I Hung My Head

Sting (Cover by Johnny Cash)

Learn in three simple steps:


Listen to the song
Enjoy listening to the music using the video below. Make a mental note of any interesting words or parts, but don't worry if you can't understand yet. No video? Watch on YouTube.


Play the explanation
Grab a hot drink and relax. I'll explain each line of the song for you. Use the explanations to understand the song lyrics, but don't worry about knowing every word that I use to explain. For an extra challenge listen without the transcript.


[Clickable Transcript]

Hello everybody! My name is Ki and today I'll be explaining the song I Hung My Head by Sting, also performed by Johnny Cash.

Most of you have probably heard of Sting, but this song, I Hung My Head, is not one of his most famous songs. However, that doesn't mean it's not good. In fact, it's an excellent song.

One of the things I want to do with this project is share with you, not only the biggest hits and classic songs, but also music which I really love, which I feel is special in some way. That way, you can discover and fall in love with new music or even new artists depending on your age group and background. You know, we have this tendency to stick with the music that we knew growing up. A lot of us reach this point where we stop listening or stop expanding our musical tastes and horizons. So, another goal of this project is to make connections between the generations, between all the music, because in the end it is all connected.

So, back to the song. It's written in a narrative format. Sting is telling us a story and because of that it's all in the past tense. This particular story is written in the style of the American country tradition. That might be one of the reasons that Johnny Cash covered the song, or made his own version of the song. A lot of Johnny Cash's music is in that country music tradition. In this song, we're going to see a lot of vocabulary and imagery which makes you think of a western film. You know, cowboys and horses and guns. It really takes you back to a different time period. The story begins with the line:


[Verse 1]
Early one morning with time to kill
I borrowed Jeb's rifle and sat on the hill
I saw a lone rider crossing the plain
I drew a bead on him to practice my aim
My brother's rifle went off in my hand
A shot rang out across the land
The horse he kept running, the rider was dead
I hung my head, I hung my head

[Verse 2]
I set off running to wake from the dream
And my brother's rifle went into the stream
I kept on running into the salt lands
And that's where they found me, my head in my hands
The sheriff he asked me, "Why had I run?"
Then it came to me just what I had done
And all for no reason, just one piece of lead
I hung my head, I hung my head

[Verse 3]
Here in the courthouse, the whole town is there
I see the judge high up in his chair
"Explain to the courtroom what went through your mind
And we'll ask the jury what verdict they find"
"I said I felt the power of death over life
I orphaned his children, I widowed his wife
I beg their forgiveness, I wish I was dead"
I hung my head, I hung my head

[Verse 4]
Early one morning with time to kill
I see the gallows up on the hill
And out in the distance a trick of the brain
I see a lone rider crossing the plain
He's come to fetch me to see what they done
And we'll ride together till Kingdom come
I pray for God's mercy, for soon I'll be dead
I hung my head, I hung my head

You know, I don’t have a lot of fears in my life, but one thing that does actually scare me is the possibility of hurting someone or killing someone by accident. It just seems like a terrible fate to have to live with that -- knowing that you caused other people so much pain, so much suffering, and that there really isn’t anything you can do to make it better. I do think that it could happen to any of us, but I certainly pray that it never happens to any of you -- or to me.

Sometimes we don’t know why things happen the way that they do in our lives. And sometimes we never find out until much later on. I do personally believe that everything happens for a reason though and that one of our main duties in life is to learn from whatever comes up in our lives.

You now have two versions to listen to: You can listen to the Sting version, which is the original. And then there’s also the Johnny Cash cover. I was introduced to the song through Johnny Cash. I got used to the way he played and sang the song, and I really preferred his version for a long time. But now, the more that I listen to Sting’s version the more that I find myself leaning towards that one. So, that’s my question for you. Which version do you think is better? Which one would you vote for and why? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Finally, if you like this type of narrative song check out “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. There’s a full explanation of that song on my Discover the 1960s album at explainedinenglish.com. Okay, that’s it for now. Until next week’s explanation. Bye bye!



Well done!
You just learned a great song and improved your English at the same time. Now, listen to both versions and let me know which one is your favorite.

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