Ballad Writing: Ballad Poems

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Ballad Poems: Ballad Writing

Examples of Ballads

I've gathered a mix of ballads for you to look at. Let me know if you find a ballad you like, and we'll add it to our page. Use of these ballads is intended for educational and research purposes only for my Junior English class.

----Click on a ballad title to see the lyric----

John Henry Ballad of the Triangle Fire Cat's in the Cradle
Dance Band on the Titanic Lucille On Top of Spaghetti
Galveston Bay Ballad of Tom Joad Taxi
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown Band on the Run Hot Rod Lincoln
Ballad of the Green Berets

John Henry
Appalachian Folk Ballad

John Henry said to his Captain
I ain't nothing but a man,
But before I'll let your steam drill beat me down,
I'll die with my hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
I'll die with my hammer in my hand."

John Henry got a thirt pound hammer,
Beside the steam drill he did stand.
He beat that steam drill three inches down,
And he died with his hammer in his hand, Lord, Lord,
He died with his hammer in his hand.

John Henry had a little woman,
Her name was Julie Ann,
She went down the track never lookin' back,
Says, "John Henry, you have always been a man, Lord, Lord,
John Henry, you have always been a man."

They took John Henry to the graveyard,
And buried him in the sand,
And ev'ry time that train comes roaring by,
Says, "There lays a steel-drivin' man, Lord, Lord,
There lays a steel-drivin' man.

Ballad of the Triangle Fire
By Ruth Rubin

In the heart of New York City, near Washington Square
In nineteen eleven, March winds were cold and bare.
A fire broke out in a building ten stories high,
And a hundred and forty-six young girls in those flames did die.

On the top floor of that building, ten stories in the air
These young girls were working in an old sweatshop there;
They were sewing shirtwaists for a very low wage.
So tired and pale and worn-out! They were at a tender age.

The sweatshop was a stuffy room with but a single door;
The windows they were gray with dust from off that dirty floor;
There were no comforts, no fresh air, no light to sew thereby,
And the girls, they toiled from early morn till darkness filled the sky.

Then on that fateful day - dear God, most terrible of days!
When that fire broke out, it grew into a mighty blaze.
In that firetrap way up there with but a single door,
So many innocent working girls burned, to live no more!

A hundred thousand mourners, they followed those sad biers.
The streets were filled with people weeping bitter tears.
Poets, writers everywhere described that awful pyre,
When those young girls were trapped to die in the Triangle Fire.

© 1968 Ruth Rubin

from the Sing Along Songbook, 1993 UCLEA NE Summer Institute for Union Women, New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1993.

Cat's in the Cradle
by Harry Chapin

My child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He'd say, "I'm gonna be like you, dad.
You know I'm gonna be like you."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?"
"I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, "Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play.
Can you teach me to throw?" I said, "Not today,
I got a lot to do." He said, "That's ok."
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed,
Said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I'm gonna be like him."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?"
"I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I'm proud of you.
Can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head, and he said with a smile,
"What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later. Can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?"
"I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

I've long since retired and my son's moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind."
He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,
But it's sure nice talking to you, dad.
It's been sure nice talking to you."

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

Dance Band on the Titanic
by Harry Chapin

Dance band on the Titanic
Sing "Nearer, my God, to Thee"
The iceberg's on the starboard bow
Won't you dance with me

Mama stood cryin' at the dockside
Sayin' "Please son, don't take this trip"
I said "Mama, sweet Mama, don't you worry none"
"Even God couldn't sink this ship"

Well, the whistle blew and they turned the screws
It turned the water into foam
Destination sweet salvation
Goodbye home sweet home

I'm in the dance band on the Titanic
Sing "Nearer, my God, to Thee"
The iceberg's on the starboard bow
Won't you dance with me

There was a trombone and a saxophone
The bass and drums were cookin' up the bandstand
And I was strummin' in the middle with this dude on the fiddle
And we were three days out from land

And now the foghorn's jammed and moanin'
Hear it groanin' through the misty night
I heard the lookout shout down "There's icebergs around"
"But still everything's all right"

Oh, the dance band on the Titanic
Sing "Nearer, my God, to Thee"
The iceberg's on the starboard bow
Won't you dance with me

They were burnin' all the flares for candles
In the banquet they were throwin' in first class
And we were blowin' waltzes in the barroom
When the universe went CRASH!

