Super Bowl Songs: Pete Seeger & “Pittsburgh Town”

As you prepare for a day of watching commercials occasionally interrupted by a football game played by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, Chimesfreedom considers songs inspired by the states in the big game. An upcoming post will address the state of the Packers, but this post considers the hometown of the Steelers: Woody Guthrie’s “Pittsburgh Town,” recorded by Pete Seeger.

Like some other songs sung by Guthrie and Seeger, “Pittsburgh Town” takes on the big corporate interests. For Pittsburgh, at the time, that meant attacking the steel industry: “What did Jones & Laughlin steal now Pittsburgh?” But the song ends by defiantly proclaiming the workers are organizing and joining the Congress of Industrial Organizations (a precursor to the AFL-CIO).

All I do is cough and choke in Pittsburgh
All I do is cough and choke in Pittsburgh
All I do is cough and choke
From the iron filings and the sulphur smoke
In Pittsburgh, Lord God, Pittsburgh

From the Allegheny to the Ohio, in Pittsburgh
Allegheny to the Ohio
Allegheny to the Ohio
They’re joining up in the C.I.O.
Pittsburgh, Lord God, Pittsburgh

According to Ed Cray’s Ramblin’ Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie, most of the lyrics to the song were improvised when Guthrie was performing for Jones & Laughlin employees after Guthrie had just seen the workers’ poor living conditions. Guthrie may not have been in too good of a mood, having just spent the night in hotel infested with cockroaches.

Bonus Cheerier Songs: Yeah, the song is depressing, and maybe I’m mad my team did not make the Super Bowl. If you would like a “happier” song, here is Charlie Daniels “In America” (“Go and lay your hand on a Pittsburgh Steelers fan / and I think you’re finally gonna understand”).

Do you have another Pennsylvania song you like? Leave a comment.

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