Sunday, December 18, 2011

Screaming Trees -- "Gospel Plow" (1996)

Mary had a golden chain
Every link spelled Jesus' name
Hold on, hold on, hold on

It doesn't happen on every bike ride I take.  But it happens often enough that I've concluded that my humble little second-generation iPod "Shuffle" ($39 at Radio Shack, as I recall) is a sentient being.

Magic 8-Ball
I'm not saying it's as smart as that IBM computer that plays chess, but I think it's just as smart as the "Magic 8-Ball."

What I'm talking about is a phenomenon I have described several other times.  On occasion, I will be riding my bike and minding my own business when my iPod will present me with a song that is completely unknown to me but clearly deserves to be featured on 2 or 3 lines.  It's uncanny.

Magic iPod
Screaming Trees was a Seattle-area grunge band that became famous in the early 1990s, along with Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.  Screaming Trees released seven studio albums between 1986 and 1996, but the only song of theirs that I was familiar with until recently was their 1992 single, "Nearly Lost You."  I heard it a lot on WMMR-FM (93.3), the alternative rock station in Philadelphia, when I was working there during the week and commuting to my home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington on the weekend.

"Nearly Lost You" was on the sixth Screaming Trees studio album, Sweet Oblivion.  Somehow I ended up with the band's seventh and final album, Dust, on my computer.  But I have over 17,000 songs in my iTunes collection.

I don't recall ever listening to a song from Dust until my last bike ride, when my iPod decided that I should hear "Gospel Plow."

The first part of "Gospel Plow" -- including the lines quoted above -- is taken from an traditional American song of the same name, which is #10075 in the Roud Folk Song Index.  (That's a database of references to about 21,600 English-language folk songs.)

Some of the other famous traditional songs listed in Roud include "Casey Jones" (Roud #3247),  "Tom Dooley" (#4192), "Shortenin' Bread" (#4209), "Turkey in the Straw" (#4247), "See See Rider" (or "C. C. Rider"), which is #10056, and "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" (#10259).

The lyrics quoted above vary somewhat from the traditional lyrics for "Gospel Plow":

Sister Mary was bound in chains
And every link was Jesus' name
Keep your hands on that plow of God
Hold on, Hold on
Keep your hands on that plow, Hold on

Bob Dylan's version of "Gospel Plow" is on his eponymous first album:
Mary wore three links of chain 
Every link was Jesus name
Keep your hand on that plow, hold on
Oh Lord, Oh Lord, 
Keep your hand on that plow, hold on.

Ordinarily, I would embed the Dylan version of the song here, or at least provide you a link to it.  But it is really bad -- Dylan rushes the song like he's late for his train.  He sings like he had way too many cups of coffee that morning.

Now that I've teased it, I guess I have to embed his performance:

Pretty awful, n'est-ce pas?

After the "Gospel Plow"-based beginning, Screaming Trees segues into a more traditional Seattle grunge song.  The song concludes with a long instrumental "outro."

The song sounds a bit jury-rigged, but it works for me.  And IT'S MY BLOG, isn't it?
Here's "Gospel Plow":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. You certainly have eclectic taste...early Bob Dylan, Biker Mice, and a Seattle grunge band. I think I liked the mice the best of these three selections. My favorite version of Hold On (Gospel Plow) is by Odetta. iTunes doesn't have it, but it's available from Amazon on "The Essential Odetta." ...Joyce D.