My Grandfather's Clock

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"Grand-Father's Clock" was first published in 1876.

"My Grandfather's Clock" is a song written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work, the author of "Marching Through Georgia". It is a standard of British brass bands and colliery bands, and is also popular in bluegrass music. It has also been sung by male choruses such as the Robert Shaw Chorale.

Storyline[edit]

It was in this Piercebridge hotel that the author encountered a remarkable clock that inspired the song.

The song, told from a grandson's point of view, is about his grandfather's grandfather clock.

The clock is purchased on the morning of his grandfather's birth and works perfectly for ninety years, requiring only that it be wound at the end of each week.

Yet the clock seems to eerily know the good and bad events in the grandfather's life – it rings 24 chimes when the grandfather brings his bride into his house, and near his death it rings an eerie alarm, which the family recognizes to mean that the grandfather is near death and gathers by his bed. After the grandfather dies, the clock suddenly stops, and never works again.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that the song is responsible for the fact that a longcase clock is also called a "grandfather clock".[1]

Sequel[edit]

Work published a sequel to the song two years after, and again the grandson acts as the narrator.

The grandson laments the fate of the no-longer-functioning grandfather clock – it was sold to a junk dealer, who sold its parts for scrap and its case for kindling. In the grandfather's house, the clock was replaced by a wall clock, which the grandson disdains (referring to it as "that vain, stuck-up thing on the wall").

However, the sequel never reached the popularity of the original.[2]

Covers and inspirations[edit]

"My Grandfather's Clock" was often played in Britain on Children's Favourites and during that period was recorded by the Radio Revellers. In the United States, a version, without the last stanza of lyrics, was on an extended-play 45 rpm record on the Peter Pan label (the other song on that side was The Syncopated Clock, and the flip side had The Arkansas Traveler and Red River Valley). Johnny Cash covered the song on his 1959 album "Songs of Our Soil". Evelyn Knight recorded the song for Decca Records. Also in 1959, it was included on The Four Lads' album, Swing Along. Other versions became popular in other countries. It is well known to many generations in Japan.

The song was the inspiration for the 1963 Twilight Zone episode "Ninety Years Without Slumbering".

A popular clock toy, marketed by Fisher-Price from 1962 to 1968, had a dial on it that, when turned, caused the music box mechanism in the toy to play the song along with clock-like ticking and moving hands on the face of the clock. An updated version of the toy (which is completely made of plastic and with other activities like a clicking plastic mouse on the side) has been manufactured by Fisher-Price since 1994. Imitations of the toy made by various companies exist and are sold in various countries worldwide.

The song was performed by a children's chorus in the 1985 film Compromising Positions.

In 1983, Fred Penner, a Canadian children's entertainer, covered "My Grandfather's Clock" on the LP album Special Delivery, which was later rereleased as Ebenezer Sneezer on CD in 1994.

A particularly beautiful version of the song was recorded by Red Grammer on his 1994 family music recording, Down The Do Re Mi.

Kevin Bloody Wilson, an Australian comedian, parodied the song as "My Grandfather's Cock", which made reference to his grandfather's genitalia through various chapters in life. This parody was featured on Kevin's 1993 album "Let Loose Live In London".

Frank Hayes recorded a parody version in which the grandfather's wish, expressed in his will, is to be buried in the clock. Unfortunately the clock is too large to fit through the door of the house, and equally unfortunately the grandfather's body gets stuck inside the clock and cannot be extricated. The song culminates with the dead grandfather standing in the clock, in the house's hallway, "making faces at us" and "ringing the blasted chimes/Ev'ry goddamned night".

It was parodied as "My Grandfather's Grunge" by the Kenneth Williams character Rambling Syd Rumpo on the BBC radio show Round the Horne, written by Barry Took and Marty Feldman.

Peter Alsop used the melody of the song as the basis for his song "My Father's Top Drawer", which was about his father experiencing a phase of erotomania and addiction to pornography magazines and souvenirs with designs of sexual parts. "My Father's Top Drawer" was on Alsop's 2-CD album Songs On Sex & Sexuality.

Garrison Keillor and the cast of the radio series A Prairie Home Companion used the melody as the basis of a song entitled "My Grandmother's Cat." Routinely overfed by its owner, the titular feline grows large enough to knock her down and then tries to eat her before being captured and shipped to a zoo.

The band Half Man Half Biscuit pay homage to the song at the end of their track "Joy Division Oven Gloves".

The song's refrain is utilized in the indie horror video game Five Nights at Freddy's 2, where it is produced by a music box that the player must keep wound and playing, otherwise an animatronic puppet will wake up, advance on the player's office and kill him when he arrives.

The song's refrain was also utilized in the 2000 horror game American McGee's Alice in the song "I'm Not Edible."

Lyrics[edit]

The City Green in Union Park of Middletown, Connecticut includes this bust of the author near his birthplace.

My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

In watching its pendulum swing to and fro,
Many hours had he spent while a boy;
And in childhood and manhood the clock seemed to know
And to share both his grief and his joy.
For it struck twenty-four when he entered at the door,
With a blooming and beautiful bride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

My grandfather said that of those he could hire,
Not a servant so faithful he found;
For it wasted no time, and had but one desire —
At the close of each week to be wound.
And it kept in its place — not a frown upon its face,
And its hands never hung by its side.
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

It rang an alarm in the dead of the night —
An alarm that for years had been dumb;
And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight —
That his hour of departure had come.
Still the clock kept the time, with a soft and muffled chime,
As we silently stood by his side;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.[3][4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Oxford English Dictionary" (available online to subscribers, also in print). Retrieved 2009-04-19. Grandfather's clock [suggested by a song which was popular about 1880], a furniture-dealer's name for the kind of weight-and-pendulum eight-day clock in a tall case, formerly in common use; also grandfather clock (now the usual name): [1876 H. C. WORK Grandfather's Clock, My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf, So it stood ninety years on the floor.] 
  2. ^ "Sequel To MY GRANDFATHER'S CLOCK - 1878 - Tom Roush". YouTube. 2013-12-12. Retrieved 2015-11-18. 
  3. ^ Henry C. Work (1876). "Grandfather's clock". New York: C. M. Cady. Retrieved 5 May 2012. original publication uses "tick, tick, tick, tick", "tock" was added later 
  4. ^ "History of the Grandfather Clock". The Clock Depot. Retrieved June 29, 2012. 
  • Zecher, Henry (October 2005). "How an old floor clock became a grandfather". The Pride of Olney (Lion's Club of Olney, Maryland) 30 (76). Retrieved August 12, 2013. on Henry Zecher's personal website

External links[edit]