Thursday, February 2, 2012
You may have heard this song sung by Jimmy Dean. He had a #41 hit with the song in June 1962, peaking at #12 on the Adult Contemporary charts. But Jimmy Dean wasn't the first person to record the song. These guys, the Debonairs from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada made the original version, which was a #15 hit in Canada on the 1050 CHUM Toronto Top 50. The song was written by a member of the Debonairs, David Anthony Martins. I actually like this original version better than Jimmy Dean's later recording!
Here's Steel Men by The Debonairs on Raleigh 710 from 1962:
Here's the flip side, Sail Sail:
These songs were also issued by The Debonairs on Southside 1004, but I'm not sure which pressing came out first. The song was covered first by Rod McKuen very shortly afterward on his Mr. Oliver Twist album. Roger Whittaker covered it in May 1962 for release in Europe. Jimmy Dean's version came out after all these others in June 1962.
This folk-calypso song is the story of a major disaster that happened in Vancouver in 1958 and took the lives of eighteen steel workers, along with one first-responder who drowned in the river while trying to save the rest of the 79 men who were thrown into the water and trapped under the twisted steel wreckage.
Vancouver is the third largest Canadian city, behind Toronto and Montreal. The metropolitan area sits right on the border between Canada and the United States. The city of Vancouver is about twenty clicks north of the border at the junction of the Salish Sea and English Bay, an easy sail in from the Pacific Ocean to the west. The area was first settled as Gastown, a logging village, around 1867. As the settlement grew it became known as Granville, and was finally renamed Vancouver in 1886 when it became the western end of Canada's transcontinental railroad.
At the far eastern edge of Vancouver city, just west of the city of Burnaby, Trans-Canada Highway One crosses Vancouver Harbour to North Vancouver. This road sits on the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, named for the disaster that occurred during its construction when it was simply being called the Second Narrows Bridge.
On 17 June 1958 at 3:40 in the afternoon, all Hell broke loose. Most likely due to construction short-cuts and the use of cheaper materials, one span of the construction project suddenly buckled and collapsed, taking down the adjacent span with it. A total of 79 steel workers were thrown into the inlet waters below, some crushed under the heavy steel girders. Some of the men who survived the fall were drowned when held underwater by their heavy tool belts.
The bridge was eventually completed in 1960. In 1994, it was renamed the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in remembrance of the men who died building it.
Here's the Jimmy Dean version of Steel Men on Columbia 42483 from 1962:
There are hundreds of songs from the 1950's and 1960's that were written to commemorate actual events and disasters. You'll hear them all on MusicMaster Oldies. I may be missing some, but I'm always on the lookout for new ones. I haven't added one in a very long time!
Posted by joeknapp at 4:22 PM