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Lily the Pink (song)

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"Lily the Pink"
Single by The Scaffold
from the album L. The P.
ReleasedNovember 1968
GenreMusic hall, comedy rock
LabelParlophone R 5734[1]
Songwriter(s)John Gorman, Mike McGear, Roger McGough[1]
Producer(s)Norrie Paramor[1]
Audio sample
Lily The Pink

"Lily the Pink" is a 1968 song released by the UK comedy group The Scaffold, which reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart. It is a modernisation of an older folk song titled "The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham". The lyrics celebrate the "medicinal compound" invented by Lily the Pink, and humorously chronicle the "efficacious" cures it has brought about, such as inducing morbid obesity to cure a weak appetite, or bringing about a sex change as a remedy for freckles.

The Scaffold version[edit]

The Scaffold's record, released in November 1968, became No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart for the four weeks encompassing the Christmas holidays that year.[1][2]

Backing vocalists on the recording, done at Abbey Road Studios, included Graham Nash (of The Hollies), Elton John (then Reg Dwight), and Tim Rice;[1] while Jack Bruce (of Cream) played the bass guitar.[3][4]

The lyrics[5] include a number of in-jokes. For example, the line "Mr Frears had sticky out ears" refers to film director Stephen Frears, who had worked with The Scaffold early in their careers; while the line "Jennifer Eccles had terrible freckles" refers to the song "Jennifer Eccles" by The Hollies, the band Graham Nash was about to leave.[4]


Chart (1968–1969) Peak
Australia (Go-Set)[6] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[7] 5
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[8] 5
Ireland (IRMA)[9] 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[10] 2
Norway (VG-lista)[11] 8
South Africa (Springbok Radio)[12] 2
UK Singles (OCC)[13] 1
West Germany (Official German Charts)[14] 5

Covers, derivative versions, and similar songs[edit]

In North America The Irish Rovers released the song a few months after The Scaffold's version. It reached #38 in Canada[15] and #113 in the U.S.[16] in early 1969. It also rose to the Top 20 on the Easy Listening charts of both nations. The release from the Rovers' Tales to Warm Your Mind Decca LP became a second-favourite behind "The Unicorn".

The song has since been adopted by the folk community. It has been performed live by the Brobdingnagian Bards and other Celtic-style folk and folk artists.

The song was successfully adapted into French (as "Le sirop typhon") by Richard Anthony in 1969. That version described humorously the devastating effects of a so-called panacée (universal medicine). In Quebec, it was adapted as "Monsieur Bong Bong", and mocked the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968–1969.[citation needed]

In 1968, an Italian version ("La sbornia", the bender) was made by the band I Gufi, describing the effects of drinking alcohol on several humorous, fictional characters.

In 1968, famous Finnish comedy actor Simo Salminen recorded a version in Finnish ("Tenkka-tenkka-poo", "a troubled situation"), which describe misfortunes of the storyteller from primary school to the last judgement.

In 1969, in Catalonia, the musical and humoristic group La Trinca [ca] released a Catalan version entitled "La Trinca".

In 1969, a Danish version ("Lille Fru Flink", "Little Mrs Friendly") was recorded by Grethe Sønck. It's a song about having a drink and feeling good amongst friends.

In February 1969, a Dutch version ("En we drinken tot we zinken", "We drink till we sink") Dutch artist Johnny Hoes entered the Dutch charts (Top 40).

Also in 1969, Swedish musician Lennart Grahn and the band The Shanes recorded a Swedish version entitled "Doktor E. Munk". Similarly to the original version, it chronicles a series of humorous situations arising from people using the titular Dr. Munk's miracle remedy to cure various ailments.

In 1952, Johnny Standley recorded "Grandma's Lye Soap", a song about soap with similarly bizarre ways of curing maladies.

Earlier folk song[edit]

Advertisement for Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, 1880s

The U.S. American folk (or drinking) song on which "Lily the Pink" is based is generally known as "Lydia Pinkham" or "The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham". It has the Roud number 8368.[17] The song was inspired by Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, a well-known herbal-alcoholic patent medicine for women. Supposed to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains, the compound was mass-marketed in the United States from 1876 onwards.

In his Autobiography (1951), William Carlos Williams remembers singing the song when at the University of Pennsylvania with Ezra Pound (1902–03).[18] The song was certainly in existence by the time of the First World War. F. W. Harvey records it being sung in officers' prisoner-of-war camps in Germany, and ascribes it to Canadian prisoners.[19] According to Harvey, the words of the first verse ran:

Have you heard of Lydia Pinkum,
And her love for the human race?
How she sells (she sells, she sells) her wonderful compound,
And the papers publish her face?

In many versions, the complaints which the compound had cured were highly ribald in nature. During the Prohibition era (1920–33) in the United States, the medicine (like other similar patent medicines) had a particular appeal as a readily available 40-proof alcoholic drink, and it is likely that this aided the popularity of the song. A version of the song was the unofficial regimental song of the Royal Tank Corps during World War II.[4]

Cultural references[edit]

At the 2019 Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidate, Berni Benton, stood under the name "Lady Lily the Pink". She polled 334 votes (1.05% of those cast), placing her in 5th place out of 6.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. pp. 121–2. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
  2. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 226–7. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  3. ^ Robertson, Peter (September 2019). "The other McCartney". Best of British. No. 278. London. pp. 60–61.
  4. ^ a b c "Lily the Pink by The Scaffold". Songfacts.com. Retrieved 17 January 2008.
  5. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The Scaffold - Lily The Pink". YouTube.
  6. ^ "Go-Set Australian charts - 12 February 1969". poparchives.com.au.
  7. ^ "The Scaffold – Lily The Pink" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  8. ^ "The Scaffold – Lily The Pink" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  9. ^ "Irish Singles charts 1967-1969". UKMIX Forums. 26 August 2012.
  10. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – The Scaffold" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  11. ^ "The Scaffold – Lily The Pink". VG-lista.
  12. ^ "South African Rock Lists Website - SA Charts 1965 - 1989 Acts (S)". rock.co.za.
  13. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  14. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – The Scaffold – Lily The Pink" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts. To see peak chart position, click "TITEL VON The Scaffold"
  15. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 7 April 1969. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  16. ^ Joel Whitburn's Bubbling Under the Billboard Hot 100 1959-2004
  17. ^ "Roud Folksong Index: Roud No 8368". Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  18. ^ William Carlos Williams, Autobiography, p.51, MacGibbon & Kee (UK), 1968
  19. ^ Harvey, F. W. (1920). Comrades in Captivity. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. p. 203.
  20. ^ Forrest, Adam (2 August 2019). "Brecon and Radnorshire by-election result: Ukip beaten by Monster Raving Loony party". The Independent. Archived from the original on 14 June 2022. Retrieved 2 August 2019.

External links[edit]