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Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'

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THE BALLAD OF LADY MONDEGREEN


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Hawker 25 May 01 - 09:44 PM
Art Thieme 26 May 01 - 12:37 AM
marty D 26 May 01 - 11:02 AM
Abby Sale 27 May 01 - 02:15 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 27 May 01 - 03:35 PM
Charley Noble 27 May 01 - 06:57 PM
Abby Sale 28 May 01 - 10:52 AM
Dorrie 03 Jun 01 - 05:04 PM
GUEST,Static Chaos 04 Jun 01 - 01:22 PM
Mr Red 04 Jun 01 - 03:30 PM
Charley Noble 04 Jun 01 - 04:31 PM
Fibula Mattock 05 Jun 01 - 11:02 AM
Jenny S 05 Jun 01 - 12:32 PM
Jenny S 05 Jun 01 - 12:37 PM
Mr Red 05 Jun 01 - 06:04 PM
Rollo 05 Jun 01 - 06:56 PM
Robby 07 Jun 01 - 10:10 AM
Robby 07 Jun 01 - 10:13 AM
KingBrilliant 07 Jun 01 - 10:25 AM
Noreen 07 Jun 01 - 10:38 AM
Robby 07 Jun 01 - 11:38 AM
Murray MacLeod 07 Jun 01 - 07:49 PM
GUEST,Tom Meisenheimer 07 Jun 01 - 10:43 PM
KingBrilliant 08 Jun 01 - 06:20 AM
RangerSteve 08 Jun 01 - 08:45 AM
GUEST,Brian 08 Jun 01 - 09:33 AM
Songster Bob 08 Jun 01 - 02:29 PM
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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Hawker
Date: 25 May 01 - 09:44 PM

What comments would you like? are you asking if the content is politically correct? or are you asking if we like it?
Personally, I think it's a great song! have always loved it, sing it how you like, I'm sure the person who wrote it won't mind! God! if my songs are still being sung regularly after 100 years, I wouldn't care if you cleaned them up, altereds them a little, well, as long as it WAS STILL MY SONG if you get my drift!
Lucy


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Art Thieme
Date: 26 May 01 - 12:37 AM

Lucy, I agree with you---philosophically and actually. In trad music as in nature, there is no right or wrong---no good or evil. We stick our feelings of morality---our value judgments--- on all of it. Sometimes that's good/bad depending on what you think/feel/believe/know to be true or false---right and wrong.

Still, personally, I do hope nobody's attitudes or certitudes get in the the way of me and the life I'm living.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: marty D
Date: 26 May 01 - 11:02 AM

I know it's not a folk song, but when Joan Baez sang "So much Cavalry" instead of "Stoneman's Cavalry" in "The Night They Drove old Dixie Down" I cringed. So did Levon Helm!

marty


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Abby Sale
Date: 27 May 01 - 02:15 PM

Lucy & Art: No, I didn't become myself clear to make. Also, you may (I'm not sure) not have actually read the text I posted of this very well-know and evolved song. I was throwing out the thought that if anyone felt a need to sing the "original" version of a song (and I sometimes do, myself) there can often be an negative surprise at just what the original was. It might be awful, eg. That is, is might be an artsy-fartsy 18th century salon tripe that later folk-processed into something really fine. Or it might contain sentiments you're not entiely sure you want to express. Or it might be better. "Cat" was just an example.


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 27 May 01 - 03:35 PM

Folk song purists are always telling me I'm doing something wrong. For instance, On my CD "Spanning the Decades) There are several tracks where I play all the instruments and do all the singing. The first is "Farewell to Tarwaithe" I used a guitar, steel guitar, 5string banjo and Bass. OH, WHAST A HULLABULOO I got for that one. "It's a Scottish Folk Song, and Scots did not have those instruments when the song was first written

WELL, THEY DO NOW

Furthermore, it is now also an American Folk song. I'm singing the thing, and I'm American. Also, I got something I hadn't planned on. The finished version of this recording has a feeling of a ship sailing over normal ocean swells. This was unexpected. But, that being what it is, this effect was caused by the banjo (with "d-Tuning" pegs") and steel guitar.

MS. MCLEOD:

The Wagoner's Lad and the Housewife's Lament also use this melody. Does this show disrespect for the original composer? They are, all 3, excellent and very expressive songs.

