Little Boxes ~ Pete Seeger

Folk singer Malvina Reynolds wrote Little Boxes and Pete Seeger made it famous.

Little Boxes

[flv]http://djallyn.org/media/Pete_Seeger-Little_Boxes.flv[/flv]

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes
Little boxes
Little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same
And the people in the houses all go to the university
And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers
And business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same
And they all play on the golf course and drink their martini dry
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university
And they all get put in boxes, and they all come out the same
And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same
There’s a green one, and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same

Here is the original version as performed by Malvina Reynolds in 1967: (1123)

About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

7 thoughts on “Little Boxes ~ Pete Seeger

  1. hi

    I heard this song “little boxes” on a Seeger PBS special…thanks for posting. As I heard him singing it, I found the tone of it infuriating and wanted to hear it again so that I might make some sense out of it and see if I was wrong. I wasn’t.

    Let me get this straight….living in “boxes”, (that is houses made with dimensional lumber and conventional plans), going to school, getting a career is so very tiresome, pedestrian, and conformist? Is that what he’s saying?

    Sorry pete, Not all people can get paid for singing folk songs. Someone’s got to earn a living so they can buy your records…and make pledges to PBS

    And what alternatives does he propose in his song? Are there any? I suppose there are things like caves and yurts and other forms of temporary shelter available. But Pete himself has a pretty nice house and a good chunk of land (I saw his place on the PBS special…he’s got enough trees to make maple syrup!) So is he saying that we should all have bigger houses out in the woods? No. He is an environmentalist….he would decry the damage done to the environment by masses of people moving out into the woods. I think he imagines us living in big boxes in the city while he enjoys his gentrified life out in the country.

    I get it pete! Little Boxes. How you despise your fellow man’s footprint on the earth.

  2. Let me get this straight….living in “boxes”, (that is houses made with dimensional lumber and conventional plans), going to school, getting a career is so very tiresome, pedestrian, and conformist? Is that what he’s saying?

    I don’t know if you are old enough to remember the post-WW II / cold war defense contractor communities that sprung up around a lot of desert towns in Washington, California, Nevada, and elsewhere. The houses were all cookie-cutter houses, the father went to work at the same job as his neighbor, the wife took care of the house and gossiped with the neighbor wives, the kids went to the same school, etc.

    Everyone was almost exactly like their neighbors — you could just about interchange any of them and you probably wouldn’t notice.

    THAT is what the song is about.

    Sorry pete, Not all people can get paid for singing folk songs. Someone’s got to earn a living so they can buy your records…and make pledges to PBS

    Unlike today’s musicians, who insist on being paid millions of dollars to perform, artists like Seager, Woody and Arlo Guthrie, and many of the other American Folk artists of that period performed for their dinner, if not just for the hell of it. They weren’t in it for the money — there wasn’t any to speak of. They were making a statement with their music — chronicalling the times and human experiences.

    And what alternatives does he propose in his song? Are there any?

    I think you were missing the point. There doesn’t HAVE to be a solution, or alternative, because he wasn’t complaining. He was making an observation about a segment of the American experience — the conformist, if you will — and making a musical statement about it.

    You really don’t have to read all that other stuff into it. YOU are the one doing that.

  3. I’m not old enough to remember the building of the cookie cutter houses….but I do know of them. As I understand it, a lot of these places like Levitown were aimed to give returning GIs an opportunity to buy a house and start a family. The sameness made for cheaper and more affordable housing for people at that time. A number of trends came together to produce these types of developments.

    I don’t think its just me reading into it. This is more than a mere observation of the American experience. Consider the words: “Golf course” , “Martini dry”, “business” , “executive” “Doctor” “Lawyer” “University” ….these words were loaded words among the 60′s radicals; they represented the lifestyle of “The establishment”, the people over 30 who were not to be trusted.

    Consider also the music: brilliantly paired with the words…I would admit. The music says of the houses and lifestyles of the people it describes: “BORING! This is so very boring; so old hat; so staid; unoriginal, and uncreative!”

    This song was most certainly sung with a sneer(or perhaps simply an air of superiority) in the direction of the people who lived in “boxes”, metaphorical or otherwise. The customs and mores of the WW II generation were the real subject of this song.

    And then the generation of the 60′s came along and said “We’re going to be different!” They we’re going to live “outside of the box”. And so they tore at the fabric of the status quo. They introduced and promoted so-called free love and the drug culture (things over which our country is still reeling) . They tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. They became nonconformists…..but in their nonconformity they conformed! They dressed alike, cut their hair alike, thought alike, and spoke alike. They left one box only to climb into another.

    Pete needs to update the song. He needs to sing about the “little boxes” of our day. Consider political correctness which is the direct descendant of the 60′s revolution he helped spawn. See how Hillary cannot say anything about Obama without being labeled a racist. See Obama cannot say anything about Hillary without being labeled a sexist! Boxes anyone?

    That was kind of my point I think (“I think” because my reaction was visceral, at first) . Pete’s song expressed the boredom and perhaps also the tyranny of living in boxes, but those who rejected that and took the lead and led our country out of it’s boxes have simply put us into new boxes which are just as confining.

  4. Ah, but Mike, we are more diverse today. You now have more choices available to you. You can choose to live and think inside the box — or not. If you become bored with one, you can always do the other.

    You act as if the sixties destroyed something in this country. Tradition? Our traditional identity? What was that?

