Joe Hill songs

The Rebel Girl (1915)

Words and music written by Joe Hill in Salt Lake City Utah prison 1915. First published in 1916 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook

There are women of many descriptions
In this queer world, as everyone knows.
Some are living in beautiful mansions,
And are wearing the finest of clothes.
There are blue blooded queens and princesses,
Who have charms made of diamonds and pearl;
But the only and thoroughbred lady
Is the Rebel Girl.


That’s the Rebel Girl, that’s the Rebel Girl!
To the working class she’s a precious pearl.
She brings courage, pride and joy
To the fighting Rebel Boy.
We’ve had girls before, but we need some more
In the Industrial Workers of the World.
For it’s great to fight for freedom
With a Rebel Girl.

Yes, her hands may be hardened from labor,
And her dress may not be very fine;
But a heart in her bosom is beating
That is true to her class and her kind.
And the grafters in terror are trembling
When her spite and defiance she’ll hurl;
For the only and thoroughbred lady
Is the Rebel Girl.

Links to performances of the song by: Magpie (uses Joe Hill’s music), Hazel Dickens, Janne LaerkedahlJoe GlazerHanna Fearns & Rahel Beißel, Cathy Richardson, Bucky Halker, and the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council’s Solidarity SingersFor sheet music and karaoke file click hereTo purchase John McCutcheon’s recording of this song click here. To purchase Magpie’s recording, click here.

Joe Hill songs

We Will Sing One Song (1913)

Tune: “My Old Kentucky Home” (by Stephen Foster)
First published in 1913 edition of the IWW Little Red Songbook.

We will sing one song of the meek and humble slave,
The horn-handed son of the soil,
He’s toiling hard from the cradle to the grave,
But his master reaps the profits from his toil.
Then we’ll sing one song of the greedy master class,
They’re vagrants in broadcloth, indeed,
They live by robbing the ever-toiling mass,
Human blood they spill to satisfy their greed.

Organize! Oh, toilers, come organize your might;
Then we’ll sing one song of the workers’ commonwealth,
Full of beauty, full of love and health.

We will sing one song of the politician sly,
He’s talking of changing the laws;
Election day all the drinks and smokes he’ll buy,
While he’s living from the sweat of your brow.
Then we’ll sing one song of the girl below the line,
She’s scorned and despised everywhere,
While in their mansions the “keepers” wine and dine
From the profits that immoral traffic bear.

We will sing one song of the preacher, fat and sleek,
He tells you of homes in the sky.
He says, “Be generous, be lowly, and be meek,
If you don’t you’ll sure get roasted when you die.”
Then we sing one song of the poor and ragged tramp,
He carries his home on his back;
Too old to work, he’s not wanted ’round the camp,
So he wanders without aim along the track.

We will sing one song of the children in the mills,
They’re taken from playgrounds and schools,
In tender years made to go the pace that kills,
In the sweatshops, ‘mong the looms and the spools.
Then we’ll sing one song of the One Big Union Grand,
The hope of the toiler and slave,
It’s coming fast; it is sweeping sea and land,
To the terror of the grafter and the knave.

See performances by John Paul Wright, Revolte Ensemble.  For sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

It’s a Long Way Down to the Soupline (1915)

Tune: “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary” (Harry Williams) (1912/1914)
First published as a song sheet for the defense fund, and then in the 25th edition (1933) of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

Bill Brown was just a working man Iike others of his kind.
He lost his job and tramped the streets when work was hard to find.
The landlord put him on the stem, the bankers kept his dough,
And Bill heard everybody sing, no matter where he’d go:

It’s a long way down to the soupline,
It’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way down to the soupline,
And the soup is thin I know.
Good bye, good old pork chops,
Farewell, beefsteak rare;
It’s a long way down to the soupline,
But my soup is there.

So Bill and sixteen million men responded to the call
To force the hours of labor down and thus make jobs for all.
They picketed the industries and won the four-hour day
And organized a General Strike so men don’t have to say:

The workers own the factories now, where jobs were once destroyed
By big machines that filled the world with hungry unemployed.
They all own homes, they’re living well, they’re happy, free and strong,
But millionaires wear overalls and sing this little song:

Hear it in Swedish, sung by Roger CrookFor sheet music and karaoke file click here.

With Joe Hill’s permission, Charles Ashleigh revised the song in 1915 to meet local conditions:

It’s A Long Way Down to the Breadline (1915)

Bill Brown lived in Manhattan, in good old New York town.
The poor man lost his job one day, no more work could be found.
Bill Brown tramped the city streets for work the livelong day;
Till finally he went busted flat, then he did sadly say:

It’s a long way down to the breadline, it’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way down to the breadline, and the bread is bum I know.
Good bye, good old pork chops, farewell, beefsteak rare.
It’s a long way down to the breadline, but my bread’s right there.

Bill Brown saw a big fine house, he knocked upon the door.
But they told him that they’d only help the “worthy poor.”
“Guess I’ll have to live on snowballs in the town where I was born,
“I haven’t got a rusty cent and my clothes are all in pawn.”

