In the Pines
|"In the Pines"|
"In the Pines", also known as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" and "Black Girl", is a traditional American folk song which dates back to at least the 1870s, and is believed to be Southern Appalachian in origin. The identity of the song's author is unknown, but it has been recorded by many artists in numerous genres. Traditionally, it is most often associated with the American folk and blues musician Lead Belly, who recorded several versions in the 1940s, as well as the American bluegrass musician Bill Monroe, who helped popularize the song (in a different variant, featuring lyrics about a train) among bluegrass and country audiences with his versions recorded in the 1940s and 1950s.
The song, performed by The Four Pennies, reached the UK top twenty in 1964. A live rendering by the American alternative rock band Nirvana, which reinterpreted Lead Belly's version and was recorded during their MTV Unplugged performance in 1993, helped introduce the song to a new generation.
Like numerous other folk songs, "In the Pines" was passed on from one generation and locale to the next by word of mouth. The first printed version of the song, compiled by Cecil Sharp, appeared in 1917, and comprised just four lines and a melody. The lines are:
Black girl, black girl, don't lie to me
Where did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shines
And shivered when the cold wind blows
In 1925, a version of the song was recorded onto phonograph cylinder by a folk collector. This was the first documentation of "The Longest Train" variant of the song, which includes a verse about "The longest train I ever saw". This verse probably began as a separate song that later merged into "In the Pines". Lyrics in some versions about "Joe Brown's coal mine" and "the Georgia line" may refer to Joseph E. Brown, a former Governor of Georgia, who famously leased convicts to operate coal mines in the 1870s. While early renditions which mention the head in the "driver's wheel" make clear that the decapitation was caused by the train, some later versions would omit the reference to the train and reattribute the cause. As music historian Norm Cohen pointed out in his 1981 book, Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong, the song came to consist of three frequent elements: a chorus about "in the pines", a verse about "the longest train" and a verse about a decapitation, but not all elements are present in all versions.
Starting in 1926, commercial recordings of the song were made by various folk and bluegrass bands. In her 1970 Ph.D. dissertation, Judith McCulloh (1935-2014) found 160 permutations of the song. As well as rearrangement of the three frequent elements, the person who goes into the pines, or who is decapitated, is described as a man, woman, adolescent, husband, wife, or parent, while the pines can be seen as representing sexuality, death, or loneliness. The train is described as killing a loved one, as taking one's beloved away, or as leaving an itinerant worker far from home.
In variants in which the song describes a confrontation, the person being challenged is always a woman. The folk version by the Kossoy Sisters asks, "Little girl, little girl, where'd you stay last night? Not even your mother knows." The reply to the question, "Where did you get that dress/ And those shoes that are so fine?" from one version is, "From a man in the mines/Who sleeps in the pines." The theme of a woman being caught doing something she should not is thus also common to many variants. One variant, performed in the early twentieth century by the Ellison clan (Ora Ellison, deceased) in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, tells of a young Georgia girl who flees to the pines after being raped. Her rapist, a male soldier, is later beheaded by the train.
Some versions of the song also reference the Great Depression, with the "black girl" being a hobo on the move from the police, who witnesses the murder of her father while train-jumping. She hides from this by sleeping in the pines, in the cold.
Bill Monroe's 1941 and 1952 recordings, both under the title "In the Pines", were highly influential on later bluegrass and country versions. Recorded with his Bluegrass Boys and featuring fiddles and yodelling, they represent the "longest train" variant of the song, and omit any reference to a decapitation. However, as Eric Weisbard writes in a 1994 article in The New York Times, "...the enigmatic train is almost as frightening, suggesting an eternal passage: 'I asked my captain for the time of day/He said he throwed his watch away.'"
Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a. Lead Belly, recorded over half-a-dozen versions between 1944 and 1948, most often under the title, "Black Girl" or "Black Gal". His first rendition, for Musicraft Records in New York City in February 1944, is arguably his most familiar. Listed as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night", this version appears on a number of Lead Belly "best-of" compilations, such as Absolutely the Best (2000).
