Oh My Darling, Clementine

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"Oh My Darling, Clementine"
Lyricist(s)Percy Montross; Barker Bradford

"Oh My Darling, Clementine" is an American western folk ballad in trochaic meter usually credited to Percy Montross (1884), although it is sometimes credited to Barker Bradford. It is commonly performed in the key of F Major. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[1]


Multiple variations of the song exist, but all center around Clementine, the daughter of a "miner forty-niner" and the singer's lover. One day while performing routine chores, Clementine trips and falls into a raging torrent of brine and drowns, as her lover is unable to swim and unwilling to attempt to rescue her. In Montross's version, the song ends somewhat farcically by noting he will not go so far as necrophilia: "Though in life I used to hug her, now she's dead—I'll draw the line."

History and origins[edit]

The lyrics were written by Percy Montross in 1884, based on an earlier song called "Down by the River Liv'd a Maiden". The origin of the melody is unknown. In his book South from Granada, Gerald Brenan claims that the melody was from an old Spanish ballad, made popular by Mexican miners during the California Gold Rush. It was best known from Romance del Conde Olinos o Niño, a sad love story very popular in Spanish-speaking cultures. It was also given various English translations. No particular source is cited to verify that the song he used to hear in the 1920s in a remote Spanish village was not an old text with new music, but Brenan states in his preface that all the information in his book has been checked reasonably well.[2]

It is unclear when, where and by whom the song was first recorded in English, but the first version to reach the Billboard charts was that by Bing Crosby recorded on June 14, 1941,[3] which briefly reached the No. 20 spot. It was given an updated and up-tempo treatment in an arrangement by Hal Hopper and John Scott Trotter. The re-written lyrics include a reference to Gene Autry ("could he sue me, Clementine?") amongst the five swinging verses.[4]

Notable versions[edit]

There have been numerous versions of the song recorded over the years.

Bobby Darin version[edit]

Bobby Darin recorded a version of the song, credited to Woody Harris, in which Clementine is reimagined as a 299-pound woman. After she falls into the water, Darin implies that Clementine has transformed into a whale and calls out to those on the high seas to watch for her in a rhythm and style reminiscent of Darin's rendition of "Mack the Knife:" "Hey you sailor, way out in your whaler, a-with your harpoon and your trusty line, if she shows now, yell... there she blows now It just may be chunky Clementine".

Jan and Dean version[edit]

Jan and Dean had a hit with "Clementine", charting as high as 65 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was released on the Dore label (SP DORE 539 (US)) in November, 1959; "You're on My Mind" was the B Side.

Tom Lehrer version[edit]

Tom Lehrer recorded a set of variations on the song on his live album An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer, demonstrating his theory that "folk songs are so atrocious because they were written by the people." He plays the first verse in the style of Cole Porter, the second in the style of "Mozart or one of that crowd", the third in a disjointed bebop sound parodying the style of Beat Generation musicians like Slim Gaillard or Babs Gonzales, and the final verse in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Other versions[edit]

In popular culture[edit]



  • In 1985, Akimi Yoshida published a Japanese manga series called Banana Fish, the song is sung by military soldiers and later on mentioned by a side character called Shorter.
  • In 1992, Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, sang "Darlin' Clementine" on The Late Late Show on Republic of Ireland television. Just hours earlier, eight people (seven of them civilians) had been killed in the Teebane bombing. Brooke was forced to resign shortly after.[6][7][8]
  • In the 2001 Columbo episode "Murder With Too Many Notes", Lieutenant Columbo, played by Peter Falk, sings the first verse of the song along with Billy Connolly's character Findlay Crawford. Columbo also sings the song in the 1978 episode "Make Me A Perfect Murder.[9]
  • Released on 15 May 2020, the 5th season of the series Outlander offers two versions of the song : the first one on episode 7, by character Brianna Randall Fraser (voice), played by British actress Sophie Skelton; the second one on episode 8, by character Roger Wakefield (voice + guitar), played by Scottish actor Richard Rankin. Along with the typical chorus, only 4 verses of the song are played ("In a cavern, in a canyon [...]"; "Light she was and like a fairy [...]"; "Drove she ducklings to the water [...]"; "Ruby lips above the water [...]"). These versions were composed by American Composer Bear McCreary.
  • A mangled rendition of "Darling Clementine" is animated coonhound Huckleberry Hound's signature tune, sung in most episodes of the cartoon series The Huckleberry Hound Show. But it often ends up as "Oh my darling what's her name".[10][better source needed]
  • Released in 2020, the Netflix original Korean drama, It's Okay to Not Be Okay, also features this song. It is performed multiple times through the episodes, both as a melody and as simple lyrics.
  • In the Season 5 M*A*S*H episode "Movie Tonight," aired February 22, 1977,[11] character Colonel Potter, played by Harry Morgan, sings the lyrics, "In a cavern in a canyon excavating for a mine..." during the last scene of the episode while the crew is performing surgery on wounded soldiers. The rest of the crew joins in on a sing-along. The episode ends when they all sing the lyric, "Dreadful sorry, Clementine." This occurs after the 4077th M*A*S*H views the 1946 John Ford classic film "My Darling Clementine".
  • In 1999, Jeri Ryan and Robert Picardo sing a bit of the song while the Holo Doctor reprograms one of Seven of Nine's Borg implants.

