Seven Drunken Nights

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"Seven Drunken Nights"
Single by The Dubliners
B-side "Poor Paddy Works on the Railway"
Released 30 March 1967
Format 7"
Genre Folk, Irish, pop
Length 3:45
Label Major Minor
Producer(s) Tommy Scott
The Dubliners singles chronology
"Nelson's Farewell"
(1966)
"Seven Drunken Nights"
(1967)
"Black Velvet Band"
(1967)

"Seven Drunken Nights" is an Irish version of a humorous folk song most famously performed by The Dubliners. The song (Child 274, Roud 114) is often referred to as "Our Goodman". It tells the story of a gullible drunkard returning night after night to see new evidence of his wife's lover, only to be taken in by increasingly implausible explanations.

According to Roud and Bishop[1]

"This was an immensely widespread song, probably known all over the English-speaking world, with the wording varying considerably but the structure and basic story remaining the same."[2]

In British Popular Ballads John E. Housman observes that "There is much of Chaucer's indomitable gaiety in this ballad. The questions of the jealous husband and the evasions of his wife are treated here in a humorous vein, and there are French ballads of a similar type."

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

The song is first found in a London broadside of the 1760s entitled "The Merry Cuckold and the Kind Wife". The broadside was translated into German, and spread into Hungary and Scandinavia. Unaware of the origin of the German ballad, Child cited it as an analogy. It was also collected in Scotland in the 1770s and was believed to be a Scottish song. Unusually for such a popular and widespread song, it appears in only a few nineteenth century broadsides.[3][4]

Folk tradition[edit]

The structure and bawdy nature of the song allow it to be sung from memory by convivial companies. Among polite audiences only five of the seven nights usually are sung because of the vulgar nature of the final two. Each night is a verse, followed by a chorus, in which the narrator comes home in a drunken state to find evidence of another man having been with his wife, which she explains away, not entirely convincingly. The song also became part of American folk culture, both through Irish-Americans and through the blues tradition.

The Dubliners[edit]

The song passed from oral tradition to a global mass market with The Dubliners recording of "Seven Nights Drunk". The record reached number 7 in the UK charts in 1967 and appeared on Top of the Pops, thanks to its diffusion on Radio Caroline, though it was banned from the national broadcasting station. The song also charted at No.1 in Ireland.[5]

Charts[edit]

Chart (1967) Peak
position
Ireland (IRMA)[6] 1
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[7] 7

Euro Charts #11

[8]

Tracks[edit]

  • Seven Drunken Nights
  • Paddy On The Railway

Lyrics and story[edit]

Nights 1–5[edit]

On the first, night (generally Monday), the narrator sees a strange horse outside the door:

As I went home on Monday night as drunk as drunk could be,
I saw a horse outside the door where my old horse should be.
Well, I called me wife and I said to her: "Will you kindly tell to me
Who owns that horse outside the door where my old horse should be?"

His wife tells him it is merely a sow, a gift from her mother:

"Ah, you're drunk, you're drunk, you silly old fool, still you can not see
That's a lovely sow that me mother sent to me."

In each verse the narrator notices a flaw in each explanation, but seems content to let the matter rest:

Well, it's many a day I've travelled a hundred miles or more,
But a saddle on a sow sure I never saw before.

The next four nights involve a coat (actually a blanket according to the wife, upon which he notices buttons), a pipe (a tin whistle, filled with tobacco), two boots (flower pots, with laces), and finally, this being the last verse often sung, a head peering out from beneath the covers. Again his wife tells him it is a baby boy, leading to the retort "a baby boy with his whiskers on sure I never saw before." Each new item appearing in the house is said to be a gift from the wife's mother.

Nights 6–7[edit]

The final two verses are not often sung, generally considered too raunchy, and due to their rarity several different versions have circulated. Verse six sometimes keeps the same story line, in which two hands appear on the wife's breasts. The wife, giving the least likely explanation yet, tells him that it is merely a nightgown, though the man notices that this nightgown has fingers. In yet another version, the wife remarks that he's seen a hammer in her bed, and his response is that a hammer with a condom on is something he's never seen before. This latter version usually ends day seven with the singer's target of choice in bed, and the husband replies that he's never seen so-and-so with a hard on before. Another version involves a carrot, on which a foreskin had never been seen before. Live versions of Sunday night include the following verse. As I went home on Sunday night as drunk as drunk could be. I saw me wife inside the bed and this she said to me: Then, the song wraps up with a part from "Never on a Sunday."

