Rosie, the Number 7 song in the Top Ten and the highest placed song from Trust, is credited on the album as a traditional American song and is co-arranged by Alfie himself. Song archivist Alan Lomax came across the song in 1947 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary’s Parchman work camp and went on to record a group of prisoners at one of the 15 work camps in existence at the time. Remarkably, youtube has a clip of this:
Chain gang music is not necessarily about the literal interpretation of the lyrics; the melody and the opportunity to release aggression are just as important. Rhythm is especially necessary to help productivity and teamwork in what must have been back breaking physical activity and makes the music of the chain gangs instantly recognisable.
Listening to Alfie’s version (the video below was shared by Annie Lloyd at the Royal Festival Hall in December 2013), the emotional intensity and the rawness of his voice are the things that first hit you. The rhythm drives the track and the meaning of the lyrics is almost not worth worrying about. Alfie Boe’s Rosie is an almost visceral song – it grabs you by the throat and forces you to listen. This is a song in which movement is very much a part of the listening experience.
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I love this song and the way Alfie introduces us to so many different types of music. Excellent research x
BRAVO! I loved reading the history behind the song. I especially enjoyed listening to the chain gang sing Rosie. Great research and thank you for your write up.