Bob Miller, one of country music's most prolific and imaginative songwriters, discovered a mother lode in 1930 when he wrote this song. Its instant and overwhelming success inspired a long chain of related answer songs which formed a veritable saga. These included, among others, "The Answer To Twenty-One Years, " "New Answer To Twenty-One Years, " "Woman's Answer To Twenty-One Years, " "After Twenty-One Years, " "The End Of Twenty-One Years, " "Last Of The Twenty-One Year Prisoner, " and, finally, "The Twenty-One Year Prisoner Is Dead. " Many of these were successful, and all enjoyed the same tune.
Dorothy Horstman, Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, New York, 1976, p. 302
ORIGINAL LYRICS as reprinted in Dorothy
Horstman, Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, New York, 1976,
The judge said "Stand up, boy, and dry up your tears,
You're sentenced to prison for twenty-one years. "
So kiss me goodbye, love, and say you'll be mine,
For twenty-one years, love, is a mighty long time.
O hear that train blow, love, she'll be here on time
To take me to prison, to serve out my time.
So look down that railroad far as you can see
And keep right on waving your farewell to me.
The steam from the whistle, the smoke from the stack,
I know you'll be true love, until I get back.
So hold up your head, babe, and dry up your eyes,
Best friends must part, so won't you and I.
Go beg the governor, babe, on your sweet soul,
If you can't get a pardon, try and get a parole.
If I had the governor where the governor's got me,
Before sunrise tomorrow, the governor'd be free.
I've counted the days, love, I've counted the nights,
I've counted the minutes, I've counted the lights,
I've counted the footsteps, I've counted the stars,
I've counted a million of these prison bars.
I've counted on you, babe, to give me a break.
I guess you forgot, love, I'm here for your sake.
You know who's guilty, you know it so well,
But I'll rot in prison, before I will tell.
Come all you young fellows with hearts brave and true,
Don't believe any woman you'd meet if you do,
Don't trust any woman, no matter what kind,
For twenty-one years, boys, is a mighty long time.