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Bo Diddley, “Sixteen Tons”
“Sixteen Tons” tells one man’s story of working as a miner when the scrip systems were still in place. Before there were mining unions, workers were paid not in cash but in vouchers that could only be redeemed at the company store. Miners usually lived in company-owned dormitories and houses, so there were zero opportunities for financial autonomy. The song’s references to Saint Peter make its message pretty clear: mining was hell and mining companies were the devil. Bo Diddley’s version is not the earliest or most sincere recording of “Sixteen Tons” (that honor goes to Kentucky fingerpicker Merle Travis), but it’s definitely a rocking’ jam. And we’re trying to plan a barbecue here, okay.