ALBUM REVIEW: We Shall Overcome

I grew up hearing the LP version of Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome” album “recorded live at his historic Carnegie Hall Concert, June 8, 1963”. In the mid 1960s, I listened to it as much as I listened to the Beatles’ Second Album or Beatles ’65, which is to say, a LOT. It was an album my father enjoyed as well.

Ironically, I suppose, I was inspired to get a CD version of this album by the release of We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions by Bruce Springsteen – now available in the American Land Edition that people either love or feel gouged by. (I’ll probably just download the extra tunes.)

Anyway, when I got We Shall Overcome: Complete Carnegie Hall Concert, it totally confounded me. A piece of music I knew note-for-note, I didn’t know at all. All the things on the LP are there, but in radically different order, in a different context. Many of the LP cuts were truncated.

Here’s the playlist of the 2 CD set. The numbers in parentheses are the cut numbers of the original album (8 songs on one side, 5 on the other)

Disc: 1
1. Audience
2. Banjo Medley: Cripple Creek/Old Joe Clark/Leather Britches
3. Lady Margaret
4. Mrs. McGrath
5. Mail Myself to You (10)
6. My Rambling Boy
7. A Little Brand New Baby
8. What Did You Learn in School Today? (5)
9. Little Boxes (6)
10. Mrs. Clara Sullivan’s Letter
11. Who Killed Norma Jean? (7)
12. Who Killed Davey Moore? (8)
13. Farewell
14. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (9)
15. Didn’t He Ramble (Fragment)
16. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize (2)
17. If You Miss Me At The Back Of The Bus (1)
18. I Ain’t Scared Of Your Jail (3)
19. Oh Freedom (4)
Disc: 2
1. Audience
2. Skip To My Lou
3. Sweet Potatoes
4. Deep Blue Sea
5. Sea Of Mercy (Fragment)
6. Oh Louisiana
7. (The Ring on My Finger Is) Johnny Give Me
8. Oh What A Beautiful City
9. Lua Do Sertao (Moon Of The Backland)
10. The Miserlou
11. Polyushke Polye (Meadowlands)
12. Genbaku O Yurusumagi (Never Again The A-Bomb)
13. Schtille Di Nacht (Quiet Is The Night)
14. Viva La Quince Brigada (Long Live The Fifteenth Brigade)
15. Tshotsholosa (Road Song) (12)
16. This Land Is Your Land
17. From Way Up Here
18. We Shall Overcome (13)
19. Mister Tom Hughes’s Town
20. Bring Me Li’l’ Water Silvy
21. Guantanamera (11)

The concert as performed had a series of themes. After a couple introductory tunes, disc one has a group of new tunes by songwriters such as Tom Paxton and Bob Dylan, mentioned by name on the CD, but not the LP. On “Who Killed Davey Moore?” Pete says, “This is a different kind of elegy,” then misfingers his guitar before starting, which gives it a greater power; this is all missing on the LP. In fact, a couple other little gaffes are edited out, unnecessarily, I think.

The four songs from the Southern section are there, albeit in a different order. I suppose I understand removing references to upcoming concerts, but it was only on the CD that I realized that members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee were present on stage.

The next segment, the first half of the second CD, is comprised of familiar songs, missing entirely from the LP; perhaps they had appeared on then-recent Seeger albums. Then there was the “world” segment, represented only by “Tshotsholosa”. Out of context -i.e., on the album, you miss the fact that Pete had gotten people to actually rehearse the stirring response, which is still a highlight of the album.

About two minutes of dialogue is removed from the final song before the encore, “We Shall Overcome”. Again, some announcement of a coming concert is gone, but other conversation had been unnecessarily cut out.

Then the CD concludes with three encore songs, the last of which, “Guantanamera”, was stuck in the middle of the second side of the LP.

I’m enjoying the CD, but it was as though the Beatles had intended to put out an album called Yesterday and Today, and you knew that album cold, but what you later discover is that the original was really comprised of the second side of the British album Help, the songs We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper, the entire British Rubber Soul album, the songs Paperback Writer and Rain, and the entire British Revolver album. All the songs are there, but there’s SO much more, and with an entirely different feel.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

One thought on “ALBUM REVIEW: We Shall Overcome”

  1. We sang “We shall overcome” at any demonstration we attended!..i had a record with ” The Bro thers Four”.
    Have a great week.Roger!

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