Natural Disaster Song List

From: <>
Sent: Friday, December 28, 2001 4:25 PM

Here's a rough edit of the list of natural disaster song list members submitted.  I hope I didn't leave any off.  Floods seem to be the most popular natural disaster to sing about.  Thanks to everyone for their contributions.  Perhaps we should talk to Time-Life about making a compilation CD ;)

Bil Kerrigan

Songs about Floods:

"Louisiana 1927" by Randy Newman

Memphis Minnie's "When the Levee Breaks," recorded with Kansas Joe in 1929
and covered by Led Zeppelin on their fourth album.

Bessie Smith "Backwater Blues"

Johnny Cash's "Five Feet High and Risin'"

Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Texas Flood"

Eddie Coltez " The Flood of '98" about the central Texas flood a few years ago.

I would suggest an old classic about the 1900 hurricane/storm surge in Galveston which goes, I think, by a number of titles -- "The Galveston Flood" and "Wasn't That A Mighty Storm?"  I have a couple of versions, and I think the tune was originally written by folkie Tom Rush back in the 1960s, though he may have based it on a more traditional tune. It can be found on "The Best of Tom Rush" and Tony Rice's "Tony Rice Plays and Sings Bluegrass," as well as Nanci Griffith's "Other Voices, Too" from a couple of years back.

The name of the song relative to the Galveston flood is "Mighty Day." The most available version at the moment may be the one by the Chad Mitchell Trio, which should be in most Borders or similar stores on CD.

The Bottle Rockets' "Get Down, River"

Woody Guthrie wrote a song about a deadly 1934 Los Angeles flood called "Los Angeles New Year's Flood." It's on his Library of Congress Recordings CD.

How about Frank Black's "St. Francis Dam Disaster," on his album, Dog in
the Sand

John Lee Hooker.  Two jump to mind from the mid 90's album Chill Out: the acoustic "Tupelo" re a flood destroying Tupelo, Mississippi and another which may be named "Deep Blue Sea."


Drought/Dust Storms:

Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi," "So Long It's Been Good to Know You," "Dust Storm Disaster," "Talkin' Dust Bowl Blues" and a host of others



Richard Swindell "Cold Missouri Waters" which is on a CD by Cry Cry Cry about the men killed in a flash forest fire near the Missouri River.

George R. Stewart, in Fire, has a memorable song about his fictional firestorm, "Merriam's Mill."



The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.

Spirit of the West's account of the Exxon Valdez incident, "Dirty Pool"



REM  "Cuyahoga" from the Life's Rich Pageant album.

REM's "Fall On Me" (purportedly about acid rain, but possibly an allegory about something totally different): "Buy the sky/And sell the sky/And ask the sky/And ask the sky, don't/Fall on me..."

Randy Newman "Burn On"

Well, if you're going to bring Randy Newman in, how about his take on NON-natural disasters:" ...the Lord can make you tumble, the lord can make you turn, the lord can make you overflow, but the lord can't make you burn."
The song title escapes me now, but it starts "There's a red moon rising, on
the Cuyahoga River, rollin' into Cleveland to the lake...."

Tom Lehrer's song "Pollution" from his That Was the Year the Was album



Mining disasters:

Check out the many songs about mining disasters -- Harlan County, 16 Tons, Dark as a Dungeon, Silicosis Blues,

"Dark as a Dungeon and damp as the dew
where the dangers are many and the pleasures are few;
where the rain never  falls and the sun never shines,
its dark as a dungeon way down in the mine.
There's many a man I have seen in my day
who has lived just to labor his whole life away."

Also, song by Peggy Seeger and Ian McCall, I think it's called the "Great Springfield Mine Disaster" It's a Canadian coal mine explosion, I think.



Dry Branch Fire Squad:  "Oh What A Storm" on their album Tried And True.  It's about the 5 (?) tornadoes that flattened Xenia, Ohio in 1974.

Terry Allen wrote and recorded a song about a 1970 tornado that killed 28 people in West Texas called "The Lubbock Tornado." It includes the memorable couplet (at least for geographers):

"...When a high pressure zone...
Hits a low
Somethin gotta give... yeah somethin
Gotta go"


Bob Dylan's "Black Diamond Bay" on DESIRE is full of natural disasters.  Also maybe more biblical than natural, his song, "High Water" on his most recent CD, LOVE AND THEFT might be worth a listen.

John Tiefenbacher at Southwest Texas did a paper a couple of years ago on blues songs that deal with hazards ( He might send you the list of songs that included references to hazards.

Marvin Gaye's "The Ecology Song/What's Going On?"

"This Old Town," words and music by Janis Ian and Jon Vezner but I know it as
a Nanci Griffith song on her fantastic CD Other Voices, Other Rooms

Tracy Chapman's album New Beginning, and every album by the group World Party.

"Bungalow Bill" by the Beatles if you like commentaries on hunting elephants.

Katie Letcher Lyle, Scalded to Death by the Steam (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991).  "The true stories of railroad diasasters and the songs that were written about them, with words and music to famous railroad ballads."

Dan Fogelberg's "Face the Fire" off of the Phoenix album about Three Mile
Island and the political indifference to the possibility of nuclear accidents.


Bil Kerrigan
(yup, just one "L") email:
Assistant Professor phone: (740) 826-8273
History Department fax:  (740) 826-8357
Muskingum College
New Concord, OH 43762
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