Ford scored an unexpected hit on the pop charts in 1955 with his rendition of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons”, a sparsely arranged coal-miner’s lament that Travis wrote in 1946, based on his own family’s experience in the mines of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Its fatalistic tone contrasted vividly with the sugary pop ballads and rock & roll just starting to dominate the charts at the time:
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go;
I owe my soul to the company store…
With a unique clarinet-driven pop arrangement by Ford’s musical director, Jack Fascinato, “Sixteen Tons” spent ten weeks at number one on the country charts and eight weeks at number one on the pop charts, and made Ford a crossover star. It became Ford’s ‘signature song.’
[via Harriet Amster in Arlington, Texas]