Now then, Here's a bit of departure fom my cntention that more recent versions are usually better. I learned "The Long Black Veil" when I was just a kid and this was before there WAS a Joan Baez or a Johnny Cash. I think that the melody on the chorus of this song,as sung by Joan Baez , and later, Johnny Cash, is rather dreary and un interesting. Everyone seems to sing it this way, but, the older melody (on the chorus) is a lot more interesting and fits the mood of the lyrics far better. Let's see if I can give you an Idea of how it goes. In the key of "G" I'll put the note in parentheses) following each word, and the chord changes following that , like this <>, OK? I hope you can make some sense out of it. and, as I've been saying all along, make up your own mind./

<>She(b) <>walks(A) These (A) Hills (A)In (d) a (D)<>Long (e) black(G)<>Veil(B) vis-(A)its(A)my (B) Grave(A) when(d) the (d) <>Night(E) wind (G) <?>Wails (B)

The rest of the melody is the same as yo9u know it. I hope you can make heads or tails out of this

What I'm trying to say (and very badly at that) is that there are no set rules to this thing. A folk singer should sing whatever he or she likes even if it means making up new lyrics (or tunes) That is within the bounds of accurate terminology.

But, Hey, you might not see it that way. OK. that's fine with me. This is just my point of view I sing them as I like them. So Far, my audiences like the way I do them. (I guess)


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Charley Noble
Date: 27 May 01 - 06:57 PM

So far we don't have the squeaky clean Disney version of the "Cat Came Back." I'm sure the song will endure as long as children continue to respond favorably to this indestructable feline; I think they find it re-assuring that she always survives (too bad about all the other death and mayhem - trainload of passengers - but that's generally off-screen). My mother once did a children's book based on this song, facing many of the same questions that have been raised here as to which version to use, which verses, and which words, and fighting off an editor who was alarmed at what parents would think of the cat being taken up the river in a boat, and the boatman drowning (mother did change the "boy" to a "man"). Maybe I'll post my mother's resulting version. She didn't include the great Cisco Huston verse about the cat being placed in the orange crate on Rt. 66, came a ten ton truck with a twenty ton load, scattered pieces of the orange crate all down the road, BUT the cat came back...


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Abby Sale
Date: 28 May 01 - 10:52 AM

I didn't realize that was Cisco's own. Is the Cape Canaveral one his too?


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Dorrie
Date: 03 Jun 01 - 05:04 PM

Annan Waters- the russian in the clyde waters took willy(or is that billy)from his horse Since i was little i never understood why there was a russian in some water in scotland? Sorry but that always makes me laugh and thought i'd try and make u all laugh dorrie xxx


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: GUEST,Static Chaos
Date: 04 Jun 01 - 01:22 PM

Now, I'm not a singer but it seems to me that one of the major purposes of folk music is to preserve the sentiments and emotions of the past. In order to do that it is probably necessary to change some of the lyrics on occasion because the meaning and pronunciation of words is constantly changing. People of today won't hear some of the older lyrics to mean what they are were intended to mean and the song would lose its power if the lyrics are not altered to preserve meaning.


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Mr Red
Date: 04 Jun 01 - 03:30 PM

Whilst on stewarding duty an agitated Tom Lewis bemoaned about the guy on stage not singing a Stan Rogers song correctly.
Tom should know, says I to meself
however they offender was giving a workshop next day on Stan Rogers songs (more reason for Tom's displeasure)
I declined the w/s as a result however at a later stage the "offender" was telling us he had read the lyrics and listened carefully to Stan's records and they were not consistent
as our "alleged" offender said - "which side of which fence do you sit?"
trad (anon) songs have no definitive versions and the folk process goes on
even my own songs have evolved in my time, particularly the ones (most of 'em) only I sing!


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Charley Noble
Date: 04 Jun 01 - 04:31 PM

Abby, I'm not entirely sure that Cisco wrote the orange crate verse of the Cat Came Back, the Cape Canavral verse, or the one about taking the cat to the place where the meat was ground, dropped him into the hopper when the butcher wasn't around – the cat disappeared with a blood curdling shriek and the town's meat tasted furry for a week but...I have a recording of him singing these verses about 1960 and they are included in his Oak Publication, 900 Miles songbook, but no copyright, only a note that where there is no copyright the songs are adapted and arranged by Cisco Huston. Never ran across anyone else singing these verses any earlier than 1960. There's also a South African version of The Cat Came back by Joseph & Marais.


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Fibula Mattock
Date: 05 Jun 01 - 11:02 AM

This is just a wee addition to the Ralph McTell comment. Wouldn't "yesterday's papers" tell "the-day-before-yesterday's" news? But it doesn't quite scan.


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Jenny S
Date: 05 Jun 01 - 12:32 PM

GUEST,Static Chaos. You took the words out of my mouth!

I always cringe when anyone sings "the pratty pratty flowyers" (sic). Yet I have heard certain respected singers insist that those are the "correct" words.

