One Tin Soldier

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"One Tin Soldier" is a 1960s era anti-war song written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter. The Canadian pop group Original Caste first recorded the song in 1969. The track went to No. 6 on the RPM Magazine charts and hit the No.1 position on Canada's most influential radio chain, CHUM-AM, in Canada and reached Number 34 on the American pop charts in early 1970. A 1972 remake by Skeeter Davis had light success on the American country charts but did very well in Canada, peaking at number 4 on the Canadian country chart and #2 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart. The song has occasionally been sung by children choirs on and around Remembrance Day.

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Lyrics synopsis

"One Tin Soldier" tells the abstract story of a hidden treasure and two neighboring peoples, the Mountain People and the Valley People. The Valley People are aware of a treasure on the mountain, buried under a stone; they send a message to the Mountain People demanding it. When told they can share the treasure, the Valley People instead decided to take it all by force. After killing all the Mountain People, the victors move the stone and find only a simple message: "Peace on Earth".

Interpretations

The song is a parable condemning prejudice and greed. The refrain contains lines about hating one's neighbor and cheating one's friend, indicating that despite trying to justify things like hatred and violence to oneself, it is wrong all the same.

The lyrics of the chorus mention Biblical concepts such as Heaven, Judgment Day (Last Judgment), and justification, leading many to believe that the song had Judaic and Christian origins. Specifically, it contains a notable line about using religion ("Do it in the name of Heaven") as an excuse for prejudice or violence, indicating that doing so will not necessarily be viewed as righteous by God when facing the Last Judgment.

Other recordings

"One Tin Soldier" was recorded by Skeeter Davis in 1972, earning her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Country Vocal and major chart success in Canada. An animated version of the song, sung by singing duo Sonny & Cher, was created by animator John David Wilson for The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

Comedienne Roseanne Barr parodied the song on her 1990 album I Enjoy Being a Girl.

The song has been covered by other groups, including Gimp, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and Killdozer. Actress Brittany Murphy, in character as Luanne Platter, sang the song on the King of the Hill soundtrack. This song was also covered by Voices for Peace, a band consisting of a group of voice actors including Greg Ayres and Tiffany Grant.

The progressive bluegrass band Bluegrass Alliance, fronted by mandolin player Sam Bush and guitarist Tony Rice, also covered the song at bluegrass festivals in the early 1970s, as seen in a YouTube video from a 1971 festival.

The Billy Jack connection

Jinx Dawson of the band Coven sang the song at a 1971 session with the film's orchestra as part of the soundtrack for the Warner Brothers movie Billy Jack. Jinx asked that her band, Coven, be listed on the recording and film, not her name as a solo artist. This Warner release, titled as "One Tin Soldier: The Legend of Billy Jack," reached #26 on Billboard's Hot 100 in fall 1971, only to be pulled from the charts by the Billy Jack film producers as it was moving up due to legal squabbles over the rights to the recording.

The full Coven band then reluctantly re-recorded the song for their MGM album. Thus the MGM album containing a second version of this song displayed their whited-out faces on the cover, contrived again by the film's producer Tom Laughlin. The recording then hit the charts again in both 1973 and 1974 after the end of the Vietnam War but before the release of the film The Trial of Billy Jack. The Coven recording was named Number One All Time Requested Song in 1971 and 1973 by the American Radio Broadcasters Association. A slightly different version recorded by Guy Chandler (titled "One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)") charted in summer 1973.

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