Another familiar version was recorded for Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records, in New York City. Listed as "Black Girl" or "In the Pines", this version appears on compilations such as Where Did You Sleep Last Night – Lead Belly Legacy Vol. 1 (1996), and The Definitive Lead Belly (2008).
Lead Belly is often said to be the author of the song, e.g. by Nirvana on their MTV Unplugged album in 1994. However, Lead Belly didn't write the song, but reinterpreted it, as did other musicians before and after him. According to the American folklorist Alan Lomax, Lead Belly learned the song from someone's interpretation of the 1917 version compiled by Cecil Sharp, and by the 1925 phonograph recording.
"In the Pines", converted into the Cajun French language and sung under the titles "Pine Grove Blues" or "Ma Negresse", became one of the landmark songs of Cajun music. The song is most associated with Nathan Abshire, the Louisiana Cajun accordion player, for whom "Pine Grove Blues" was his biggest hit. His melody is a hard-driving blues, but the lyrics, when translated to English, are the familiar "Hey, my girl, where did you sleep last night?" The Cajun French word "negresse" and the masculine counterpart "negre" are terms of endearment without regard to race. He recorded it at least three times, from the 1940s onward. Since then, Abshire's version has been covered by a wide variety of Cajun and zydeco musicians, including the Pine Leaf Boys, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, Beau Jocque, and Cedric Watson.
The Four Pennies
|"Where Did You Sleep Last Night"|
"Where Did You Sleep Last Night" cover
|Song by Nirvana from the album MTV Unplugged in New York|
|Released||1 November 1994|
|Recorded||November 18, 1993 at Sony Music Studios in New York City|
|Producer(s)||Alex Coletti, Scott Litt, Nirvana|
|MTV Unplugged in New York track listing|
Nirvana occasionally performed the song during the early 1990s. Singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain was introduced to the song by fellow Seattle musician Mark Lanegan, and played guitar on a version on Lanegan's 1990 album, The Winding Sheet. Like Lanegan, Cobain usually screamed its final verse.
It is likely that Cobain referenced Lead Belly's 1944 Musicraft version for his interpretation of the song; this is the version Lanegan owned an original 78 rpm of, and the one Cobain's version most closely resembles, in lyrics, form and title. In a 2009 MTV article, Kurt Loder remembers discussing the song's title with Cobain, with Cobain insisting, "But the Leadbelly version is called 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night,'" and Loder preferring the "In the Pines" title used by Bill Monroe (as well as Lead Belly).
Cobain earned critical acclaim for his acoustic performance of the song during Nirvana's MTV Unplugged appearance in 1993. Canadian musician Neil Young described Cobain's vocals during the final screamed verse as "Unearthly, like a werewolf, unbelievable." This version was originally sanctioned to be released as a b-side to the band's "Pennyroyal Tea" single in 1994, but the single was cancelled following Cobain's death in April 1994. It was posthumously released on the band's MTV Unplugged in New York album in November 1994, and as a promotional single from the album. In 2002 the song featured as a bonus track on Nirvana's "best of" compilation album Nirvana. A solo Cobain home demo, recorded in 1990, appears on the band's 2004 rarities box set, With the Lights Out.
- Nirvana's chart positions
|French Airplay Chart||62|
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2016) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)|
- Dock Walsh recorded the first known commercial version April 17, 1926 (Columbia mastered W142031-1; released on 15094-D, September 20, 1926).
- Darby and Tarlton recorded the song in 1927 as Lonesome In The Pines, and reworked it as Lonesome Railroad in 1928.
- Roscoe Holcomb recorded a version, available on The High Lonesome Sound.
- The Louvin Brothers' version appears on the 1956 album, Tragic Songs of Life.
- Pete Seeger's version of "Black Girl" appears on the 2002 Smithsonian Folkways re-release of recordings from the 1950s and 1960s entitled American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 1.
- Josh White's version of "Black Girl" appears on his 1955 album, 25th Anniversary: The Story of John Henry, A Musical Narrative. Another version appears on New York to London (2002).
- Dave Van Ronk's version appears on The Folkway Years 1959–1961.