Another version exists with a slight twist. The man sees a man coming out the door at a little after 3:00, this time the wife saying it was an English tax collector that the Queen sent. The narrator, now wise to what is going on, remarks: "Well, it's many a day I've travelled a hundred miles or more, but an Englishman who can last til three, I've never seen before." While this departs noticeably from the standard cycle, the twist is slightly more clever, and takes a jab at the English (a popular ploy in some Irish songs). As this sort of wraps up the story, it is usually sung as the last verse, be it the sixth or seventh.

Probably the most common version of the seventh verse involves the man seeing a "thing" in her "thing", or in "the bed", where his "thing" should be. Again his wife is ready with an answer. It is a rolling pin. The narrator then remarks, "A rolling pin made out of skin, I never saw before." Another version reuses the tin whistle excuse, upon which the narrator remarks "...hair on a tin whistle sure I never saw before." Other versions claim the "thing" involved is a candle (in which case she doesn't recycle an excuse from an earlier night). The narrator this time remarks that he had never before seen a pair of balls on a candle.

Yet another version of the Sunday night has the even bawdier idea that the husband is interrupting fellatio "I saw a thing (or a yoke) inside her mouth, where my 'aul thing (or yoke) should be", and the wife's reply is suitably muffled, on which the song ends.

Of course, the song leaves much unexplained, such as what happens when the man sobers up, and can tell what the items actually are, or if they're gone, notice their disappearance (particularly in verse five). On the other hand, if the man never sobers up, he never notices. Similarly, it takes quite a drunkard to notice a man's "thing", but not the man himself.

American blues singer Sonny Boy Williamson II recorded a song very similar to this in his original 40 track session at Chess Records. His song was called "Wake up Baby".

There are also vernacular versions of the song among Irish-Americans, with at least one version referred to as "Uncle Mike."

In that version, the wife's reply to the drunkard (Uncle Mike) is: Oh you darn fool, you damn fool, you son-of-a-bitch said she, It only is a milk cow my mother sent to me.

The drunkard's reply to his wife is more similar to the "official" version recorded by The Dubliners and other Irish folk singing groups: Well, there's many times I've travelled, a hundred miles or more, But a saddle on a sow, sure; I've never see before.

Variations such as "Uncle Mike" are common in oral, local cultures. Note how in America the pig became a milk cow, and the distance travelled by the drunkard expands considerably. "Four Nights Drunk" and "Five Nights Drunk" are just two of the many versions of this song (Cray 1999).

Adaptations[edit]

"Four Nights Drunk"[edit]

Another, more up-tempo, version of the song, "Four Nights Drunk" relates the same overall story, albeit abbreviated. The four nights follow the same pattern as the first nights of "Seven Drunken Nights", with a horse and boots appearing, followed by a hat, and then skipping to the strange man, again dismissed as a baby. This song was recorded by Steeleye Span on their album Ten Man Mop, or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again. They use a different air for the song, more precisely a reel named "The Primrose Lasses".

"The drunk cowboy"[edit]

Several translations exist in Russian, the best known one being by Alexander Tkachev, called "The drunk cowboy". It consist of five parts, at the end of each the wife tells the cowboy to go to sleep. The days include a horse (cow, saddled) a hat (chamberpot, from straw), pants (rags, with a zipper), a stranger's head (cabbage with a moustache), and, finally, a baby which doesn't look like the cowboy's (a log, but one which pees).[9]

Recordings[edit]

