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'forty-seven verses'

18 May 15 - 02:08 PM (#3709760)
Subject: 'forty-seven verses'
From: thnidu

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?


18 May 15 - 02:17 PM (#3709764)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: Lighter

I don't know about "forty-seven," but as far back as 1918 songs like "Mademoiselle from Armentieres" were claimed to have "forty."


18 May 15 - 02:55 PM (#3709775)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: Don Firth

Pedant alert!!

It was Pete Seeger who made the comment on "The Weavers at Carnegie Hall" album about "...each on dumber than the last," then did a verse talking blues style. And there was no Frank Hayes in The Weavers. There was a Lee Hayes though.

Got the record right here on my record shelf.

Don Firth


18 May 15 - 03:06 PM (#3709778)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: Don Firth

The Weavers at Carnegie Hall.

Don Firth


18 May 15 - 03:09 PM (#3709780)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: Steve Gardham

C1880 'The Cruise of The Calabar' on sheet music has the line 'There are but 40 verses so it won't detain yiz long'. Looking at a few versions on broadsides and from oral tradition 40 is also the number given in all of them. Of course it doesn't actually have 40 verses.

Quite possibly some wag just chose that number 47 at random then it caught on and became a cliché.

On the other hand some phd student probably did a survey in the ballad clubs and found that was the mean point in a ballad when most people fell asleep.

As for Tam-lin, Scott's 1833 version has 56 and Peter Buchan not to be outdone has 59. Hmmm! Wonder how many Bert Lloyd had.


18 May 15 - 03:28 PM (#3709783)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: Dave the Gnome

Not sure if it is quite right but Fred Wedlocks 'The Folker' uses something similar

"In Black Velvet Band I clean forgot the forty-seventh verse
So I sand the twenty second, twice as loud and in reverse
And no-one noticed."


18 May 15 - 11:44 PM (#3709866)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: CupOfTea

I always thought it was twenty-'leven verses.
And in this generation, it's 42 that's the key number, cause it's the answer

to life

the universe

and everything.


Joanne whose longest ballad only has 22 verses


19 May 15 - 12:01 AM (#3709870)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: GUEST,Thnidu

Ohhhhhh crud! I crossed the beams.

Of course it was Lee Hay(e?)s. *Frank* Hayes is a filker and famous within filkdom, as I am a filker and slightly known in the same community. (Facepalm)


19 May 15 - 12:04 AM (#3709871)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: GUEST

And yeah, Joanne, of course I know 42. It's my age… in hexadecimal.


19 May 15 - 04:00 AM (#3709905)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: Leadfingers

Dave - Casting nasturtiums on you Gnomism , but when I collected Fred Wedlock's song it referred to Sir Patrick Spens rather than B V B !!


19 May 15 - 05:55 AM (#3709931)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: GUEST,CrazyEddie

Now come all you pleasant fellow-peasants
And listen to my song.
It's got thirty-six verses, and what's much worse is
It's three times as bad as it's long.

(Drumsnot)


19 May 15 - 06:20 AM (#3709938)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: Joe Offer

A forty-seven verse song ain't bad. You can hope for an end in there, somewhere. It's the ones that have eleventy-seven verses, that really bug me...


19 May 15 - 07:33 AM (#3709947)
Subject: RE: 'forty-seven verses'
From: Dave the Gnome

Could well be, Terry - It's the folk process :-)