Count your ribs and say your prayers and get to sleep …
“Across 110th Street,” Bobby Womack
“Common People,” Pulp
“Hard Knock Life,” Jay Z
“Hard Times,” Bob Dylan
“Hard Times,” Eastmountainsouth
“Hard Times,” Emmylou Harris
“Hard Times,” The Lost Dogs
“Hard Times,” Mavis Staples
“Hole in the Bucket,” Spearhead
“Homeless,” Paul Simon
“How Can a Poor Man Face Such Times and Live?” David Lindley & Hani Naser
“How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” Bruce Springsteen
“Hungry Heart,” Bruce Springsteen
“Hungry Like the Wolf,” Duran Duran
“Kill the Poor,” Dead Kennedys
“Living for the City,” Stevie Wonder
“Lord, Help the Poor & Needy,” Cat Power
“Mr. President (Have Pit on the Working Man),” Randy Newman
“Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man),” Sam Bush
“Mr. Wendal,” Arrested Development
“No Woman No Cry,” Bob Marley
“The Poor House,” The Boxmasters
“Poor Man’s House,” Maura O’Connell
“Poor Man’s House,” Patty Griffin
“Poor Man’s Shangri-La,” Ry Cooder
“Poor Old Tom,” Peter Case
“Stay Hungry,” Talking Heads
“Talking About a Revolution,” Tracy Chapman
“Waiting for the Great Leap Forward,” Billy Bragg
“Working Class Hero,” John Lennon
This list got away from me a bit. I started with songs with the word “poor” in the title, then added words like homeless, hungry, broke, etc. And then it just kind of spiraled into a general songs-about-poverty list, at which point it became hard to know where to stop, because not having enough — not having what you need, let alone what you want — is a pretty huge human theme, and thus a pretty huge theme in songs by humans.
So this list is a lot more arbitrary than the usual words-in-titles theme of this Friday music game. There are a bunch of songs in there that I couldn’t resist including — like “Living for the City,” “Working Class Hero,” “No Woman No Cry,” or “Talking About a Revolution.” But if I’m going to include the latter, then why not also Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” which is also a moving portrait of life in poverty.
But then “Fast Car” is just Chapman’s version of a Springsteen song — it’s “Thunder Road” from Mary’s perspective, or maybe even “Born to Run” from the other side of the river. So if we include that, then about half of Springsteen’s songs belong in the list too, as well as everybody else’s version of a Springsteen song (“Living on a Prayer,” “Don’t Stop Believing,” etc.). Yet I only wound up with one Bruce song in the list — “Hungry Heart,” because it had that word “hungry” in the title, and that song seems less appropriate to the topic than, say, “The Factory,” or “Used Cars,” or “Atlantic City,” or a dozen others.
Like I said, this list kind of got away from me.
The quote at the top is from Patty Griffin’s “Poor Man’s House” (lyrics here), a song that still manages to sneak up on me once in a while for the way it seems to get inside hopelessness and the way that the shamefulness of others gets transferred onto the poor.