There once was a musical troupe
A pickin' singin' folk group
They sang the mountain ballads
And the folk songs of our land

They were long on musical ability
Folks thought they would go far
But political incompatibility led to their downfall

Well, the one on the right was on the left
And the one in the middle was on the right
And the one on the left was in the middle
And the guy in the rear was a Methodist

This musical aggregation toured the entire nation
Singing the traditional ballads
And the folk songs of our land
They performed with great virtuosity
And soon they were the rage
But political animosity prevailed upon the stage

Well, the one on the right was on the left
And the one in the middle was on the right
And the one on the left was in the middle
And the guy in the rear burned his driver's license

Well the curtain had ascended
A hush fell on the crowd
As thousands there were gathered to hear The folk songs of our land
But they took their politics seriously
And that night at the concert hall
As the audience watched deliriously
They had a free-for-all

Well, the one on the right was on the bottom
And the one in the middle was on the top
And the one on the left got a broken arm
And the guy in the rear, said, "Oh dear"

Now this should be a lesson if you plan to start a folk group
Don't go mixin' politics with the folk songs of our land
Just work on harmony and diction
Play your banjo well
And if you have political convictions keep them to yourself

Now, the one on the left works in a bank
And the one in the middle drives a truck
The one on the right's an all-night deejay
And the guy in the rear got drafted


Lyrics submitted by autpaxautbellum37


The One On The Left Is On The Right song meanings
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8 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentThe catchy thing about this lyric that no one seems to have snapped to yet, is that the left right & center wording is ambiguous. Applying political meaning can go either way. "The one on the right is on the left" could mean either that the guy was standing on the right side of the stage and was politically liberal(left), OR that he was politically conservative(right) and was standing on the left of the stage. So you can get many different interpretations depending on how you assign meaning. Its similar to those pictures that show two different images depending on whether you notice the the solids or the voids. This is a very clever semantic puzzle. The only line that's NOT ambiguous in this way, is the guy in the rear. No wonder there are so many differing interpretations in the comments so far.

    Maybe this was intentional...??? You can make the song mean whatever you want it to mean. People who argue politics are arguing two different opinionated views of the same fact, each refusing to see what the other sees.

    I like to interpret the ending of the song in the ironic way: each guy ends up doing the opposite of what one might expect. The one on the left( the liberal) ends up working in a bank, in finance, a solidly conservative job. The one on the right, the conservative, turns into a late-night rock-n-roll radio personality, probably grows his hair long & smokes a lot of weed. The centrist becomes a trucker....whatever that means. Maybe it means sitting on the fence leads nowhere. Except I know truckers listen to a lot of NPR and talk radio, and you never know WHAT their politics might be, they're all over the map. And the guy in the rear - I see him as a kind of pacifist hippie protester - he gets drafted and has to learn to fight beside the ones he protested against.
    solagregon December 11, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is a good light-hearted comentary on divisiveness. It seems even more relevant now than when Johnny first did it.
    jim19617on September 19, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentyeah i like this song, i hate all the politics in music these days.
    Mr_Xon April 18, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is another J.C. written by Shel Silverstein
    who wrote "a boy named sue" and on the cover of rolling stone for dr. hook
    Ether42on June 07, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAre you sure Shel Silverstein wrote it? The album I have and Wikipedia both credit Jack Clement. Anyway, I love this song because the humor in it is very true... people can get incredibly heated over political beliefs. In fact, you can even look at the performance of the "folk group" in the song as politicians at a debate, where as we all know shouting matches can occur, and it always seems like a "free-for-alls" will break out.
    lastoftherockstarson June 03, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI like the song, but I should admit that still the whole thing that it talks about don't sink into my head yet.
    bear_hug20on November 23, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentEven the fates of the members somehow seems appropriate. The one on the right (who was politically on the left) ended up on the bottom, and the one in the middle (who was on the right) was on the top. The one on the left, the centrist, came out the worst of all (he got a broken arm after all). And afterwards, the centrist becomes a bank teller, the right winger becomes a trucker, and the left winger becomes an all-night DJ. And the guy in the rear, who never seemed to quite get what was going on, was the one who ended up getting drafted.
    nitroglycolon July 28, 2011   Link
  • -1
    General CommentAs usual, several people have f**ked up interpretations, among other relevant facts, such as the song writer. Allow me to elaborate. Jack Clement wrote the song. The one on the right ended up being a bank tell, which makes sense, as he is the conservative one. The one in the middle drove the truck. He has a steady job like a conservative, but is a rebel and free on the road, as a liberal. The one on the left ended up working as an all-night DJ, like drifters often do.

    They were a great folk band, but they fought because of different political views. The three in the front fought, the one in the rear, presumably the drummer, was an idiot. He burned his drivers licence. This is comical, as people were known to burn their draft cards. The drummer, being an idiot, made a mistake.

    The night of the brawl on stage, during the fight, the guy in the rear said "Oh, dear!" Johnny says this in an effeminate voice, the type of voice often associated with being a gay man. The joke here is that the drummer, on top of f**king up and not knowing where he really stands or what to do, is gay, which at the time of this song was a political statement on its own. So not only does he avoid the fight, as an effeminate gay man might be more inclined to do, he reacts to it like a woman, saying, "Oh, dear!"

    The point of the entire song is not that politics and music shouldn't mix. It is that drummers are idiots. Case in point: Ringo Starr, John Bonham, Keith Moon, John Densmore, Mick Fleetwood, Don Henley, and Phil Collins.
    songman3367on January 21, 2012   Link

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