Songs About Homelessness

Music can address societal issues in different ways. Sometimes a song will tackle a big issue head on.  But more often than not, issues are addressed through personal stories or observations. One important societal issue that occasionally appears in popular song is the problem that so many of our fellow humans live without a home. Below are some examples of some songs that address homelessness to varying degrees.

In 2011, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran released ‘The A Team’ as the lead single of his first album +. Sheeran wrote the song about a prostitute addicted to crack cocaine after he visited a homeless shelter.

“Ain’t Got No Home” is a folk song that was made popular by Woody Guthrie: “Just a wandrin’ worker, I go from town to town. / And the police make it hard wherever I may go / And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.”

In this video, Rosanne Cash performs “I Ain’t Got No Home”.

Greg Trooper’s “They Call Me Hank” is about a homeless man named Bill. The song appeared on Trooper’s album Upside-Down Town.

Here Trooper performs the song at Music City Roots live from the Loveless Cafe in June 2014.

One of the more famous songs about homelessness is “Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Collins. The song appeared on his 1989 hit album But Seriously, where the singer sees a man avoiding a homeless person.

Collins asks us to think twice about living another day in paradise, but a lot of critics thought that the song seemed disingenuous coming from someone as rich as Collins.

The great songwriter Guy Clark recorded a song called “Homeless.” The song appears on Clark’s 2006 album The Dark.

Like several other songs by Clark, he talks us through much of the story with a memorable chorus.

Finally, another famous song that is about a homeless person is the Christmas song “Pretty Paper,” which was a hit in an excellent recording by Roy Orbison. The song about a person who in the midst of holiday shopping sees a homeless person was written by a young songwriter who would later go on to have a pretty successful career himself.

So here is that songwriter, Willie Nelson, singing his version of the song he wrote.

Other songs with homelessness themes include Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung,” Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London,” and “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” by Crystal Waters.

Music, of course, cannot solve problems but it can help educate us. More than 60,000 people sleep in homeless shelters each night in New York City alone. Homelessness continues to be a problem across the U.S., and in particular, the number of homeless LGBT youth on the streets continues to rise due to a lack of support for them.

A number of organizations around the country work to help the homeless, and this website lists a number of ways that you can help the homeless (besides writing a song).

What other songs are there about homelessness? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    The 1977 Johnny Cash Christmas Show

    Check out this video for the 1977 broadcast of The Johnny Cash Christmas Show. The show features June Carter Cash, the Carter Family, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and “special guest star” Hee-Haw‘s Roy Clark. On the TV special, Cash recounts some of his past Christmases, including recalling his stint in the military and learning to play the guitar.

    One of the most touching moments is when Cash, Lewis, and Perkins pay tribute to the fourth member of the Million Dollar Quartet, Elvis Presley. The three men and Roy Orbison play “This Train is Bound for Glory” for Elvis (31:40), who had died in August of that year.

    Several of the artists sing non-holiday former hits. Carl Perkins sings “Blue Suede Shoes” (20:35) for example, and Jerry Lee Lewis rocks out on “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” (27:30). Somewhat surprisingly, Roy Orbison sings “Pretty Woman” (24:05) instead of his 1963 holiday hit, “Pretty Paper.” Lewis calms down for “White Christmas” (30:00).

    This special is one of four Johnny Cash Christmas specials that CBS broadcast from 1976 to 1979. You may watch the other ones collected on Dangerous Minds. Also, check out our earlier discussion of the connections between the song “This Train,” the past, and the present.

    What is your favorite variety show Christmas special? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Watch Classic Music from Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show

    NRR Archives on YouTube started posting old rock and roll clips from Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show. Clips feature Johhny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Connie Francis, Dion and the Belmonts, Bobby Darin, Annette Funicello, The Platters, Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, Conway Twitty, Ronnie Hawkins, Jackie Wilson and many others. Check out the NRR Archive link to see the clips. Here is Roy Orbison singing “Uptown” (the clip also includes Anita Bryant singing “Paper Roses”).

    Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show, also known as “The Dick Clark Show,” ran on ABC at 7:30-8:00 p.m. (EST) on Saturdays (of course) from February 15, 1958 through September 10, 1960. During this same period, Clark also hosted the show for which he is most remembered, American Bandstand, which ran on weekdays. Bandstand, which in contrast to the Beech-Nut Show featured dancing, was mainly broadcast from Philadelphia, requiring Clark to travel back and forth to Manhattan, from where the Beech-Nut Show was generally broadcast.

    Although the Saturday show sponsored by “the brightest and the happiest gum there ever was” may be less remembered than some of Clark’s other work, the show had a lot of great classic music. Check out Johnny Cash singing “The Rebel (Johnny Yuma)” below and then check out the other clips.