Me? I would sing "pretty pretty flowers". I don't believe our ancesters sang gobbledygook. They sang words that made sense, in their own dialect. So why should not we?

Jenny


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Jenny S
Date: 05 Jun 01 - 12:37 PM

GUEST,Static Chaos. You took the words out of my mouth!

I always cringe when anyone sings "the pratty pratty flowyers" (sic). Yet I have heard certain respected singers insist that those are the "correct" words.

Me? I would sing "pretty pretty flowers". I don't believe our ancesters sang gobbledygook. They sang words that made sense, in their own dialect. So why should not we?

Jenny


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Mr Red
Date: 05 Jun 01 - 06:04 PM

Stop Press
Yesterdays papers can tell yesterdays news
It depends on exactly when the late edition was printed
then again evening papers have a whole day to be yesterday's papers and still have time to......
er... just call me a logical pedant
it's not just Ralph McTells scansion, the repetition of "Yesterday's" is very effective, echoes the age of the lonely person. The music is so fitting.
Hey, that's why he is such a good songwriter.
those lyrics were ever so right, what would the folk process do to their meaning?
Makes yer think dunnit?


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Rollo
Date: 05 Jun 01 - 06:56 PM

Be glad for every folk song altered while being sung. For that means some caring heart moves it on as good it can. Our Northern-german folk tradition is dead. There are only some well known pieces left. Printed, occasionally sung and otherwise left alone they are just a carcass resting in a museum. They will never, never change again, only be buried deeper in spiderwebs. *sob*


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Robby
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 10:10 AM

I'm sorry I've away from this thread for so long. It is a very interesting discussion. But may I ask a question?

I don't know if "Dublin in the Rare Ould Times", Pete St. John, 1977, would be considered a folk song. I found what I think are all of the verses Click here. However, how would you handle the lines in the third verse about his courting a lass and then:

I lost her to a student chap, with skin as black as coal,
When he took her off to Birmingham, she took away my soul.


In some places these lines might be perceived as racist. Especially since the next verse begins with the line that ...the years have made me bitter. Is the only solution to omit the third verse entirely? Or, would it be acceptable to use the words "his heart was" in place of "with skin"?

I enjoyed the redition of this song by the Irish Tenors in their Belfast concert and had been looking for the lyrics. When I found them at the above site I was troubled by these lines.

Robby


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Robby
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 10:13 AM

My apologies to one and all for that screw up. The entire lyrics can be found at:

http://www.acronet.net/~robokopp/eire/raisedon.htm

Robby


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 10:25 AM

I think I'd make his eyes as black as coal or his hair as black as coal - if I felt the occasion needed the change. Then its still his appearance that is luring the girl.
But then maybe he was a miner with coal ingrained under the skin (by which I don't mean dirty, but I've read that coal would get under the skin and give a permanent pigment irrespective of cleansing habits). So then if that were the case would you still have to make the change? I suppose so - because you'd be being sensitive to what a listener might feel rather than any absolute meaning?

Kris


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Noreen
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 10:38 AM

Robby, you would also have found the lyrics here in the wonderful Digitrad database. I do not see any need at all to change the above words. Just because they refer to the colour of his skin does not mean they are racist. If the song had criticised him because of the colour of hois skin, that would be a different matter.

Noreen


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Robby
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 11:38 AM

Thanks for that link Noreen. I found it interesting that the version in the DT is not identical to that at robokopp, and that the DT version provides no information as to the composer or writer.

Intellectually, I can agree with your observation. However, I have a number of close personal friends, as well as in-laws, who are African-Americans and who would not understand that the reference to the student's skin color was merely descriptive, and not intended to be because or critical of his skin color. So, if they are around when this song is sung, I think I'll adopt one of KB's suggestions.
Robby


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 07:49 PM

Kris, I don't think too many Midlands miners made it to University, and although life is tougher for them than it used to be, I don't think many students are forced to go down the mines either.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: GUEST,Tom Meisenheimer
Date: 07 Jun 01 - 10:43 PM

Well, both my girls had their own versions of songs. Fer instance; Molly was convinced that "there was a bathroom on the right" and Hillary wanted someone (?) to "Stop in the neighborhood" While these don't qualify as folk music they illustrate problems common to thos of us who use old recordings or their "re-masters" for our sources. When I am learning from a live "folk" and I'm confused, I ask what was just sung until I'm sure I know what words were used. I also use writen sources for words but ya gotta be careful for there were (are) some anthologists who change songwords for arcane (and probably nefarious) reasons.

