sung by Vernon Dalhart
sung by Stewart Hendrickson

Oh I wish I had someone to love me
Someone to call me her own,
Oh I wish I had someone to live with
For I'm tired of living alone.

Oh please meet me tonight in the moonlight
Please meet me tonight all alone
For I have a sad story to tell you
It's a story that's never been told.

I'll be carried to the new jail tomorrow
Leavin' my poor darlin' alone
With the cold prison bars all around me
And my head on a pillow of stone

Now I have a grand ship on the ocean
All mounted with silver and gold
And before my poor darling would suffer.
Oh that ship would be anchored and sold.

Now if I had wings like an angel
Over these prison walls I would fly.
And I'd fly to the arms of my poor darling
And there I'd be willing to die.

Note: From Vernon Dalhart recording, 1924. This was the flip side of Wreck of the old 97, and Dahlhart made several cover versions for some 30 different labels. This was clearly the single most popular record ---of any type--- produced at the time, with reported sales up in the billions of records being reported. A decade later, Acuff covered it, and sold another million or so. 
'The Prisoner's Song' was recorded in 1924 by Vernon Dalhart whose birth name was Marion Try Slaughter. He had begun a recording career in 1916 as a popular singer and light opera tenor. Most of his early recordings were popular pieces and 'plantation' songs. By 1924, his popularity was on the wane and he decided to dip his toes into the hillbilly market. Although he was from a light opera background, he was able to perform rural songs in a plaintive style that struck a chord in the south. In early 1924, he covered Henry Whitter's recording of 'The Wreck of the Old '97', accompanied by his own harmonica and an Hawaiian guitarist. It was released on Edison and sold well enough to enable him to convince Victor executives to allow him to record it for them. He coupled the Victor recording with a song that supposedly was written by his cousin, Guy Massey – 'The Prisoner's Song'. It was released in Victor's Olde Time folder in October 1924. It went on to sell more than 7 million copies and spark complex court cases. With this record, Victor, a late entrant into the old time or hillbilly market after Okeh, Columbia and Vocalion, was the first to nationalise old time music. The records by Tanner, Macon, Carson etc had had mainly local or regional appeal.
Massey claimed to have written the song and the tune. Bill Malone suggests that Nathaniel Shilkret, Victor's accompanist, added a few words and composed the melody and that the song was actually made up of fragments or floaters that had been in circulation for many years. 'Old Time Music' No 32 of Spring 1979 reprinted a wonderful article on 'The Prisoner's Song' written by Riley Barnes for 'Liberty' magazine in 1926. Barnes was exploring 'the vogue of the doleful ditty'. In part, he wrote:  Magnificent gulping! True it lacks something of the harmonizing syrup of Sweet Adeline and the tenors swung freer, looser, and farther for Bonnie, but for luscious weep and pure pain, it makes sprightly baggages of Nellie Gray, Sweet Alice, Poor Lily Daly, and Maggie, and gives sob for sob to I'm Saddest When I Sing, Bad News from Home, The Baggage Coach Ahead, Kathleen Mavoureen, and Silver Threads Among the Gold … [Massey] died hotly contending that the tune was his, and the words too, although nobody really begrudged him the words. From every section of the country came protestation. The song was old, they said, before Guy Massey was born. Cowboys had keened it to the stars above lonely ranch acres and convicts had blubbered its brief reaches 40 years in the adobe bullpens of Mexico and the stony penitentiaries of New England.

Crime and Prison Songs: “Prisoner’s Song”: For the most part, Massey’s lyrics closely reproduce a nineteenth-century English folksong called “Meet Me By the Moonlight.” The main difference between the two songs is that the Massey’s title announces that the singer is a prisoner, and the song says as much in the third stanza. “Meet Me By the Moonlight,” on the other hand, only reveals that the narrator-singer is a prisoner at the very end of the song. Lyrics

See also "I Wish I Had Someone To Love Me" adapted from the Prisoner's Song.