January 20, 1956 – the number one song across the land was ‘Sixteen Tons’ by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
The little tune about a coal miner spent ten weeks at the top of the Country charts before making its way into the mainstream, where it spent another eight weeks at the top of the Pop charts. The song was originally written and recorded ten years earlier by Merle Travis in 1946, but Ford’s version became the definitive one.
Since then, ‘Sixteen Tons’ has been covered by more than 20 different artists, including Rock versions, Soul versions, Spanish versions, Punk versions, and a cappella versions. The Clash borrowed the song, and played it as the introduction to all of their shows on ‘The 16 Tons Tour’ in 1980. Currently, the song is featured in the Broadway play ‘Million Dollar Quartet’.
Ford continued recording steadily for another 20 years, and enjoyed substantial success, but he was never able to match the level of his signature song again. Although, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1990 for his lifetime contributions to music.