The continuing popularity of the “Prisoners Song” in the country repertory is easy to
understand — some of the most dramatic and poignant lyrics written over the years fall
into this category — but its origins remain a puzzle. Some scholars explain it as an
outgrowth of the common prison theme in many native American folk ballads, others see
it as a commentary on the disproportionate number of people… who did time behind bars,
whereas a few treat it merely as a commercial formula that began with the great hillbilly
hit, “The Prisoner’s Song,” itself a reworking of older folk fragments…. Whatever the folk
influence on the composed, commercial songs of the country tradition, it is certain that a
term in jail, especially for vagrancy, was not uncommon (and little to be ashamed of) for
countless men during the Golden Age of country music.
Oh, I wish I had someone to love me,
Someone to call me their own.
Oh, I wish I had someone to live with
‘Cause I’m tired of livin’ alone.
Oh, please meet me tonight in the moonlight,
Please meet me tonight all alone,
For I have a sad story to tell you,
It’s a story that’s never been told.
I’ll be carried to the new jail tomorrow,
Leaving my poor darling alone,
With the cold prison bars all around me
And my head on a pillow of stone.
Now I have a grand ship on the ocean,
All mounted with silver and gold,
And before my poor darlin’ would suffer,
Oh, that ship would be anchored and sold.
Now if I had the wings of an angel
Over these prison walls I would fly,
And I’d fly to the arms of my poor darlin’,
And there I’d be willing to die