Abraham, Martin and John
|"Abraham, Martin and John"|
|Single by Dion|
|from the album Dion|
|B-side||"Daddy Rollin' (In Your Arms)"|
|Recorded||Allegro Sound Studios; Engineer Bruce Staple|
"Abraham, Martin and John" is a 1968 song written by Dick Holler and first recorded by Dion. It is a tribute to the memory of four assassinated Americans, all icons of social change, namely Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. It was written in response to the assassinations of King and the younger Kennedy in April and June 1968.
Each of the first three verses features one of the men named in the song's title, for example:
- Anybody here, seen my old friend Abraham -
- Can you tell me where he's gone?
- He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good die young
- But I just looked around and he's gone.
After a bridge, the fourth and final verse mentions Robert "Bobby" Kennedy, and ends with a description of him walking over a hill with the other three men.
The original version, recorded by Dion, featured a gentle folk rock production from Phil Gernhard and arrangement from John Abbott. The feeling of the song is set with a gentle oboe and violin opening then featuring harp flourishes at multiple points, including the instrumental conclusion. The song also features a flugelhorn, an electric organ, bass, and drums. Dion felt during post production that the song needed more depth and added a track featuring him playing classical guitar notably at the bridge, lead ins and the close.
Quite unlike the ethnic rock sound that Dion had become famous for in the early 1960s, and even more unlike Holler and Gernhard's previous collaboration the 1966 novelty smash "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron", "Abraham, Martin and John" nonetheless was a major American hit single in late 1968, reaching #4 on the U.S. pop singles chart, being awarded an RIAA gold record for selling a million copies. In Canada, it topped the charts, reaching #1 in the RPM 100 on November 25, 1968. In 2001 this recording would be ranked number 248 on the RIAA's Songs of the Century list. The record was also popular with adult listeners, reaching #8 on Billboard's Easy Listening survey. the personnel on the original recording included Vinnie Bell and Ralph Casale on guitar, Nick DeCaro on organ and David Robinson on drums
Later recordings and performances
In April 1969 Andy Williams, a close friend of Robert Kennedy recorded a version on his album Happy Heart, and sang the song on his show over a year after Robert Kennedy's death. Other famous late-1960s versions were recorded by Motown's Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (whose cover also became an American Top 40 single in 1969, reaching #33) and Marvin Gaye (whose cover became a top-ten hit (#9) in the United Kingdom in 1970). Gaye's version was never released in the U.S. as a single but was featured on his 1970 album, That's the Way Love Is, and was one of his first experiments with social messages in his music which would culminate in his legendary 1971 album, What's Going On.
In addition, comedian Moms Mabley performed a version that hit the U.S. Top 40, reaching #35 in 1969 and earning her the distinction of being the oldest living person to appear on a Hot 100 top 40 hit, a record that still stands. This version was featured on the soundtrack of Brazilian soap opera Beto Rockfeller (1968–1969). Harry Belafonte recorded the song for his 1970 album Belafonte by Request. Soul singer Wilson Pickett recorded a version of the song in 1970 titled "Cole, Cooke and Redding" in which the lyrics were changed to pay tribute to deceased performers Nat "King" Cole, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. In 1970, Leonard Nimoy covered a version of this song in his album The New World of Leonard Nimoy.
During a 1981 tour, Bob Dylan sang the song in concert.
Subsequently, various artists have performed or recorded their renditions of the song, including the likes of Bon Jovi and Emmylou Harris, who performed it as part of a medley with the Nanci Griffith song "It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go" on her 1992 At the Ryman concert recording. Marillion have played the song in acoustic and electric versions; one such hybrid performance can be heard on their 1999 Unplugged at the Walls album.
The Norwegian band Aunt Mary had their commercial break in 1971 with the single "Jimi, Janis And Brian", which used the song with references to the deceased Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones.
As part of medleys
The song is also featured on Tom Clay's 1971 "What the World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin, and John", a medley combining Dion's recording with Jackie DeShannon's recording of Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now Is Love", along with vocals by The Blackberries. Clay's recording features narration (an adult asking a child to define several words associated with social unrest), sound bites from speeches given by President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., along with sound bites from the live press coverage of Robert Kennedy's assassination, and his eulogy by his brother Edward M. Kennedy. It reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on August 14, 1971. In 1997, Whitney Houston sang a rendition of "Abraham, Martin and John" that aired on VH1 and HBO: Whitney Houston: Live Washington DC.
- Library and Archives Canada. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/rpm/028020-119.01-e.php?brws_s=1&file_num=nlc008388.5820&type=1&interval=24&PHPSESSID=2m9b0g4md1ugdlbq4vtt0o7rq6
- "Tori Amos Song Summary". Toriset.org. Retrieved 2011-08-23.
- Collins, Ace. Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource, 2003. ISBN 0060513047
"Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf
|Canadian RPM 100 number-one single
November 25, 1968 (one week)
"Love Child" by Diana Ross & the Supremes
- Abraham Martin and John - by Dion
- Abraham Martin and John - by Andy Williams
- Abraham Martin and John - by The Miracles
- Abraham Martin and John - by Marvin Gaye
- Abraham Martin and John - by Moms Mabley
- Abraham Martin and John - by Harry Belafonte
- Abraham Martin and John - by Ray Charles
- Abraham Martin and John - by Emmylou Harris
- Abraham Martin and John - by Whitney Houston
- Abraham Martin and John - by Bon Jovi