Sam Stone (song)

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"Sam Stone"
Song by John Prine
from the album John Prine
Released July 1971
Recorded American Recording Studios, Memphis, Tennessee
Genre Folk
Length 4:14
Label Atlantic
Songwriter(s) John Prine
Producer(s) Arif Mardin
John Prine track listing
"Hello in There"
"Sam Stone"

"Sam Stone" is a song written by John Prine about a drug-addicted veteran with a Purple Heart and his death by overdose. It appeared on Prine's eponymous 1971 debut album. The song was originally titled "Great Society Conflict Veteran's Blues".[1]

The most familiar refrain in the song is "There's a hole in daddy's arm, where all the money goes."

The song is usually interpreted as a reference to the phenomenon of heroin or morphine addiction among Vietnam war veterans. (An identical surge of addiction followed the Civil War, where morphine addiction was known as 'Soldiers Disease'). The song does not mention the Vietnam War, saying only that Sam returned from "serving in the conflict overseas." There is a single explicit reference to morphine but Prine alludes to heroin on several occasions including the use of the term "habit," slang commonly associated with heroin use, and the line "he popped his last balloon," very likely referring to one of the ways in which street heroin is commonly packaged – in small rubber balloons.[2]

Cover versions[edit]

The song has been interpreted by numerous artists, including Swamp Dogg, Al Kooper, and Laura Cantrell, among others.[3] Johnny Cash covered the song in a live concert, changing the line "Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose" to "Daddy must have hurt a lot back then, I suppose", and later "Daddy must have suffered a lot back then, I suppose".[4]

Mentions in Print[edit]

Time magazine July 24, 1972 [1][dead link]

"Sam Stone" ranked eighth in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of the ten saddest songs of all time.[5]

Allusions to "Sam Stone" in other songs[edit]

Parts of the melody of "Sam Stone" were used by Roger Waters in the opening of "The Post War Dream," a song on Pink Floyd's 1983 album The Final Cut. The song is indirectly referenced in "Cop Shoot Cop...", which closes Spiritualized's 1997 album, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space – the lyrics "There's a hole in my arm where all the money goes/Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose," are almost identical to the memorable refrain of "Sam Stone."

Other Recordings[edit]

See also[edit]

"Soldier's Joy", a traditional song from the American Civil War with a similar theme, about morphine and opium. The chorus runs "25 cents for the whiskey, 15 cents for the beer/25 cents for the morphine, gonna get me out of here."


  1. ^ Laurin Penland (November 18, 2011). "John Prine: A Look Back At One Man's War". NPR Music. Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Special Investigations Heroin". Archived from the original on August 14, 2011. Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Five Good Covers: Sam Stone (John Prine)". Retrieved January 24, 2018. 
  4. ^ "Johnny Cash singing Sam Stone". Retrieved June 13, 2017. 
  5. ^ Andy Greene. "Readers' Poll: The 10 Saddest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 4, 2014.