The Riddle Song
"The Riddle Song," also known as "I Gave My Love a Cherry" is an English folk song, apparently a lullaby, which was carried by settlers to the American Appalachians. It descends from a 5th-century English song in which a maiden says she is advised to unite with her lover. It is related to Child Ballad no. 1, or "Riddles Wisely Expounded" and Child Ballad no. 46, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship"  It is no. 330 in the Roud Folk Song Index. Burl Ives recorded it on 11 February 1941 for his debut album, Okeh Presents the Wayfaring Stranger. Since then, it has been recorded by many artists, including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Sam Cooke, Shelby Flint, The Meters, and Carly Simon.
The song was featured in the famous toga party scene in the movie National Lampoon's Animal House, where John Belushi's character Bluto comes across a folk singer (portrayed by singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop, who is credited as "Charming Guy With Guitar") performing the song for a group of college girls. Bluto abruptly takes the singer's acoustic guitar out of his hands and smashes it, then hands a splintered piece of it back, saying "Sorry." Bishop told Songfacts that he and the film's musical director Kenny Vance came up with the idea for his folk singer character to perform "Cherry." "It seemed like the right song to do in the scene," he said. The song was also featured in the children's CD, the Song of the Unicorn. It only used two of the verses, and they were changed around a little bit.
One version of the Riddle Song:
"I gave my love a cherry without a stone
I gave my love a chicken without a bone
I gave my love a ring that had no end
I gave my love a baby with no crying
How can there be a cherry that has no stone?
How can there be a chicken that has no bone?
How can there be a ring that has no end?
How can there be a baby with no crying?
A cherry when it's blooming it has no stone
A chicken when it's pipping, it has no bone
A ring while it's rolling, it has no end
A baby when it's sleeping, has no crying"
The song's "cherry that has no stone" goes back to the 15th-century version's "the cherye with-outyn ony ston." Some have seen it as a reference to the hymen, and some have even tried to reconstruct an original bawdy version from which modern versions are supposedly bowdlerized. However, the relevant slang sense of "cherry" is not attested till the early 20th century. The other riddles in the original do not resemble the "reconstructions."
Despite the popularity of the title "The Riddle Song", it is merely one of a multitude of riddle songs; the format is common through folk music.
One version of the Riddle Song.
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- The Riddle song, on Traditional Songs from England site
- Digital Tradition Folk Music Database: Appalachian version
- Digital Tradition Folk Music Database: Medieval version
- Niles, John Jacob (1960). The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-486-22716-2.
- Thread at Mudcat discussions
- Naxos: Link
- iTunes: Music Store
- "I Gave My Love a Cherry". Songfacts.com. Retrieved 2010-02-01.
- New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary