I was led to investigate “Ding Dong Dollar” in our archives because of its connections to my graduate research in folk music at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies under the guidance of the late Hamish Henderson (1919-2002). Henderson is considered by many to be the “father" of the Scottish folk revival. Based at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies for much of his working life, his influence as a poet, writer, folklorist, collector, singer, songwriter, and activist is monumental, both in Scotland and beyond.
I spoke to many singers who came up through the folk revival in Glasgow in the 1950s and 1960s. Many interviews and conversations helped me piece together an anecdotal history of the Ding Dong Dollar songs, which had their roots in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or C.N.D. which was founded in 1958.
The anti Polaris songs were published in several
editions as a booklet entitled Ding Dong Dollar by the Glasgow Song Guild, which was, in fact, Morris Blythman and his singers. The booklets were sold for 6 pence and were widely distributed at demonstrations and rallies where the songs were sung.
Moses Asch first wrote to Blythman in November, 1961 to ask about the possibility of putting out a recording of the Ding Dong Dollar songs. It was through the interest and suggestion of Pete Seeger, who had heard and liked the songs in his Scottish travels, that Asch put forth the query. Thus began several months of collaboration between Morris Blythman and Hamish Henderson to prepare the content for the Folkways recording.
In January 1962, Henderson wrote to Moses Asch, saying that some new recordings of the songs were en route to Folkways, and he comments: “The more we read of the present political and cultural set-up in the USA, the more admiration we feel for your willingness to publish a DING DONG DOLLAR disc.”
In early March, 1962, Blythman wrote to Asch summarizing the various materials provided by himself and Henderson for the recording. The recording came out in April, 1962.
One of the hallmarks of the recording is the anonymity of the credits. Both Blythman and Henderson wanted it that way because of the popular, group-created nature of the songs. Henderson wrote the liner notes, and one of his now best known songs, "The Freedom Come All Ye", was recorded for the first time on the Ding Dong Dollar album, with no attribution to him.
Over the years, I have run into other people who were involved with the Ding Dong Dollar songs, and are very proud of the role the songs played in the anti-nuclear/ pro-peace movement. The songs are bitingly funny, and though they are cultural artifacts of the early 1960s protest movement in Scotland, they still resonate today.
Stephanie Smith, Visual Materials Archivist
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections