Music: The Wild Birds Do Whistle

To the purists, it is not really a folk song if it gets "mechanical reiteration" instead of being passed by mouth from generation to generation. But no American song in many a generation has got as much reiteration in such a short time, mechanical or otherwise, as Sixteen Tons.

It is currently the No. 1 hit on almost every list. It has been called deeply American by some and dangerously radical by others. Where did it come from? Along with its creator, Songwriter Merle Travis, it came out of Kentucky, still a stronghold of...

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