No lie: Trouble’ Round the Corner was inspired by close to an even balance of a photograph, a rhythm I had on my mind, and learning something new. Here’s how this song came to be.
For whatever reason, I wanted to use a Bo Didley-esque, punchy strum on a new song. (It didn’t turn out to be exactly the Bo Didley rhythm – nice tutorial on YouTube – but that’s OK, it was an inspiration rather than the destination.)
Messing around with chords and lyrics that seemed to fit got me as far as what you’ll hear in the first twelve or so seconds:
There’s trouble ‘round the corner, There’s trouble down the street— And you probably ain’t still breathing If you ain’t feeling the heat
And that was that. I had no idea what ought to come next.
Then I came across this photo.
Title: Strike pickets, New York, New York
Creator(s): Rothstein, Arthur, 1915-1985, photographer
Date Created/Published: 1937 Dec.
Part of: Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)
Now I started to know. I was struck by two things. “Help us” hit me as a human-to-human request. This was hammered home by her direct gaze into the camera.
And the “please.” Please–like it’s for real, it’s serious.
And then I learned something. I suppose I “kinda sorta” knew that what I would describe as a “striker” or “someone with a picket sign” could be described as a “picket.” But “strike pickets” struck as learning something knew. The people could be “pickets.”
“Make yourself a picket” — to “help us win” had to be in the song.
And the song had to be all about a personal appeal to respond to the threats the pickets faced. This led to the motif of using specific names; verse one came first:
There’s trouble ‘round the corner, There’s trouble down the street— And you probably ain’t still breathing If you ain’t feeling the heat So notify your neighbors Be they Molly, Moe, or Mike— They’re busing in the Pinkertons To break our Local’s strike
Things came together really fast from there. The narrative flow was : there’s trouble coming; it’s based on willful deception; by banding together we can fight back against a stacked deck.
I had the idea of a musical “clarion call” in mind alongside the verbal ask for help. The harmonica starting at 0:37 was exactly the second take of trying to capture “standing at the ramparts, bugling–only with a mouth harp.”
Give it a listen and let me know what you think.
There’s trouble ‘round the corner, There’s trouble down the street— And you probably ain’t still breathing If you ain’t feeling the heat So notify your neighbors Be they Molly, Moe, or Mike— They’re busing in the Pinkertons To break our Local’s strike They say the Reds are getting violent And it’s time for it to stop— But the “Commie with a gun” Was an undercover cop So help us get the word To every Sally, Sam, and Sue— They say the workers started trouble But we know it isn’t true We know there’s trouble round the corner ‘Cause the governor’s in the tank For the foremen at the factory And the fat cats at the bank So make yourself a picket Every Johnny, Jane, and Jack ‘Cause we ain’t got guns or money-- But we’ll have each others’ back