"There's no way that this could happen"
I could hear the old captain curse
He ordered lifeboats away, that's when I heard the chaplain say
"Women and children and chaplains first"

Well, they soon used up all of the lifeboats
But there were a lot of us left on board
I heard the drummer sayin' "Boys, just keep playin'"
"Now we're doin' this gig for the Lord"

I heard the dance band on the Titanic
Sing "Nearer, my God, to Thee"
The iceberg's on the starboard bow
Won't you dance with me

There's a wild-eyed boy in the radio shack
He's the last remaining guest
He was tappin' in a Morse code frenzy
Tappin' "Please God, S.O.S."

Jesus Christ can walk on the water
But a music man will drown
They say that Nero fiddled while Rome burned up
Well, I was strummin' as the ship go down

I'm in the dance band on the Titanic
Sing "Nearer, my God, to Thee"
The iceberg's on the starboard bow
Won't you dance with me

Taxi
by Harry Chapin

It was raining hard in 'Frisco,
I needed one more fare to make my night.
A lady up ahead waved to flag me down,
She got in at the light.

Oh, where you going to, my lady blue,
It's a shame you ruined your gown in the rain.
She just looked out the window, and said
"Sixteen Parkside Lane."

Something about her was familiar
I could swear I'd seen her face before,
But she said, "I'm sure you're mistaken"
And she didn't say anything more.

It took a while, but she looked in the mirror,
And she glanced at the license for my name.
A smile seemed to come to her slowly,
It was a sad smile, just the same.

And she said, "How are you Harry?"
I said, "How are you Sue?
Through the too many miles
and the too little smiles I still remember you."

It was somewhere in a fairy tale,
I used to take her home in my car.
We learned about love in the back of the Dodge,
The lesson hadn't gone too far.

You see, she was gonna be an actress,
And I was gonna learn to fly.
She took off to find the footlights,
And I took off to find the sky.

There was not much more for us to talk about,
Whatever we had once was gone.
So I turned my cab into the driveway,
Past the gate and the fine trimmed lawns.

And she said we must get together,
But I knew it'd never be arranged.
And she handed me twenty dollars,
For a two fifty fare, she said
"Harry, keep the change."

Well another man might have been angry,
And another man might have been hurt,
But another man never would have let her go...
I stashed the bill in my shirt.

And she walked away in silence,
It's strange, how you never know,
But we'd both gotten what we'd asked for,
Such a long, long time ago.

You see, she was gonna be an actress
And I was gonna learn to fly.
She took off to find the footlights,
And I took off to find the sky.

Lucille
by
Kenny Rogers

In a bar in Toledo
Across from the depot
On a bar stool she took off her ring
I thought I'd get closer
So I walked on over
I sat down and asked her name

When the drink finally hit her
She said, " I'm no quitter
But I finally quit living on dreams.
I'm hungry for laughter
And here ever after
I'm after whatever the other life brings."

In the mirror I saw him
I closely watched him
I thought how he looked out of place
He came to the woman
Who sat there beside me
He had a strange look on his face

The big hands were all calloused
He looked like a mountain
For a minute, I thought I was dead
But he started shaking
His big heart was breaking
He turned to the woman and said,

"You picked the fine time to leave me, Lucille.
Four hungry children and a crop in the field
I've had some bad times
Lived through some sad times
But this time your hurtin won't heal
You picked the fine time to leave me, Lucille."

After he left us,
I ordered more whiskey
I thought how she'd made him look small
From lights of the bar room
To a rented hotel room
We walked without talking at all

She was a beauty,
But when she came to me
She must have thought I lost my mind
I couldn't hold her,
The words that he told her
Kept coming back time after time.

"You picked the fine time to leave me, Lucille.
Four hungry children and a crop in the field
I've had some bad times
Lived through some sad times
But this time your hurtin won't heal
You picked the fine time to leave me, Lucille."


"You picked the fine time to leave me, Lucille.
Four hungry children and a crop in the field
I've had some bad times
Lived through some sad times
But this time your hurtin won't heal
You picked the fine time to leave me, Lucille."

On Top of Spaghetti

On top of spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball,
When somebody sneezed.

It rolled off the table,
And on to the floor,
And then my poor meatball,
Rolled out of the door.

It rolled in the garden,
And under a bush,
And then my poor meatball,
Was nothing but mush.

The mush was as tasty
As tasty could be,
And then the next summer,
It grew into a tree.

The tree was all covered,
All covered with moss,
And on it grew meatballs,
And tomato sauce.

So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.

