friend Steve Long in light of the recent budget crisis and today's teachers walkout in our home state.

Here are this week's contenders:

Pete Seeger

Billy Bragg

Dropkick Murphys

Natalie Merchant

Vote here --

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