Discussion of spectacularly sad songs (like yesterday’s) always brings me around to ‘Goodnight, Irene‘, which I’ve always thought was just a heartbreakingly sad song (thereby fitting in perfectly with my normal roster of covers), and Lead Belly’s 1936 recording remains the gold standard version.
It’s a tune that’s been covered by well, nearly everyone, with the lyrics being changed around to suit whomever was recording it (The Weavers have to win hands down for the most white-bread version), but it remains a timeless tale of woe and heartbreak. To the right (or here for non-embedders) is a clip of Leadbelly’s version. Skip ahead to 1:40 mark to go directly to the tune.
If you’re not already familiar with the life of Lead Belly, aka Hudy William Ledbetter, take a minute to read through that (sadly incomplete) Wikipedia entry. The man had an astounding life, and his impact on popular music is nearly limitless.
There’s only the merest nibble of actual footage of Lead Belly, in the form of this 9 minute clip (entitled ‘3 Songs from Leadbelly’) from shortly before his death in 1949.
For more ‘Goodnight, Irene’ action, keep on reading.