Use of melody[edit]

  • The melody is used in "Xīnnián Hǎo" (新年好), a Chinese New Year song.[12]
  • The melody is used in "Dip The Apple In The Honey", a Jewish new years song.[13]
  • The melody was applied to "Erika", a German Nazi marching song (however, the original version used by the military did not use this melody).[14]
  • In the 1956 Hindi film C.I.D., the melody of this song was used in the song "Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan".[15]
  • The chorus to Cher Lloyd's 2011 single "Swagger Jagger" was seen as heavily borrowed from the melody of "Oh My Darling Clementine"[16]
  • The melody is used in "Picked a Strawberry", a library storytime song made by the librarian duo called Jbrary.[17]


  • In the 1945 novel Animal Farm by George Orwell, the pig Old Major explains his dream of an animal-controlled society. The song's tune is described in the novel as sounding like a combination of "La Cucaracha" and "Oh My Darling, Clementine".[18]
  • The 1994 NASA Clementine mission to test sensors and spacecraft components and make scientific observations of the Moon was named after the song.
  • In the first episode of the 2018 video game The Walking Dead: The Final Season, a character named Louis plays this song to the coincidentally-named Clementine on his piano.
  • In the 2018 video game Red Dead Redemption II, some NPCs can be heard whistling the tune of this song in Saint Denis.


  1. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 13 August 2014.
  2. ^ Brenan that is, Gerald (1957). South from That is so creepyGranada. Cambridge: Penguin. p. 119. ISBN 9780141189321. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  3. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  4. ^ Reynolds, Fred. The Crosby Collection 1926–1977 (Part Two 1935–1941 ed.). John Joyce. pp. 209–210.
  5. ^ "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Soundtracks". Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  6. ^ Murphy, Sandra (2019-01-06). "20 times the RTE Late Late Show defined Irish moments in history". Extra.ie. Retrieved 2021-03-17.
  7. ^ Brookes, Julian (2005-03-17). "Who's doing PR for Sinn Fein? They should be, um, fired!". Indymedia Ireland. Retrieved 2021-03-17.
  8. ^ Phoenix, Eaman (2018-01-02). "1992 in the North: 85 people killed in the Troubles". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2021-03-17.
  9. ^ "Columbo: An analysis of "Make Me a Perfect Murder" part 1 – Biohazard Films". Radioactive-studios.com. 2015-06-13. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  10. ^ Sonny (March 26, 2019). "So What's the Deal with Huckleberry Hound and Clementine?". Omigods. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  11. ^ ""M*A*S*H" Move Tonight (TV Episode 1977) - IMDb". IMDb.com, Inc. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  12. ^ "Chinese new year in Nagoya". Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  14. ^ "When a former Nazi meets a Holocaust survivor". Jewish Journal. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12.
  15. ^ "Johnny Walker, the teetotaller-drunkard who charmed Bollywood, cannot be forgotten". daily O. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  16. ^ "Cher Lloyd's Swagger Jagger sample of Percy Montrose's Oh My Darling Clementine". whosampled.com. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  17. ^ "Picked a Strawberry". Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 1 August 2021.
  18. ^ Hauss, Charles (2005). Comparative Politics: Domestic Responses to Global Challenges: Domestic Responses To Global Challenges. Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780534590536.

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