Charley on the MTA

Melody - "The Ship That Never Returned"

1. Let me tell you the story
Of a man named Charley
On a tragic and fateful day
He put ten cents in his pocket,
Kissed his wife and family
Went to ride on the MTA

Charley handed in his dime
At the Kendall Square Station
And he changed for Jamaica Plain
When he got there the conductor told him,
"One more nickel."
Charley could not get off that train.

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.

2. Now all night long
Charley rides through the tunnels
Saying, "What will become of me?
How can I afford to see
My sister in Chelsea
Or my cousin in Roxbury?"

Charley's wife goes down
To the Scollay Square station
Every day at quarter past two
And through the open window
She hands Charley a sandwich
As the train comes rumblin' through.

3. As his train rolled on
Through Greater Boston
Charlie looked around and sighed,
"Well, I'm sore and disgusted
And I'm absolutely busted;
I guess this is my last long ride."

Now you citizens of Boston,
Don't you think it's a scandal
That the people have to pay and pay
Vote for Walter A. O'Brien
And fight the fare increase
Get poor Charley off the MTA.

Or else he'll never return,
No he'll never return
And his fate will be unlearned
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man (Who's the man)
He's the man (Oh, the man)
He's the man who never returned.

The text written in 1949 by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes as a campaign song for Walter A. O'Brien, the Progressive Party candidate in Boston's mayoral election. Seven songs were written for the O'Brien mayoral campaign by Lomax, Steiner and some other musicians. They all used well-known folk tunes. One recording was made of each song, and they were broadcast from a sound truck that drove around the streets of Boston. This earned O'Brien a $10 fine for disturbing the peace.
Will Holt recorded the number as a pop song for Coral after hearing an impromptu performance of the tune in a San Fancsico coffee house by a member of the group who actually did the 1949 recordings. The record company was astounded by a deluge of protests from Boston because the song made a hero out of a local "radical". The record was hastily withdrawn and a new version recorded which eliminated O'Brien's claim to musical fame. In the later Kingston Trio release, Walter A. was changed to George to avoid advertising Commies on the air. During McCarthyism and the Red Scare in the 1950s, anyone associated with the "Progressive Party" was considered a Communist, however O'Brien was never on the Communist Party ticket. Walter A. O'Brien moved back to his home state of Maine in 1957 and became a school librarian and a bookstore owner. He died in July of 1998.

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