Ballad of Forty Dollars: classic or greatest of all time?

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The man who preached the funeral
Said it really was a simple way to die
He laid down to rest one afternoon
And never opened up his eyes
They hired me and Fred and Joe
To dig the grave and carry up some chairs
It took us seven hours
And I guess we must have drunk a case of beer.

I guess I ought to go and watch them put 'im down
But I don't own a suit
And anyway when they start talkin'
About the fire in Hell, well, I get spooked
So, I'll just sit here in my truck
And act like I don't know 'im when they pass
Anyway, when they're all through
I've got to go to work and mow the grass.

Well, here they come and who's that
Ridin' in that big ol' shiny limousine
Mmh! look at all that chrome, I do believe
That that's the sharpest thing I've seen
That must belong to his great uncle
Someone said he owned a big ol' farm
When they get parked I'll mosey down
and look it over, that won't do no harm.

Well, that must be the widow in the car
And would you take a look at that
That sure is a pretty dress
You know some women do look good in black
Well, he's not even in the ground
And they say that his truck is up for sale
They say she took it pretty hard
But you can't tell too much behind the veil.

Well, listen ain't that pretty
When the bugler plays the military Taps
I think that when you's in the war
They always have to play a song like that
Well, here I am and there they go
And I guess you'd just call it my bad luck
I hope he rests in peace, the trouble is
The fellow owes me forty bucks.

would you ask tom petty that? (tipsy mothra), Thursday, 4 June 2009 20:47 (ten years ago) link

i know it's actually just classic, but sometimes i think it really is the greatest thing ever written.

would you ask tom petty that? (tipsy mothra), Thursday, 4 June 2009 20:47 (ten years ago) link

Me too.

Definitely the best capital punishment song ever written, though.

xhuxk, Thursday, 4 June 2009 20:51 (ten years ago) link


i thought the guy just died in his sleep.

but i love the little turns of phrase -- "some women do look good in black," "he's not even in the ground and they say that his truck is up for sale," "when they're all through i've gotta go to work and mow the grass" ... pretty much every line, really. it reminds me of edwin arlington robinson or somebody.

would you ask tom petty that? (tipsy mothra), Thursday, 4 June 2009 20:58 (ten years ago) link

Oh shit, you're right, sorry -- I was thinking "Turn It On, Turn It On, Turn It On." That was the capital punishment one. But yeah, this one is amazing too. Tom T Hall knew how how to an awesome death song. And he had the best surprise endings of anybody. I just bought a couple old LPs by him over the weekend:

Rolling Country 2009 Thread

And here are "Turn It On Turn It On Turn It On"'s words:

Johnny got up one mornin' he went down to the company store
Got him a big box of bullets to fit into his 44
The storeman said son are you gonna work you know you owe me too much to stop
John said I got a little working to do but I ain't goin' by your clock.

People said John was a slacker cause he wouldn't fight in their war
A man wasn't much if he wouldn't fight back in nineteen forty and four
The doctor said John was just too sick to go
But the people said that he was a coward
And one of the men makin' fun of him was a feller named a Milton Howard.

Milton was down at the Cold Spring a drinkin' from a Mason jar
He said John you better get yourself to work you gonna fool around
Till you get fired
John blew the dust from his old 44 put two holes in Milton's head
When Johnny walked off to get some more shootin' done
That old Cold Spring was a runnin' with red.

Next guy he met was a Steagall boy and the boy had a hammer in his hand
John said son you should've built yourself a box
'Cause you're aheaded for the Promised Land
Steagall fell down to his knees to pray and he cried Lord Johnny
Please don't shoot
Before he got half way to sayin' amen well, old John shot him
Out of his boots.

--- Instrumental ---

Word went out thru the County that old John had lost his head
The people were running and screaming there were seven of 'em
Layin' there dead
Johnny hid out in a farmhouse he had satisfaction in his eyes
He said I know they're coming to get me boys but they ain't a gonna
Take me alive.

People gathered round that old farmhouse was the relatives
Of all them dead
Now John said if the sheriff comes thru that door I'm gonna fill him
Plum full of lead
The sheriff kicked down that old farmhouse door but old John's gun
Would not shoot
Johnny just smiled at the sheriff and said the Lord must think a lot of you.

They took old John to the jailhouse he entered in a guilty plea
The judge said death in the electric chair cause it's murder in the first degree
John's last meal was a lot of fried chicken cold beans and a baby squash
He ate every bite that they brought him then he smiled and said
I thank you all a lot.

--- Instrumental ---

They put old John in the electric chair they shaved his ankles and his head
The preacher said son you got something to say in a minute you're
A gonna be dead
John said I ain't no coward and the people know that I won't run
Then Johnny smiled up at the warden and said, turn it on, turn it on
Turn it on...

xhuxk, Thursday, 4 June 2009 21:06 (ten years ago) link

yeah i love that one. every time i listen to tom t. i'm always surprised all over again. one of the greatest songwriters, period.

would you ask tom petty that? (tipsy mothra), Thursday, 4 June 2009 21:19 (ten years ago) link

two years pass...

barman's bar mitz (unregistered), Wednesday, 30 May 2012 04:38 (seven years ago) link

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