Album/Single Performer Year Variant Notes
Earl Johnson Vol. 1 1927 Earl Johnson 1927 Three Nights Experience Document DOCD-8005
Anthology of American Folk Music Vol 1. Ballads Coley Jones 1929 Drunkards Special Wife's logic fails to explain strange bedfellow to drunkard[10]
Complete Recordings Blind Lemon Jefferson 1929 Cat Man Blues JSP Record JSP7706. Contains one verse and chorus
Serenade The Mountains: Early Old Time Music On Record Gid Tanner & Riley Puckett 1934 Three Nights Drunk JSP Records JSP7780
Deep River of Song: Black Texicans Percy Ridge 1943 Western Cowboy Rounder CD 1821
Blind Boy Fuller Remastered 1935–1938 Blind Boy Fuller 1936 Cat Man Blues JSP Records JSP7735. Contains one verse and chorus
Cajun Rare & Authentic, Disc D, 1935 – 1939 Jolly Boys of Lafayette 1937 Old Man Crip (Nights 1 & 5) JSP Records JSP77115D
1947–1948 Tom Archia 1948 Cabbage Head Part 1 and Cabbage Head Part 2
Blood, Booze 'N' Bones Ed McCurdy 1956 Four Nights Drunk Elektra – EKL-108
The Folk Songs of Britain, Child Ballads Vol 2 Harry Cox,
Mary Connors,
Colm Keane
1953
1952
1951
Our Goodman Caedmon TC 1146 / Topic 12T 161
Track composed of three fragments from different field recordings
Colm Keane's version is in Irish Gaelic
Traditional Music of Beech Mountain 1 Hattie Presnell 1961 Five Nights Drunk Folk-Legacy FSA 22
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Vol. 1 – Child Ballads Ewan MacColl 1961 Oud Goodman (Our Gudeman, Child 274)
Folk Balladeer John Jacob Niles 1965 Our Goodman or Old Cuckold Compilation LP later reissued as My Precarious Life in the Public Domain.
Essential Collection The Dubliners 1967 Seven Drunken Nights .
Jack Elliott of Birtley, The songs and stories of a Durham miner Jack Elliott 1969 The Blind Fool Recorded in a club. Jack is persuaded by the audience to sing the final verse.
Ten Man Mop, or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again Steeleye Span 1971 Four Nights Drunk Also appears on live albums.
The Voice of the People Vol 13 George Spicer 1972 Coming Home Late
Digital Library of Appalachia Jenes Cottrell 1973 Four Nights Drunk Recorded at the Mountain Heritage Festival in Carter County, Kentucky.
Mrs 'Ardin's Lad Mike Harding 1975 The Drunken Tackler Updated with a Lancashire theme
Goin' Back to New Orleans Dr. John 1992 Cabbage Head
Irish Beer Drinking Favorites The Kilkenny Brothers 1998 Seven Drunken Nights .
Digital Library of Appalachia Sheila K. Adams 1998 Four Nights Drunk Recorded at the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music 10-22-98.
Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight Kristin Hersh 1998 Three Nights Drunk
Going Up the Missouri: Songs & Dance Tunes from Old Fort Osage Jim Krause 1999 Cabbagehead .
The Dickel Brothers Vol 1. Dickel Brothers 1999 Three Nights Experience EMPTY 376
Underneath The Stars Kate Rusby 2003 The Goodman .
The Continuing Tradition, Vol 1: Ballads, A Folk-Legacy Sampler Max Hunter 2004 Five Nights Drunk Folk-Legacy CD75 –
The Birds Upon the Tree and other traditional songs and tunes Alice Francombe 2004 The Old Drunken Man Musical Traditions Records MTCD333
Website Wendy Grossman 2005 Four Nights Drunk Parody.
If Pigs Could Fly Bootless and Unhorsed 2008 Seven Drunken Nights Live recording at the Last Chance Saloon, 1994.
Live on St. Patricks Day The Tossers 2009 Seven Drunken Nights
Deathknot EP Wolfhorde 2010 Seven Drunken Nights Self-released .
Stubbies Assemble! The Stubby Shillelaghs 2011 Seven Drunken Nights Self-released
The Creepy Bard David Anthony 2013 Seven Drunken Nights Released on YouTube

References[edit]

  1. ^ Roud, Steve & Julia Bishop (2012). The New Penguin Book of Folk Songs. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-141-19461-5.
  2. ^ Roud & Bishop p. 450
  3. ^ Roud & Bishop p.451
  4. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, "Our Goodman",
  5. ^ Civic discourse: intercultural, international, and global media, Michael H. Prosser and K. S. Sitaram.
  6. ^ "Chart Track". Irish Singles Chart.
  7. ^ "Archive Chart" UK Singles Chart.
  8. ^ http://www.ukmix.org
  9. ^ http://mp3.music.lib.ru/mp3/a/aleksandr_tkach_petro/aleksandr_tkach_petro-wechno_pxjanyj_kowboj-2.mp3
  10. ^ Smith, Harry (1952) Notes to Anthology of American Folk Music
  • Cray, Ed (1999). The Erotic Muse: AMERICAN BAWDY SONGS (Music in American Life). University of Illinois Press. pp. 11–21, 330.
  • Smyth, G (1994). "Ireland unplugged: the roots of Irish folk/trad. (Con)Fusion." Irish Studies Review 12 (1): 87–97.

External links[edit]