There’s discontent around the town among the sons of toil.
They’re all uniting as a class their master’s will to foil.
When all is over, men of wealth, with solemn faces long,
Will rue the day they heard the workers sing their latest song:

It’s a long way down to the breadline, it’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way down to the breadline – and much too far, I know.
The bosses have the pork chops and all the beefsteak rare;
There’s plenty there for one and all of us, if we go right there!

Joe Hill songs

Down in the Old Dark Mill (1913)

Tune: “Down By The Old Mill Stream” (Tell Taylor)
First published in 1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

How well I do remember
That mill along the way,
Where she and I were working
For fifty cents a day.
She was my little sweetheart;
I met her in the mill —
It’s a long time since I saw her.
But I love her still.

Down in the Old Black Mill,
That’s where first we met.
Oh! that loving thrill
I shall ne’er forget;
And those dreamy eyes,
Blue like summer skies.
She was fifteen —
My pretty queen —
In the Old Black Mill.

We had agreed to marry
When she’d be sweet sixteen.
But then — one day I crushed it —
My arm in the machine.
I lost my job forever —
I am a tramp disgraced.
My sweetheart still is slaving
In the same old place.

For sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

The Tramp (1913)

Tune: “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!” (by George F. Root, 1860s)
First published in the 1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

If you all will shut your trap,
I will tell you ’bout a chap,
That was broke and up against it, too, for fair
He was not the kind that shirk,
He was looking hard for work,
But he heard the same old story everywhere:

Tramp, tramp, tramp, keep on a-tramping,
Nothing doing here for you;
If I catch you ’round again,
You will wear the ball and chain,
Keep on tramping, that’s the best thing you can do.

He walked up and down the street,
‘Till the shoes fell off his feet,
In a house he spied a lady cooking stew,
And he said, “How do you do,
May I chop some wood for you?”
What the lady told him made him feel so blue:

‘Cross the street a sign he read,
“Work for Jesus,” so it said,
And he said, “Here is my chance, I’ll surely try,”
And he kneeled upon the floor,
‘Till his knees got rather sore,
But at eating-time he heard the preacher cry:

Down the street he met a cop,
And the Copper made him stop,
And he asked him, “When did you blow into town?
Come with me up to the judge.”
But the judge he said, “Oh, fudge,
Bums that have no money needn’t come around.”

Finally came that happy day
When his life did pass away,
He was sure he’d go to heaven when he died,
When he reached the pearly gate,
Santa Peter, mean old skate,
Slammed the gate right in his face and loudly cried:

In despair he went to Hell,
With the Devil for to dwell,
For the reason he’d no other place to go.
And he said, “I’m full of sin,
So for Christ’s sake, let me in!”
But the Devil said, “Oh, beat it! You’re a ‘bo!”

Hear performances by Joe Glaser, Cisco Houston; in Swedish to a new tune in a live performance by De Offentliga ChaufförernaFor sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

Where the Fraser River Flows (1912)

Tune: “Where The River Shannon Flows” (James I. Russell) (1905)
First published in the 1912 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

Fellow workers pay attention to what I’m going to mention,
For it is the fixed intention of the Workers of the World.
And I hope you’ll all be ready, true-hearted, brave and steady,
To gather ’round our standard when the red flag is unfurled.

Where the Fraser river flows, each fellow worker knows,
They have bullied and oppressed us, but still our union grows.
And we’re going to find a way, boys, for shorter hours and better pay, boys
And we’re going to win the day, boys, where the river Fraser flows.

For these gunny-sack contractors have all been dirty actors,
And they’re not our benefactors, each fellow worker knows.
So we’ve got to stick together in fine or dirty weather,
And we will show no white feather, where the Fraser river flows.

Now the boss the law is stretching, bulls and pimps he’s fetching,
And they are a fine collection, as Jesus only knows.
But why their mothers reared them, and why the devil spared them,
Are questions we can’t answer, where the Fraser River flows.

Sung by: U. Utah Phillips, Arion Male Voice Choir.  For sheet music and karaoke file click here.

Joe Hill songs

John Golden and the Lawrence Strike (1912)

Tune: “A Little Talk With Jesus”
First published in the 1912 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

In Lawrence, when the starving masses struck for more to eat
And wooden-headed Wood tried the strikers to defeat,
To Sammy Gompers wrote and asked him what he thought,
And this is just the answer that the mailman brought:

A little talk —
A little talk with Golden
Makes it all right, all right;
He’ll settle any strike,
If there’s coin enough in sight;
Just take him up to dine
And everything is fine —
A little talk with Golden
Makes it right, all right.

The preachers, cops and money-kings were working hand in hand,
The boys in blue, with stars and stripes were sent by Uncle Sam;
Still things were looking blue ’cause every striker knew
That weaving cloth with bayonets is hard to do.