Boy would I like to learn the "real" words to Wildwood Flower! Where's at?


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 08 Jun 01 - 06:20 AM

Oh B*gger. See I knew there'd be a flaw in that theory somewhere. I think those student types should go down the mines though - and up chimneys. That'd learn 'em proper. Hewing the nuggets of wisdom at the University of Life.
Well - OK Murry - I have to give up and admit that it was a really really silly thought. I have loads of those I'm afraid. Never mind :>)

Kris


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: RangerSteve
Date: 08 Jun 01 - 08:45 AM

In the song "The Baltimore Fire" one line goes "Brave firemen struggled with devotion". Charlie Poole, in his southern accent sang it as "farmen". The New Lost City Rambler heard it as "farmers". What were farmers doing putting out a fire in Baltimore? There are plenty of songs about farmers, but darned few about firemen. Let's put the firemen back in the song where they belong. (I was a volunteer fireman at one time, so this is a matter of principal for me). There's also a song called "the Mermaid", where some people sing "the landlord is sleeping down below". It's really "the landlubbers sleeping down below". I guess this mistake is understandable if the person who originally changed it lived pretty far inland and wasn't familiar with nautical terms.


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: GUEST,Brian
Date: 08 Jun 01 - 09:33 AM

I fully agree with Noreen's point regarding 'Rare Old Times'. The line is descriptive not racist. If such a line should be changed in case it may offends somebody, are there any songs left that could be safely sung without heavy handed editing?

Songs from the Napolionic war would be out, in case they offended the French. Similarly, songs about English/Scottish battles. Be careful what Irish content there is in a song (Irish be careful what you say about the English). Most shanties would be out for fear of being critical about the Dutch/Germans/Chinese/Spanish etc. Where would it end?

To quote Murray - RESPECT. Respect a song for being a product of it's time. The sentiments expressed in a song may not concur with 21st century values, but that isn't an excuse to butcher the song. 'Rare Old Times' is nearly 25 years old. Values have changed in those 25 years, and that song, if written today, probibly would be written differently.

Getting back to the original point of this thread. I would probibly be a 1.9. Songs do evolve. Phasing, timing and melody, are all effected by each singer that touches a song, and each time that they sing it. However, reducing a song to, or towards jibberish brings it one time closer to the end of it's life. Eventually somebody will disgard it as meaningless.

In an early post KB said

'- it would be a bit cheeky to change anything if you were singing more formally (I s'pose I mean where people would look to you as an authority sort of).'

I have to disagree on this point. If you are singing to an audience, be it 2000 or 2 people, you are setting youself up as being the authority on the songs you sing. If they want words, or background information, it is you they will ask. Surely it makes sense to show that you are interested in your subject and able to pass on good information, rather than 'buggered propriety.'

Brian


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Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
From: Songster Bob
Date: 08 Jun 01 - 02:29 PM

Much earlier, someone wrote (and I'm sorry I didn't clip who did so):

<< Originally "Ol' 97" said, "It was on that grade that he lost his average," meaning average air pressure in the brake lines. Very, very few people would understand that, so I have no prob staying with "lost his air brakes," even though that isn't original. >>

Actually, the original WAS "air brakes," but the popular version, sung by Vernon Dalhart, who had to learn it from the recording by the original singer*, changed it to "average." So the "change" to "air brakes" is actually reverting to the original.

Of course, music transcribers have a lot to answer for, especially when the artist doesn't care to check the printed lyrics (the opposite of Ralph McTell's problem). To wit, Dylan's words in the songbooks produced by his publisher include "The highway is for gamblers, better use your sins..." when he's clearly saying (somewhat nasally) "... use your sense."

Sigh.

I tend to try to keep to the traditional "sins" when I sing, but often go back to sources instead of parroting the garbled version a trad singer may have come up with. I sing "Wildwood Flower" without the "pale and the leader and the eyes look like blue." And I've been known to sing a song as written even when the PC thing would be to change it ("She was Mex and I was white," from "Border Affair," for example), though I'm careful with audience sensitivities when I do this.

I've even changed songs written by contemporary writers, such as changing "Put to music and sing to you" (in Old Bill Pickett) to "Learn the music and sing to you," since I'm not the one who put to music the lines old Zack Miller wrote (look up the lyric if this is cryptic).

And sometimes mondegreens are hard to get out of your head, even when you don't want to sing 'em that way. From "Hello, Stranger:"

Get up rounder / Than you were when you lay down ... is HARD to keep from singing, even when I know it's wrong!

Sigh.

Bob Clayton

* Anyone remember who that was? My mind is mush today (and why is this day any different, you ask?).


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