Investigating US History

The Big Strike:
Labor Unrest in the Great Depression

Document Analysis E. The Musical Record

“The most important word in the language of the working class is solidarity.”  

-- Harry Bridges

“I've had all I can stand, I can't stands no more!”  

-- Popeye

Select a song from The Musical Record that you find particularly interesting and that adds to your understanding of the strike or the Great Depression.   Post on the discussion board five paragraphs analyzing its words, music, and social uses.  

Questions you may wish to consider:  

  • What kind of song is it? Who created or performed it; when, where, and under what conditions?  
  • What is the tone or mood of the song? How does it make you feel?   How might different audiences have responded to it?  
  • Is the song a form of propaganda?   Was it popular or influential?   What role did music play on the waterfront or in the labor movement of the 1930s?
  • How are dock workers and dock work represented in the narrative of the song? How are class lines, gender roles, and other social boundaries drawn in the song?   Are there recurring motifs?  
  • What can the song tell us about 1934 strike or the Great Depression that other kinds of sources cannot?   What would you like to ask the composer?  
  • How has the form or function of the song changed over time?   Come up with your own questions and be sure to give reasons for any of your inferences.  

Respond to the analyses of at least two of your classmates, focusing on those statements with which you particularly agree or disagree.

I am a simple lab'ring man
And I work along the shore,
For to keep the hungry wolves away
From the poor longshoreman's door…

E1. “The Longshoreman's Strike” (1875) Read the lyrics and listen to the melody of this 1875 song by Edward Harrigan. (Click the MIDI file for audio.)

Four hundred strikers were brutally wounded;
Four hundred workers and I left to die;
Remember the day, sir, to all of your children,
This bloody Thursday the fifth of July...

E2. “The Battle of Bloody Thursday” (n.d.)   Read the lyrics.

Lou Harrison, Drums along the Pacific.

E3. “Waterfront – 1934” (1935).   Read musicologist Leta Miller's liner notes to the CD “Drums Along the Pacific” by Lou Harrison.

Composer Harrison and choreographer Carol Beals collaborated on the dance piece “Waterfront—1934,” which debuted in 1935 in the boxing ring of the Longshoremen's San Francisco headquarters.   For more information check out Leta E. Miller and Fredric Lieberman's book, Composing a World: Lou Harrison, Musical Wayfarer (2004).


Woody Guthrie

E4. “Long John the Longshoreman” (n.d.) Explore the Woody Guthrie Archives.







“The Ballad of Harry Bridges” (1942)



E5. “The Ballad of Harry Bridges” (1942) Read the lyrics.







E6. Listen to Arlo Guthrie sing the ballad and reminisce about its creation by Lee Hays, Millard Lampbell, and Pete Seeger.


E7. Read Grif Fariello's “The Life and Times of Harry Bridges (1901 - 1990)”

“Popeye the Sailor Man” (1931)

E8. “Popeye the Sailor Man,” by Leon Flatow and Alfred B. Koppell, introduced by Rudee Vallee, 1931.   See the Sam deVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, ca. 1790-1987, Smithsonian Institute.

“I'm one tough gazookus
Which hates all palookas
Wot ain't on the up and square…”





E9. “I'm Popeye, the Sailor Man” (1934). Read the lyrics and listen to the tune of Sammy Lerner's 1934 version.

When artists at Max Fleischer Studios struck in 1937, they picketed singing, “We're Popeye the Union Man…”


E10. Read articles on Popeye, “Comics' First Super Hero” who helped popularize the term “goon.”

“Popeye the Sailor Man” (1931),10987,758219,00.html