The Hammer Song (If I Had a Hammer)

Words by Lee Hays; music by Pete Seeger, 1949

What is the message? At the time it was written this song was so controversial that no company would publish it. Why was it controversial? Pete Seeger had this to say: "The message was that we have got tools and we are going to succeed. … We will overcome. I have a hammer."

What are the symbols in this song? Hammer, bell, song. Why do you think these three symbols were chosen? Where else have you seen these symbols used? Seeger called them "tools"—what did he mean?

Who is the "we" that the song speaks for? What kind of "success" might they be looking for? How well did they succeed?

What do the last two lines of the first three verses say they are going to do with these "tools"? Hammer/ring/sing out danger, warning, and love between all of my brothers. What danger do you think they are warning of? How could love help? Why did this song go from being too controversial in 1949 to being a hit song in 1963? What had changed?

"The Hammer Song" performed by Peter, Paul and Mary on Peter, Paul and Mary, Warner Bros. © 1962. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

For more information on Peter, Paul & Mary visit their official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. For the lyrics please consult this online source:

https://genius.com/Peter-paul-and-mary-if-i-had-a-hammer-lyrics

The Hammer Song on the cover of Sing Out Magazine
"The Hammer Song" on the cover of Sing Out magazine.

The Weavers, a quartet featuring Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman, formed in New York in 1949. They have been described as the most important and influential early American folk revivalists, as well as one of the most commercially successful. In the '50s the Weavers were blacklisted because of their radical political ideas. When "The Hammer Song" was composed in 1949 by Seeger with lyrics by Hays, "only 'Commies' used words like 'peace' and 'freedom'," according to Seeger (Dunaway, p. 157). Lack of work combined with anti-leftist violence led the Weavers to disband.

The song premiered at a benefit for Communist Party leaders on trial. The lyrics were considered so controversial that no commercial publisher would touch it. According to Seeger, "The message was that we have got tools and we are going to succeed. This is what a lot of spirituals say. We will overcome. I have a hammer. The last verse didn't say 'But there ain't no hammer, there ain't no bell, there ain't no song but honey, I got you.' We could have said that! The last verse says 'I have a hammer, I have a bell, I have a song,' Here it is. 'It's the hammer of justice, it's the bell of freedom, the song of love'" (Dunaway, p. 157). Although the Weavers could not perform the song in public due to its radical message, it became widely popular in 1962 as recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary.

Design a postage stamp for each of the symbols/ideals in this song.