The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #157245   Message #3709760
Posted By: thnidu
18-May-15 - 02:08 PM
Thread Name: 'forty-seven verses'
Subject: 'forty-seven verses'
How old is the tradition of referring to a long and tedious song or part of a song as "forty-seven verses"?

I happened to be looking at the Wikipedia article on "47 (number)" and saw a section about 47 as an in-joke, a tradition that started at Pomona College in 1964 and infected almost the entire Star Trek franchise. Well, having grown up listening to the Weavers, I instantly remembered some dialogue on "The Weavers at Carnegie Hall" (recorded 1955, released 1957), I think just after they sing "Greensleeves". One of the men asks about the full version and Frank Hayes says

... all forty-seven verses of it, each one more boring than the last.
'I gave thee this, I gave thee that, and yet(st) thou wouldst not love me.'
Then he starts in on a talking blues:
Alas, my love, you do me wrong
To treat me so discourteously
When I have suffered oh, so long,
Delighting in your company.
Greensleeves ... was all my joy.
Greensleeves ... my heart and soul.

I wondered if there's a history behind this that would take it even further back. Wikipedia mentions a connection in Talking blues, but Lyrics wikia shows that to be Frank Hayes as well, in a talking blues parody of "Matty Groves" titled "Like A Lamb To The Slaughter":

In the interests of brevity, I'll omit some of the more disposable parts of the song.
Like the section where they get undressed.
All forty-seven verses of it.
(I'd like to quote more of that parody, but that'd involve more HTML coding and copyright questions, so go read it for yourself!)

When I came here, I found three possible links:

- Several versions of the same song:
Caroline's version of "Tam Lin" has only forty-seven verses, not the fifty-five that Michael Cooney sings.

- Historical basis for Anachie Gordon:
So now it's everybody dead and it's taken us forty-seven verses to get to such an unsatisfying conclusion.

- BS: It ain't folk if ?:
If it ain't got forty seven verses

These are all light-hearted, not literal; obviously the 2nd and 3rd are, and I think the 1st as well. So they're pretty clearly part of the same tradition, but obviously well after Frank Hayes. Does it go back any further than Frank?