The song dates from the period in which the United States was strictly neutral but had begun re-armament and the first peace-time US draft (Act passed Saturday, 9/14/40). On October 16, 1940 it was announced that 16,500,000 men had registered.
This song and its album, "SONGS FOR JOHN DOE" proved something of an embarrassment to the Almanacs. Just a few weeks after it was released in May 1941, Hitler ordered the invasion of the USSR. The album was shelved and they soon came out with anti-Hitler songs.
Notes based on those of Guy Logsdon & Jeff Place from the Folkways album "That's Why We're Marching"
Copyright Abby Sale, 1997. Used by permission. All publication rights are retained by author, but limited broadcast license will probably be granted on request.
Set to the tune of 'Jesse James,' 'The Ballad of October 16th' was one of Lampell's earliest works; the title of this vitriolic anti-Roosevelt song refers to the day in 1940 when Congress passed the peacetime draft law. "No other peace song of the pact era proved more popular in the Communist movement," Richard Reuss later wrote. Critics from both the right and the left would later use 'The Ballad of October 16th' to embarass the Almanacs after the left turned to a pro-Roosevelt stance.
Ronald D. Cohen & Dave Samuelson, liner notes for "Songs for Political Action," Bear Family Records BCD 15720 JL, 1996, p. 77.
It was on a Saturday night and the moon was shining bright
They passed the conscription bill
And the people they did say for many miles away
'Twas the President and his boys on Capitol Hill.CHORUS:When my poor old mother died I was sitting by her side
Oh, Franklin Roosevelt told the people how he felt
We damn near believed what he said
He said, "I hate war, and so does Eleanor
But we won't be safe 'till everybody's dead."
A-promising to war I'd never go.
But now I'm wearing khaki jeans and eating army beans
And I'm told that J. P. Morgan loves me so.
I have wandered over this land, a roaming working man
No clothes to wear and not much food to eat.
But now the government foots the bill
Gives me clothes and feeds me swill
Gets me shot and puts me underground six feet.
Why nothing can be wrong if it makes our country strong
We got to get tough to save democracy.
And though it may mean war
We must defend Singapore
This don't hurt you half as much as it hurts me.