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I've Been Working on the Railroad

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I've Been Working on the Railroad

"I've Been Working on the Railroad" is an American folk song. The first published version appeared as "Levee Song" in Carmina Princetonia, a book of Princeton University songs published in 1894. The earliest known recording is by the Sandhills Sixteen, released by Victor Records in 1927.



The verses that generally constitute the modern version of the song are:

I've been working on the railroadAll the live-long day.I've been working on the railroadJust to pass the time away.Can't you hear the whistle blowing,Rise up so early in the morn;Can't you hear the captain shouting,"Dinah, blow your horn!"Dinah, won't you blow,Dinah, won't you blow,Dinah, won't you blow your horn?Dinah, won't you blow,Dinah, won't you blow,Dinah, won't you blow your horn?Someone's in the kitchen with DinahSomeone's in the kitchen I knowSomeone's in the kitchen with DinahStrummin' on the old banjo!Singin' fee, fie, fiddly-i-oFee, fie, fiddly-i-o-o-o-oFee, fie, fiddly-i-oStrummin' on the old banjo.

The 1894 version includes a verse very much like the modern song, though in minstrel dialect, but with an intro that is no longer sung:

(SOLO) I once did know a girl named Grace--(QUARTET) I'm wukkin' on de levee;(SOLO) She done brung me to dis sad disgrace(QUARTET) O' wukkin' on de levee.I been wukkin' on de railroadAll de livelong day,I been wukkin' on de railroadTer pass de time away.Doan' yuh hyah de whistle blowin'?Ris up, so uhly in de mawn;Doan' yuh hyah de cap'n shouin',"Dinah, blow yo' hawn?"Sing a song o' the city;Roll dat cotton bale;Niggah aint half so happyAs when he's out o' jailNorfolk foh its oystahshells,Boston foh its beans,Chahleston foh its rice an' cawn,But foh niggahs New Awleens.

The "Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah" section, with its noticeably different melody, is actually an older song that has been absorbed by "I've Been Working on the Railroad". It was published as "Old Joe, or Somebody in the House with Dinah" in London in the 1830s or '40s, with music credited to J.H. Cave. "Dinah" was a generic name for an enslaved African woman. The melody for this section of the song may have been adapted from "Goodnight, Ladies", written (as "Farewell Ladies") in 1847 by E. P. Christy.

According to the liner notes to Pete Seeger's Children's Concert at Town Hall (1963), the "Dinah won't you blow" section is a more modern addition, contributed to the song by "some college students".

A high school glee club songbook circa 1947 used this introduction:

(Lead): I used to have a dog named "Bill"(Chorus): A wukkin' on de lebee(Lead): He run away but I'm here still(Chorus): A wukkin' on de lebee(Remainder was modern version)

Other extant verses and stanzas

One extant verse that has been recorded in prominent sources follows the "Singin' fee, fie, fiddly-i-o" verse:

Someone's makin' love to DinahSomeone's making love I know.Someone's making love to Dinah'Cause I can't hear the old banjo!

In another version of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" that is printed in "The Family Car Songbook", researched and edited by Tam Mossman, the song continues as follows:

I've been working on the trestle,Driving spikes that grip.I've been working on the trestle,To be sure the ties won't slip.Can't you hear the engine coming?Run to the stanchion of the bridge!Can't you see the big black smokestackComing down the ridge?ChorusI've been living in the boxcars.I'm a hobo now.I've been living in the boxcars,Which the yard bulls won't allow.Brother, can you spare a quarter?Buy me something good to eat?Brother, can you spare a nickel,Till I'm on my feet?ChorusI'll be owner of this railroadOne of these here days.I'll be owner of this railroad,And I swear, your pay I'll raise.I'll invite you to my mansion,Feed you on goose and terrapin.I'll invite you to the racetrackWhen my ship comes in.Chorus

Popularity in Japan

An adaptation of this song is a very familiar nursery rhyme in Japan, with the same melody and roughly the same subject matter, but with a different title and different lyrics. It is known as "Senro wa tsuzuku yo doko made mo (線路は続くよどこまでも)", meaning "The railroad continues forever".

NHK introduced this version of the song in 1967 in a TV program called Minna no Uta ("Everyone's Songs").

This tune is used at the stations on the Hanshin Electric Railway Lines (except Umeda Station and Osaka Namba Station) to announce arriving trains and is similarly used at Okayama Station on the San'yō Line (for Kamigōri and Himeji) and the Akō Line (for Banshū-Akō) of West Japan Railway Company.

In a 2014 soundtrack album of Ressha Sentai ToQger, the singer Shōgō Kamata recorded a variation of the song with Animetal USA rearranging the song.

"The Eyes of Texas"

"The Eyes of Texas" is the alma mater of the University of Texas at Austin and possibly also the University of Texas at El Paso. It is set to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" with alternate lyrics written in 1904. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University sing the song at Longhorn sports games and other events.


I've Been Working on the Railroad Wikipedia

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