    I grew up with Depression Era parents, who remembered the “Roaring Twenties” and the crash of ’29. I have a fairly good knowledge of history through them — as people who not only lived through the times, but also served in government for almost sixty years.

    Every generation comes along and proclaims that they “are going to be different”, and in their difference they all become the same. They don’t shed off the new, they find a way to merge the old with the new. The generation of the sixties called it a social “revolution”, but in reality it only turned out ot be a social evolution.

    The reality is, the biggest sellouts in history turned out to be the sixties generation. Those things that they eschewed in the sixties, they turned around and embraced with a tenacity in the 1980s.

    Pete doesn’t need to update the song because it isn’t a song of today, it was a song of yesterday, of a particular era that has long left us.

    That is the fun of some of the old songs. They don’t have to mean anything today, but they give a little glimpse of the past.

    Here is a 1964 Time Magazine story about how Malvina Reynolds came to write the song:

    Tacky into the Wind

    Little boxes on the hillside

    Little boxes made of ticky tacky

    All the same

    This simple lyric, laminated to a catching tune, is on Billboard’s list of the “Hot 100″ singles, comfortably ahead of Tell Me Baby and catching up with Young and in Love. What it is doing in that league is anybody’s guess. Its theme is not love, but development housing.

    Blue, green, pink and yellow, the endless little boxes are inhabited by people, the song explains, who have gone to college and now have pretty children who go to summer camp and will soon go on to the university, then into little boxes of their own:

    And there’s doctors, and there’s lawyers,

    And business executives

    And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

    And they all look just the same.

    Overalls to Ban-the-Bomb. The song was written in the front seat of an automobile, while Songwriter Malvina Reynolds was ticktacktooling along down San Francisco’s Skyline Boulevard. At the moment of inspiration, tract houses were pressing in on the road from all sides. Two hours later, she had finished music and lyrics and was performing the song before an audience that liked it so much they laughed all the way back to their boxes.

    Malvina Reynolds, 63, wife of a retired carpenter, has been writing new folk songs for about 15 years. She has a Ph.D. in literature from the University of California in Berkeley, where her thesis was about a medieval folk tale. Her first songs were sung by Pete Seeger and the group that evolved into The Weavers, and she has been supplying the folk-singing boom ever since.

    Some of her work, like Bury Me in My Overalls, has become so charcoal-mellowed familiar that it is assumed to be true folk music. And of course she is a liberal and a ban-the-bomber. She wrote What Have They Done to the Rain, which Joan Baez and Pete Seeger have made into an international elegy.

    “Ticky-Tacky Students.” A handsome, grey-haired woman with hazel eyes, Malvina Reynolds says she prefers to make her points quietly. “Lashing out is self-defeating,” she explains. “It raises hackles.” For all that, there are probably a lot of vertical hackles in the housing developments along Skyline Boulevard. Mrs. Reynolds herself lives in an apartment. “Conformity is not a really dreadful thing,” she says, “but it’s fun to prod it a little.”

    The phrase that prods is ticky tacky. This is the essence of the lyric, and it has multiplied virally all over the country. A Harvard professor at a recent conference struck a blow at “students made out of ticky tacky.” Actress Rita Gam used the words ticky tacky at least 100 times at a Manhattan dinner party last week. A realty firm in Berkeley has a blurb claiming that it sells “distinguished houses, not ticky tacky.” After hearing the song, a professor at the University of Miami said: “I’ve been lecturing my classes about middleclass conformity for a whole semester. Here’s a song that says it all in 1½ minutes.”

    You are reading way too much into it.

  5. Yeah,

    Your point is well taken. Thanks for finding the article from Time. It appears, as you wrote earlier, that it wasn’t written with all the meaning I ascribed to it. I was seeing plots where there were none. I have now removed the foil helmet!

    I do believe the 60′s did destroy something: Innocence maybe; The concept of family perhaps; respect for older people, most certainly.

    Of course, in the next few years, as baby boomers get old, we will be deluged with all manner of propaganda about how cool it is to be old. We have followed the whims of the 60′s generation my whole life and I grow weary of it. I was taking it out on Pete Seeger, I guess. I actually used to listen to his “Live at Wolf Trap” Album and have always liked Arlo.

    I was born in 60, technically a baby boomer, but I identify more readilly with the so called x-ers.

    It’s been fruitful going back and forth with you. Thanks for your time and effort. Ain’t civilized debate fun?

    Thanks

  6. I do believe the 60’s did destroy something: Innocence maybe; The concept of family perhaps; respect for older people, most certainly.

    You know, every generation thinks that. I remember the fifties fairly well, and it was not the Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best lifestyle. THAT was a Hollywood myth.

    Families were broken even then. The difference was that fathers typically worked away from the home for a week or two at a time “on business”. They went where the work was, and as a kid you were left at home with your mother and siblings.

    Sometimes mother worked also, to try and make ends meet. She might take in laundry or if the kids were old enough, she might take on a real job somewhere.

    The effects of the Depression were still lingering even into the 1950s. There were some serious problems with a stagnant growth that didn’t really get taken care of until JFK came into office. Tax breaks were lowered from 90 percent to 70 percent on the richest Americans, loop holes were closed, and we invested the money that poured into the treasury into Apollo and other defense programs which boosted our economy.

    The LAST thing I want to be talking about on this site is politics. I get enough of that from the other sites I manage.

  7. Love the song then and now. today”s “little boxes” cost much more and are even more cheaply built. When, if ever, will we learn how to build a good quality house for the money….when builing corperations stop been so greedy and un-forsighted.

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