    What is your favorite clip in the archive? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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  • This Week in Pop Culture Roundup (11 Dec. 2011)

    In case you have been too busy this week angrily Tweeting about American Airlines because a flight attendant interrupted a game you were playing on your phone, here are some of the pop culture stories you might have missed this week. FYI, see below for a funny video relating to the American Airlines incident. Three of the big stories that were already covered this week in Chimesfreedom were the passings of actor Harry Morgan, singer Dobie Gray, and blues man Hubert Sumlin, so check out those stories too. But here are some of the lesser known reviews and stories from the fields of movies, music, and popular culture.

    —— Movies —–

    Filmmakers are clashing with each other over access to West Memphis 3 witnesses.

    The Hangover III may be set in Los Angeles and may try a new formula.

    The Los Angeles Times contemplated predictions for the Golden Globe race for drama films.

    The Sundance Film Festival announced its short film roster.

    Salon featured a slide show of 20 classic spy movies.

    The trailer for the new Three Stooges movie is out.

    Jeremy Piven revealed that an Entourage movie is in the works.

    A sci-fi fan is suing James Cameron, claiming the director stole Avatar story idea.

    Below is a video tribute to the year of 2011 in film and music, “The 2011 Portfolio”:

    —– Music —–

    Amnesty International released a 4-CD set: Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan: Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty Intnl.

    In the New York Times, Camille Paglia reviewed Greil Marcus’s new book on the Doors.

    Was Gram Parsons an underrated songwriter?

    2012 R&R Hall Inductees: Beastie Boys, Donovan, Guns N’ Roses, Laura Nyro, Red Hot Chili Peppers & Small Faces/Faces.

    Barbara Orbison, the widow of Roy Orbison, passed away Tuesday.

    Lady Gaga’s latest video, for “Marry the Night,” is 14 min long and reflects one of her darker days.

    Popdose has a funny discussion of the AM Gold songs from 1967.

    New music collaborations include My Morning Jacket & Kelly Clarkson, as well as Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys on tour.

    Cover Lay Down has covers of songs in the new Christmas canon.

    Twangville has a review of a recent performance by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

    Blogness has Bruce Springsteen’s performance with Gaslight Anthem from this week in Asbury Park.

    Billboard named Adele the top artist of 2011 as she makes history.

    —– Television —–

    In Wookie news, Chewbacca is going to guest star on Glee.

    The Mythbusters guys apologized after they accidentally fired a cannonball into a residential area earlier this week.

    “Very funny.” — Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks on the Roots’ controversial entrance song for Michele Bachmann.

    Laugh-In star Alan Sues, who also was in the Twilight Zone Episode “The Masks,” passed away this week.

    Was it too soon for Saturday Night Live to spoof the Penn State scandal? Colin Quinn thinks so. In other SNL news, Alec Baldwin appeared on the show last night to apologize about the American Airlines incident to . . . Alec Baldwin, “an American treasure.”

    —– Other Pop Culture News —–

    Manny Ramirez un-retired from baseball. That’s Manny being . . . Brett.

    Salon listed its favorite non-fiction books of 2011.

    Jerry Robinson, the comic book artist who created Batmans’s The Joker, passed away yesterday. RIP.

    In the way that all sci-fi alien horror movies begin. . . NASA just discovered an earth-like planet. Assuming the aliens do not attack us, we will see you with more pop culture stories soon. . .

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    Got My Mind Set on George Harrison

    I recently watched the new two-part Martin Scorsese documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World. Overall, the documentary is interesting and informative, but often it seemed like the film was giving us hints about the man more than a story. But we can never fully understand a person, so really all we have are hints.

    The film used a lot of George Harrison’s music. Scorsese seems to have a real fondness for “All Things Must Pass,” which is an excellent title song from what is generally considered Harrison’s best post-Beatles work. But for the last part of Harrison’s career, the film gave us a short glimpse of his Traveling Wilbury’s work while completely overlooking his last solo hit, “Got My Mind Set on You.”

    “Got My Mind Set on You,” which appeared on Harrison’s album Cloud Nine (1988) after its release as a single, was Harrison’s last number one single in the U.S. The song, however, was not a Harrison original. It was written by Rudy Clark and was recorded by James Ray twenty-five years earlier in 1962. I love Ray’s version too.

    Maybe Living in the Material World did not use “Got My Mind Set on You” because there was a rights issue. Or maybe Scorsese saw the song as one of Harrison’s lesser works and sees it the same way “Weird Al” Yankovic does.

    Still, I recall in 1987-1988 that the song was a huge hit constantly playing on the radio. Along with the CD and the Beatle-esque “When We Was Fab,” the radio-friendly song was a nice return from Harrison, who had not released an album for more than a decade. The album also led to Harrison recruiting a few friends to record a B-side to one of the songs on Cloud Nine, “This is Love.” And those friends — Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison — ended up forming The Traveling Wilburys. While Harrison’s recording of “Got My Mind Set On You” may not be Harrison’s best recording, that is no insult considering the quality of his catalog. And it is an excellent catchy pop song.

    {Note: Harrison made another video for “Got My Mind Set on You” too, intercutting his performance with scenes from a fair arcade.}

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