Broccoli Fields Forever ...

Broccoli Fields Forever …

The consummate union song, “Which Side Are You On?”, was written by Florence Reece in 1931. Reece was the wife of Sam Reece, a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky. In 1931, the miners of that region were locked in a bitter and violent struggle with the mine owners. In an attempt to intimidate the Reece family, Sheriff J. H. Blair and his men (hired by the mining company) illegally entered their family home in search of Sam Reece. Sam had been warned in advance and escaped, but Florence and their children were terrorized in his place. That night, after the men had gone, Florence wrote the lyrics to “Which Side Are You On?” on a calendar that hung in the kitchen of her home. She took the melody from a traditional Baptist hymn, “Lay the Lily Low”, or the traditional ballad “Jack Munro”.  (Mostly extracted from Wikipedia, so who knows if any of it is accurate; but it makes for a nice blog intro.)

The first first studio release of “Which Side Are You On?” was recorded in 1941 by The Almanac Singers. The Almanac Singers was a politically and socially progressive folk band founded by Millard Lampell, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie. The group’s line-up often expanded and contracted as new members, as well as Woody, came and went regularly. Woody once famously referred to The Almanac Singers as “the only group in the world that rehearsed on stage.”

Over the years “Which Side Are You On?” has been a staple for union organizing as well as worker demonstrations and strikes. The song has been covered by many and the lyrics have often been revised to reflect current political, economic and social issues.

The Original

The Almanac Singers:

Florence Reese:

This is surely one woman not to be trifled with!


The Cover Songs Competition


Billy Bragg vs. Dropkick Murphys


Billy Bragg:

Dropkick Murphys:

Oh the disharmony! Much like Harlan County there are no neutrals here. Only one cover tune will live to play another day and it is your solemn responsibility to decide which one prevails. So tell me … Which Side Are You On?!!?

Also, keep in mind that if you should spontaneously self-actualize while playing a cover then you could – and probably should – nominate it for Top 10 (i.e. “Impeccable”) consideration.



Votes can be cast up to seven days from the day and time of the original post.

Disclaimer: Votes cast from Florida may or may not be counted.

  1. Cuspid says:

    The Braggster is surpurb, of course. But the Murphys’ version makes one want to go out and join a picket line somewhere. Two thumbs up!

    • RDubbs says:

      Cuspid, did you vote for the Murphys? To quote Claude Raines in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked!”. Not that the DM’s don’t kick out a great version but this is our boy, William Q Boast-A-Lot, we’re talking about!

      But I will concede that a vote like this is arguably ridiculous. Such different styles and sound in each, yet both are excellent versions. How the heck are you supposed to make a reasonable choice? Just who is running this daft blog?

      By the way, Boast-A-Lot just called, A Message For You Dougie, “Do Not Forsake, Oh My Cuspid, On This Our Web-Threading Day” …

  2. ileneonwords says:

    Great, great song!!!!! Taught it to my students!!!!

  3. Arnold Plotnick says:

    Great song. Much to Richie’s shock and horror, I too am givin’ this one to the Dropkicks. It sounds good with a nice dose of anger.

  4. Pete Black says:

    I thought this would be a rout. I have loved Bragg’s rendition for 27,28 years. I like the Dropkicks. Seen ’em live , got 3 or 4 of their discs. They have great energy but for me are a bit overrated. They aren’t great musicians, don’t frequently write well and there isn’t enough Irish music influence for my taste. I think they want to be The Pogues meets The Clash but that mantle is far beyond their reach. So, when I started listening, I thought a third of the way through- Damn! Pretty hot. At the 3/4 point I thought maybe the upset was in. Very good cover. I listened 2 more times Before voting for Billy. At one point The Murphys sounded like Jello Biafra fronting Bad religion.

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