John Golden had with Mr. Wood a private interview,
He told him how to bust up the “I double double U.”
He came out in a while and wore the Golden smile.
He said: “I’ve got all labor leaders skinned a mile.”

John Golden pulled a bogus strike with all his “pinks and stools.”
He thought the rest would follow like a bunch of crazy fools.
But to his great surprise the “foreigners” were wise,
In one big solid union they were organized.

That’s one time Golden did not
Make it right, all right;
In spite of all his schemes
The strikers won the fight.
When all the workers stand
United hand in hand,
The world with all its wealth
Shall be at their command.

For sheet music and karaoke file (under the name “A Little Talk With Golden”) click here.

Joe Hill songs

The Girl Question (1913)

Tune: “Tell Mother I’ll Be There” (Charles M. Fillmore) (1898)
First published in the  1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

A little girl was working in a big department store,
Her little wage for food was spent; her dress was old and tore.
She asked the foreman for a raise, so humbly and so shy,
And this is what the foreman did reply:

Why don’t you get a beau?
Some nice old man, you know!
He’ll give you money if you treat him right.
If he has lots of gold,
Don’t mind if he is old.
Go! Get some nice old gentleman tonight.

The little girl then went to see the owner of the store,
She told the story that he’d heard so many times before.
The owner cried: “You are discharged! Oh, my, that big disgrace,
A ragged thing like you around my placel”

The little girl she said: “I know a man that can’t be wrong,
I’ll go and see the preacher in the church where I belong.”
She told him she was down and out and had no place to stay.
And this is what the holy man did say:

Next day while walking round she saw a sign inside a hall,
It read: The One Big Union Will Give Liberty to All.
She said: I’ll join that union, and I’ll surely do my best,
And now she’s gaily singing with the rest:

Oh, Workers do unite!
To crush the tyrant’s might,
The One Big Union Banner is Unfurled —
Come slaves from every land,
Come join this fighting band,
It’s named Industrial Workers of the World.



A new play about Joe Hill by Giles Hayworth

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, a great International Exposition of Arts and Industry is held in Gävle, Sweden, to celebrate the prosperity which progress will bring in the years ahead. The play provides scope to facsimilate this as a pre-show, drawing on the talents of local schools or arts groups, Joe Hill taking the opportunity to involve himself in a variety of the musical contributions.
Gävle is, however, an impoverished area of Sweden, so, like hundreds of thousands from all over Europe, Joe and his brother leave, believing that they will find a more prosperous life in America. They find terrible pay and working conditions, even while a few employers are making themselves multi-millionaires.
Joe comes to believe in the power of unions to transform this situation but, after supporting a long-drawn-out and inconclusive strike by machinists in Chicago, he is converted to the ideals of One Big Union, being initiated by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which seeks to use the power of solidarity not only to improve workers’ conditions but to completely overthrow the capitalist order which oppresses them.
As he travels round the country seeking work, Joe finds that the great contribution he can make is to compose songs that will unite the workers. However, after the IWW has had various major successes, it comes to be seen as such a danger by employers that they seek to use any means to crush it. When Joe’s membership is discovered, after he has been arrested in a round-up following a shooting in Salt Lake City, the police cease any search for more likely suspects, a case is constructed against him, and he is executed, despite nation-wide protest. The outrage this causes leads a massive crowd, singing his songs, to accompany his body to the crematorium, whence his ashes will be distributed throughout the world, making him a symbol to inspire workers’ solidarity ever since.
Although most sequences are scripted, there is also scope in the play for a company to devise full scenes.
This play is conceived as for performance by a Youth/Community Theatre, with professional support. Therefore, although there is scope for multiple doubling and more, no attempt has been made to limit the number of characters; – if anything, the reverse. For info:]

Joe Hill songs

Should I Ever Be A Soldier (1913)

Tune: “Colleen Bawn” (by J. Fred Helf)
First published in the 1913 edition of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook.

We’re spending billions every year
For guns and ammunition.
“Our Army” and “our Navy” dear,
To keep in good condition;
While millions live in misery
And millions died before us,
Don’t sing “My Country ’tis of thee,”
But sing this little chorus.

Should I ever be a soldier,
‘Neath the Red Flag I would fight;
Should the gun I ever shoulder,
It’s to crush the tyrant’s might.
Join the army of the toilers,
Men and women fall in line,
Wage slave of the world! Arouse!
Do your duty for the cause,
For Land and Liberty.

And many a maiden, pure and fair,
Her love and pride must offer
On Mammon’s altar in despair,
To fill the master’s coffer.
The gold that pays the mighty fleet,
From tender youth he squeezes,
While brawny men must walk the street
And face the wintry breezes.

Why do they mount their gatling gun
A thousand miles from ocean,
Where hostile fleet could never run —
Ain’t that a funny notion?
If you don’t know the reason why,
Just strike for better wages,
And then, my friends — if you don’t die —
You’ll sing this song for ages.

Sung by: Mats Paulson; for sheet music and karaoke file click here.