- The New Christy Minstrels recorded a version for their 1961 Columbia Records debut album.
- Joan Baez's version appears on Very Early Joan, which includes performances from 1961 and 1963.
- Fred Gerlach's version, titled "Little Girl", appears on his album Twelve-String Guitar, released on Folkways Records in 1962.
- Doc Watson often performed the song, and a live recording exists, dating from the 1960s.
- Marianne Faithfull recorded a version of the song for her 1965 album Come My Way.
- Tiny Tim's version is the B-side of his single "April Showers", in 1966.
- Grateful Dead recorded the song on July 17, 1966. It appears on their 2001 box set, The Golden Road.
- Jerry Reed recorded a version on Jerry Reed Explores Guitar Country, released in 1969.
- Long John Baldry's "Black Girl", a duet with Maggie Bell, appears on his 1971 album It Ain't Easy. A rendition also appears on Long John Baldry Trio-Live (1999).
- Link Wray recorded two versions titled "Georgia Pines" and "In the Pines" on his 1973 folk rock release Beans and Fatback.
- Gene Clark recorded the song for his 1977 album Two Sides to Every Story.
- Charlie Feathers recorded a version in the 1980s in Memphis.
- The Oak Ridge Boys recorded "In the Pines" on their 1983 album, Deliver.
- Dolly Parton's version appears on her 1994 album Heartsongs: Live from Home.
- Odetta recorded the song for her 2001 Lead Belly tribute album, Looking for a Home – Thanks to Leadbelly.
- R. Crumb performed the song in Hamburg, Germany in 2003. The only known release is on R. Crumb's Music Sampler, included with the R. Crumb Handbook.
- (Smog)'s version appears on his 2005 album A River Ain't Too Much to Love.
- Ralph Stanley and Jimmy Martin's version appears on their album First Time Together, released in 2005.
- Jack Rose's version appears on his 2010 EP Ragged and Right.
- Laura Gibson's version appears as a b-side on her single La Grande
- Loretta Lynn on the album Full Circle.
- Kid Cudi and Dot da Genius, known collectively as WZRD, recorded a rendition on their eponymous 2012 album.
In popular culture
- Danzy Senna titled her memoir "Where Did You Sleep Last Night? A Personal History" after this song in memory of her paternal grandmother.
- In 2007, Czech-American writer-singer Natálie Kocábová used a strophe of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" for the opening of her novella Růže: Cesta za světlem... ("Rose: A Way to the Light").
- A version of the song is used in the trailer for American Gods.
In video games
- A rendition by Jared Emerson-Johnson and Janel Drewis is played during the closing credits of The Walking Dead: Season Two - Episode 2: A House Divided released in 2014.
- Weisbard, Eric (November 13, 1994). "A Simple Song That Lives Beyond Time". The New York Times.
- Cohen, Norm (2000). Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong (2 ed.). p. 459. ISBN 978-0-252-06881-2.
- McCulloh, Judith Marie (1970), In the Pines: The Melodic-Textual Identity of an American Lyric Folksong Cluster (Ph.D. dissertation, Folklore), Indiana University
- Seida, Linda. "The Four Pennies – Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
- "The Four Pennies – Discover music, videos, concerts, stats, & pictures at". Last.fm. March 22, 2012. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
- Kurt Loder (April 8, 2009). "Nirvana's Kurt Cobain: Still Missed". MTV.com. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
- "Nirvana's Tense, Brilliant Unplugged in New York, 20 Years Later". The Atlantic. December 12, 2013. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
- Nirvana - Where Did You Sleep Last Night Discogs.com. Retrieved March 1, 2014.
- "InfoDisc : Accès direct à ces Artistes (The user must select "Nirvana" from the dropdown list)". Infodisc.fr. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
- "Laura Gibson - La Grande b/w In the Pines". Discogs.
- Horáková, Hana (August 15, 2010). "Cesta Natálie Kocáb". VašeLiteratura (in Czech). VašeLiteratura. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
- /. "Telltale Games". Telltalegames.bandcamp.com. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
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