Merle Travis recorded the original 16 tons in 1946…though he did have a little help with its legacy.

You’re on the Sound Beat.

The lyrics of Sixteen Tons paint a grim picture of a Kentucky coal miner’s life.

Tennessee Ernie Ford took a shine to the song, recording and releasing it as a B-side to “You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry” in October of ‘55. Two months later, it was the greatest selling single of all time.

Travis would express his thanks onstage, frequently changing the last stanza to “I owe my soul to… Tennessee Ernie Ford.”