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This song was written in 1949 by Les Rice, a farmer from New York State, USA. It deals with the perverse injustice, exploitation and inequality Rice saw all around him. Pete Seeger wrote about Les Rice and this song: “Like most small farmers, he was getting intolerably squeezed by the big companies which sold him all his fertilizer, insecticide and equipment, and the big companies that dictated to him the prices he would get for his produce. Out of that squeeze came this song.” https://mainlynorfolk.info/folk/songs/banksofmarble.html
It seems to me that the song has particular resonance and currency in Australia at the moment, following the largely ineffectual Royal Commission into Banking. This arrangement is based on an earlier Michael Roper arrangement.
Pete Seeger’s simple but effective song about mankind’s inability to learn the lessons of history. A simple arrangement for the Illawarra Union Singers. Scroll down for Pete’s story about how the song came to be.
“I had been reading a long novel, “And Quiet Flows the Don”—about the Don River in Russia and the Cossacks who lived along it in the 19th century. It describes the Cossack soldiers galloping off to join the Czar’s army, singing as they go. Three lines from a song are quoted in the book: ‘Where are the flowers? The girls plucked them / Where are the girls? They’re all married / Where are the men? They’re all in the army.’ I never got around to looking up the song, but I wrote down those three lines.
“Later, in an airplane, I was dozing, and it occurred to me that the line ‘long time passing’—which I had also written in a notebook—would sing well. Then I thought, ‘When will we ever learn.’ Suddenly, within 20 minutes, I had a song. There were just three verses. I Scotch-taped the song to a microphone and sang it at Oberlin College. This was in 1955.
“One of the students there had a summer job as a camp counselor. He took the song to the camp and sang it to the kids. It was very short. He gave it rhythm, which I hadn’t done. The kids played around with it, singing ‘Where have all the counselors gone? / Open curfew, everyone.’
“The counselor added two actual verses: ‘Where have all the soldiers gone? / Gone to graveyards every one / Where have all the graveyards gone? / Covered with flowers every one.’ Joe Hickerson is his name, and I give him 20 percent of the royalties. That song still brings in thousands of dollars from all around the world.”
This version has each verse written out, with music, words and dynamic markings. This arrangement, in particular the phrasing, is based on a live performance originally released on a 1964 album, “I Can See A New Day”.
(If I had a hammer) Scroll down for the sheet music and practice tracks.
An arrangement for the Union Singers, of the song originally by Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes. -From an arrangement by Tom Bridges, for 4 voices, all 4 verses.
In many ways the definitive arrangements must be the Weavers renditions, both songwriters being in the group, and this “folk-swing” feel is what I’m after. Here are two Weaver’s recordings of the song:
Download the sheet music, in the original key of E flat, as a .pdf file here!
Download the sheet music, in the key of D, (for guitarists, capo on the1st fret to play along with the E flat practice tracks), here!
Another guitarists’ version of the sheet music is here, with just the melody line. (The missing lyrics in the last verse, “it’s the hammer of” are assigned to the bass and tenor voices in the original.)