The production and consumption of energy is deeply embedded in American popular culture. Inspired by this history of labor and commerce, songwriters have reflected on the social and environmental transformations and conflicts brought by new technologies and energy sources. While some songs, such as Woody Guthrie’s “Grand Coulee Dam” or the Five Stars “Atom Bomb Baby,” celebrate the promise of new energy technologies, others, such as Hazel Dickens’  “Black Lung” or Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” explore the darker side of worker exploitation and environmental degradation.

The sampling of songs below are particularly well suited to classroom use and discussion.  More extensive musical compilations also are listed below.

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Loretta Lynn, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” 1970. lyrics

John Prine, “Paradise,” 1971. lyrics

Hazel Dickens, “Yablonski Murder,” lyrics.

Hazel Dickens, “Black Lung,” lyrics.

Hazel Dickens, “Fire in the Hole,” lyrics.

Merle Travis, “Sixteen Tons,” Sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955, lyrics.

Merle Travis, “Dark as a Dungeon,” sung by Johnny Cash, lyrics.

Johnny Cash, “Loading Coal,” lyrics by Merle Travis.

Tyler Childers, “Coal,” 2011, lyrics.

Vern’s Pot O’ Chili, “Jesus Was a Coalminer,” 2006.


Elton Britt, “Uranium Fever,” 1955. lyrics

Five Stars, “Atom Bomb Baby,” 1957.  lyrics

Sir Lancelot, “Atomic Energy,” 1947. lyrics

Sheldon Allman, “Radioactive Mama,” 1960. lyrics

Loy Clingman, “(Those Ole) Uranium Blues,” 1955. lyrics

Tom Lehrer, “The Wild West is Where I Want to Be,” lyrics.


Johnny Cash, “Roughneck

Jerry Reid, “Crude Oil Blues

Randy Newman, “Burn On,” lyrics


Woody Guthrie, “Grand Coulee Dam,”  lyrics

Woody Guthrie, “Roll on Columbia,” lyrics

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “TVA,” lyrics

The Everybody Fields, “TVA,” 2006.


Woody Guthrie, “End of the Line,” lyrics

Schoolhouse Rock, “Electricity, Electricity,” 1979.


Woody Guthrie, “Car Song,” lyrics

Kingston Trio, “MTA Song,” lyrics

Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi,lyrics

Pete Seeger, “Erie Canal,” lyrics

Malvina Reynolds, “Cement Octopus” 1964.  lyrics


Marvin Gaye, “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” 1968

Compilations and Song Lists: 

Tina Adcock, “Automobilities playlist,” Youtube

Leif Fredrickson, “Environment Songs,” Spotify

Tyler Priest, “Oil Songs,” Spotify