GALVESTON BAY
by Bruce Springsteen

Fifteen years Le Bing Son
Fought side by side with the Americans
In the mountains and deltas
of Vietnam

In '75 Saigon fell
And he left his command
And brought his family
To the promised land

Seabrook, Texas and the small towns
In the Gulf of Mexico
It was delta country and
Reminded him of home

He worked as a machinist, put his money away
And bought a shrimp boat with his cousin
And together they harvested
Galveston Bay

In the mornin' 'fore the sun come up
He'd kiss his sleepin' daughter
Steer out through the channel
And casts his nets into the water

Billy Sutter fought with Charlie Company
In the highlands of Quang Tri
He was wounded in the battle of Chu Lai
And shipped home in '68

There he married and worked the gulf fishing grounds
In a boat that'd been his father's
In the morning he'd kiss his sleeping son
And cast his nets into the water

Billy sat in front of his TV as the south fell
And the Communists rolled into Saigon
He and his friends watched as the refugees came
Settle on the same streets and worked the coast they grew up on

Soon in the bars around the harbor was talk
Of America for Americans
Someone said, "You want 'em out, you got to burn 'em out"
And brought in the Texas klan

One humid Texas night there were three shadows on the harbor
Come to burn the Vietnamese boats into the sea
In the fire's light shots rang out
Two Texans lay dead on the ground
Le stood with a pistol in his hand

A jury acquitted him in self defense
As before the judge he did stand
But as he walked down the courthouse steps
Billy said "My friend, you're a dead man"

One late summer night Le stood watch along the waterside
Billy stood in the shadows
His K-bar knife in his hand
And the moon slipped behind the clouds

Le lit a cigarette, the bay was as still as glass
As he walked by Billy stuck
His knife into his pocket
Took a breath and let him pass

In the early darkness Billy rose up
Went into the kitchen for a drink of water
Kissed his sleeping wife, headed into the channel
And casts his nets into the water

Of Galveston Bay

THE BALLAD OF TOM JOAD
by Woodie Guthrie


Tom Joad he got out the old McAlester Pen
He got his parole
After four long years on a man killing charge
Tom Joad come walkin' down the road, poor boy
Tom Joad come walkin' down the road.

Tom Joad, he met a truck drivin' man,
And he caught him a ride
Said "I just got loose from the McAlester Pen
On a charge called homicide,
On a charge called homicide."

Well that truck rolled away in a cloud of dust
Tommy turned his face toward home.
He met Preacher Casy
And they had a little drink.
They found that his family was gone,
They found that his family was gone.

They found his mother's old fashioned shoe,
and they found his daddy's hat.
And they found little Muley, and Muley said,
"they been tractored off by the cats, Tommy boy.
They been tractored off by the cats."

Tom Joad, he walked down to the neighbor's farm,
and he found his family.
He took Preacher Casy
and he loaded up the car,
And his mother said, "We got to get away, Tommy Boy."
His mother said, "we got to get away."

Now the twelve of the Joads, they made mighty heavy load,
And Grampa Joad, he did cry.
He picked up a handful of land in his hand.
He said, "I'm stayin' with this farm till I die.
I'm stayin' here till I die."

They fed him short ribs and coffee and syrup.
And Grampa Joad, he did die.
They buried Grampa Joad by the side of the road,
buried Grandma on the California side.
Buried Grandma on the California side.

They stood on a mountain and they looked to the west,
and it looked like the Promised Land.
That bright green valley with a river runnin' through
held work for every single hand. They thought,
"There'll be work for every single hand."

The Joads road away to the Jungle camp
and there they cook them some stew.
And the hungry little kids said,
"We'd like to have some, too, please.
We'd like to have some, too."

Now, the Deputy Sheriff fired loose at a man,
and he shot a woman in the back.
Before he could take his aim again,
Preacher Casy dropped him in his tracks,
Preach Casy dropped him in his tracks.

Well, they handcuffed Casy
and they took him to jail
and then he got away.
He met with Tom Joad on the old River Bride.
and these few words he did say, poor boy.
These few words he did say:

"Well, I preached for Lord for a mighty long time,
preached about the rich and the poor.
Us working folks gotta get together,
cause we ain't got a chance anymore, Tommy boy.
We ain't got a chance anymore."

Well, the Deputies come,
And Tom and Casy, they did run
To the bridge where the water run down.
But the vigilante they hit Casy with a club,
and they laid Preacher Casy on the ground,
They laid Preacher Casy on the ground.

Tom Joad, he grabbed that Deputy's club,
And hit him over the head.
Tom Joad took flight
in the dark and rainy night,
A deputy and Preacher lying dead,
a deputy and preacher lying dead.

Well, Tom run back to where his mama was asleep.
and he woke her up out of the bed.
and he kissed goodbye
to the mother that he loved.
And he said what Preacher Casy said, Tom Joad
he said what Preacher Casy said.

"Well, everybody might be just one big soul,
or it looks that way to me.
Everywhere you look, in the day or the night,
That's where I'm gonna be, Ma.
That's where I'm gonna be.

