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Little Boxes by Pete Seeger

I was surprised to listen recently and realize how deep this song went. I missed the point when it came out, but at 14 years old was pretty shallow myself.

Many years later I saw the tract homes covering the hillside south of San Francisco, was immediately reminded of, and began singing the song to myself. I didn’t realize then it was that very scene inspired the song, but it sure did fit.

I embedded the audio track below – essentially the You Tube version without the tracking and advertising.

Wikipedia covers the history of it nicely. I excerpt here. Over there you can read a university professor claiming that the conformity Malvina and Pete were against is actually a good thing. I remain unconvinced.

– Ted –

“Little Boxes” is a song written and composed by Malvina Reynolds in 1962, which became a hit for her friend Pete Seeger in 1963, when he released his cover version.

The song is a social satire about the development of suburbia, and associated conformist middle-class attitudes. It mocks suburban tract housing as “little boxes” of different colors “all made out of ticky-tacky”, and which “all look just the same”. “Ticky-tacky” is a reference to the shoddy material supposedly used in the construction of the houses.

Reynolds was a folk singer-songwriter and political activist in the 1960s and 1970s. Nancy Reynolds, her daughter, explained that her mother wrote the song after seeing the housing developments around Daly City, California, built in the post-war era by Henry Doelger, particularly the neighborhoods of Southern Hills on San Bruno Mountain.

My mother and father were driving South from San Francisco through Daly City when my mom got the idea for the song. She asked my dad to take the wheel, and she wrote it on the way to the gathering in La Honda where she was going to sing for the Friends Committee on Legislation. When Time magazine (I think, maybe Newsweek) wanted a photo of her pointing to the very place, she couldn’t find those houses because so many more had been built around them that the hillsides were totally covered.