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Sixteen Tons
Tennessee Ernie Ford Lyrics


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Some people say a man is made out of mud
A poor man's made out of muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong

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

I was born one morning when the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number 9 coal
And the straw boss said, "Well, a-bless my soul"

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

I was born one morning, it was drizzling rain
Fighting and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol' mama lion
Can't no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

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

If you see me coming, better step aside
A lot of men didn't, a lot of men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't a-get you, then the left one will

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

Overall Meaning

The lyrics to Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" tell the story of a working-class man who is trapped in a cycle of debt and labor. In the first verse, the singer explains that despite being made of "muscle and blood and skin and bones," he has a weak mind and a strong back. The chorus is a refrain that emphasizes the burden of debt: "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."


The second verse describes the singer's work in a coal mine, where he loads "sixteen tons of number 9 coal." The straw boss's reaction to his work suggests that it is impressive but also takes a toll on the worker. The third verse describes the singer's tough upbringing and rebellious nature, emphasizing that he cannot be controlled by "high-toned women." The final chorus repeats the refrain and ends with a warning that if anyone gets in the singer's way, he will use his fists of iron and steel to defend himself.


Overall, "Sixteen Tons" is a powerful commentary on the way that capitalism exploits workers and traps them in cycles of debt and labor. The song is a call to action against this injustice and a reminder of the value of workers' lives.


Line by Line Meaning

Some people say a man is made out of mud
There are individuals who believe that a man is created from earth.


A poor man's made out of muscle and blood
A man in poverty is composed of physical strength and life force.


Muscle and blood and skin and bones
All humans are made up of physical elements such as muscles, blood, skin, and bones.


A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong
Despite having a weak mind, a poor man's body is physically powerful.


You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
The song asks what the consequence of loading sixteen tons is.


Another day older and deeper in debt
After loading another day's worth of coal, the man's level of debt gets worse.


Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
The singer of the song is too deep in debt to enter heaven when he dies.


I owe my soul to the company store
Instead, he is financially obligated to his company, leaving him soulless and in debt till the end.


I was born one morning when the sun didn't shine
The man was born on a dismal day.


I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
He began his work as a miner wielding his shovel.


I loaded sixteen tons of number 9 coal
The man loaded sixteen tons of specific coal, which was important to his job.


And the straw boss said, "Well, a-bless my soul"
The artist recollects a supervisor commenting on his performance.


If you see me coming, better step aside
The singer may seem threatening and people should move out of his way.


A lot of men didn't, a lot of men died
Not all people who crossed him were fortunate, as most lost their lives.


One fist of iron, the other of steel
The singer is powerful and physically capable, with both fists being formidable weapons.


If the right one don't a-get you, then the left one will
If one hand doesn't hurt you, the other hand will be just as harmful.




Lyrics © Kanjian Music, BMG Rights Management, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
Written by: Merle Travis

Lyrics Licensed & Provided by LyricFind
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Comments from YouTube:

@mikeschneider901

OK - I'm 71 and I used to listen to this on 78 and still sing it.

@NoureddinKhames

You are a real Legend 💪🤝

@iowapanner2223

This and 'the man with the weird beard'. crank up record player in my great uncle's basement.

@golden_opal6050

My grandpa's in his 80's and he knew Tennesie Ernie. I'm a youngun' but I still love this kind of music, it's all I listen too lol. In fact my pastor called me a dinosaur for it XD

@DanCohoon

It is the only song my father ever sang.

@ALink777

Grace to you and peace from above.

4 More Replies...

@jensjesfjeld6238

This is better in 2024 than it was in 1956. If you know, you know.

@monzersaid

Seriously omg , what a damn gem this is , Fargo brought me here idk bout you

@jensjesfjeld6238

I've known this tune all my life@@monzersaid

@jensjesfjeld6238

Oh man fer sure. If you had a hammer would you hammer in the morning? Would you hammer in the evening, all over this land? Some songs will live in our heads, rent free, forever 😜 @@tired5350

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