"Wherever little children are hungry and cry,
wherever people ain't free,
wherever men and women are fightin' for their rights,
that's where I'm gonna be, Ma.
That's where I'm gonna be."

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
by Jim Croce

Well the South side of Chicago
Is the baddest part of town
And if you go down there
You better just beware
Of a man named Leroy Brown

Now Leroy, more than trouble
You see he stands about six foot-four
All the downtown ladies call him "Treetop Lover"
All the men just call him "Sir"

And he's bad, bad, Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Now Leroy, he's a gambler
And he like his fancy clothes
And he like to wave his diamond rings
In front of everybody's nose
He got a custom Continental
He got an El Dorado too
He got a thirty-two gun in his pocket full of fun
He got a razor in his shoe

And he's bad, bad, Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Now Friday 'bout a week ago
Leroy, shootin' dice
And at the edge of the bar
Sat a girl named Doris
And ooh that girl looked nice
Well he cast his eyes upon her
And the trouble soon began
Then Leroy Brown, he learned a lesson
'Bout a' messin' with the wife of a jealous man

And he's bad, bad, Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Well, the two men took to fighting
And when they pulled them off the floor
Leroy looked like a jigsaw puzzle
With a couple of pieces gone

And he's bad, bad, Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Yeah, he's badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Band On The Run
by
Paul McCartney & Wings

Stuck inside these four walls
Sent inside forever
Never seeing no one
Nice again like you
Mama you, Mama you

If I ever get out of here
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get out of here
(If we ever get out of here)

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun
And the first one said to the second one there
I hope you're having fun

Band on the run, band on the run
And the jailer man and Sailor Sam
Were searching every one
For the band on the run, band on the run
Band on the run, band on the run

Well, the undertaker drew a heavy sigh
Seeing no one else had come
And a bell was ringing in the village square
For the rabbits on the run

Band on the run, band on the run
And the jailer man and Sailor Sam
Were searching every one
For the band on the run, band on the run

Yeah, the band on the run, band on the run
Band on the run, band on the run

Well, the night was falling as the desert world
Began to settle down
In the town they're searching for us everywhere
But we never will be found

Band on the run, band on the run
And the county judge, who held a grudge
Will search forever more
For the band on the run, band on the run
Band on the run, band on the run

Hot Rod Lincoln
by
Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen

My pappy said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin'
If you don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Lincoln"

Have you heard this story of the Hot Rod Race
When Fords and Lincolns was settin' the pace?
That story is true, I'm here to say
I was drivin' that Model A

It's got a Lincoln motor and it's really souped up
That Model A Vitimix makes it look like a pup
It's got eight cylinders, uses them all
It's got overdrive, just won't stall

With a four-barrel carb and a dual exhaust
And four-eleven gears you can really get lost
It's got safety tubes, but I ain't scared
The brakes are good, tires fair

Pulled out of San Pedro late one night
The moon and the stars was shinin' bright
We was drivin' up Grapevine Hill
Passing cars like they was standing still

All of a sudden in a wink of an eye
A Cadillac sedan passed us by
I said, "Boys, that's a mark for me!"
By then the tail light was all you could see

Now the fellas was ribbin' me for bein' behind
So I thought I'd make the Lincoln unwind
Took my foot off the gas and man alive
I shoved it on down into overdrive

Wound it up to a hundred and ten
My speedometer said that I hit top end
My foot was glued like lead to the floor
That's all there is and there ain't no more

Now, the boys all thought I'd lost my sense
And telephone poles looked like a picket fence
They said, "Slow down! I see spots!"
The lines on the road just look like dots

Took a corner; sideswiped a truck
Crossed my fingers just for luck
My fenders was clickin' the guardrail posts
The guy beside me was white as a ghost

Smoke was comin' from out of the back
When I started to gain on that Cadillac.
Knew I could catch him, I thought I could pass
Don't you know by then we'd be low on gas?

We had flames comin' from out of the side
Feel the tension, Man! What a ride!
I said, "Look out, boys, I've got a license to fly!"
And that Caddy pulled over and let us by

Now all of a sudden she started to knockin'
And down in the dips she started to rockin'
I looked in my mirror; a red light was blinkin'
The cops was after my Hot Rod Lincoln!

They arrested me and they put me in jail
And called my pappy to throw my bail
And he said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin'
If you don't stop drivin' that Hot ... Rod ... Lincoln!"

 

Ballad of the Green Berets
by SSgt. Barry Sadler

Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men we'll test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Trained to live, off nature's land
Trained in combat, hand to hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage deep, from the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men we'll test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her this last request

Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret

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