With the season of lists upon us, and a time when favorite Christmas songs begin to creep out from just about everywhere, it's interesting to point out those rarities/oddities that don't treat the most wonderful time of year with the traditional yuletide cheer. Among the many songs that shouldn't be overlooked is a rare Phil Ochs
track, "No Christmas in Kentucky." The song made its first appearance on a compilation released by Rhino in 1987, A Toast to Those Who Are Gone
, for which Sean Penn
(who at the time was supposedly writing a screenplay in which he would portray the singer in a biopic) wrote the liner notes. Recorded in the early '60s, the song reflects, specifically, the hardships that plagued coalminers in West Virginia and tackled workers rights in general. Like all of Ochs pre-Pleasures of the Harbor
material, the presentation is vocals and acoustic guitar straight out of the Woody Guthrie
tradition. Considering the song's content, you'd expect it to be played as a dirge instead of at a brisk medium tempo.
Even though it was recorded four decades ago, you can definitely hear artists such as Billy Bragg
, Steve Earle
, or Kristin Hersh
performing it in a modern context in response to the Sago Mine disaster of 2006. Ochs also wrote a similar song about miners, "Hazard, Kentucky," which is available on The Broadside Tapes 1
on Smithsonian Folkways.