The Cuckoo (song)

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"The Cuckoo" (Roud 413) is a traditional English folk song. It has been covered by many musicians in several different styles. An early notable recorded version was performed by Appalachian folk musician Clarence Ashley with a unique banjo tuning.[1]

The title of the song has multiple variations, including The Coo-Coo, The Coo-Coo Bird, The Cuckoo Bird, and The Cuckoo Is A Pretty Bird.[2]

Lyrics usually include the line (or a slight variation):

The cuckoo is a pretty bird, she sings as she flies; she brings us glad tidings, and she tells us no lies.[2][3]

According to Thomas Goldsmith of The Raleigh News & Observer, "The Cuckoo" is reportedly descended from an old folk ballad; it's an interior monologue where the singer "relates his desires — to gamble, to win, to regain love's affection."[4]

The song is featured in the E.L. Doctorow book The March. A soldier suffering from a metal spike stuck in his head sings verses from the song.


Notable artists who have recorded The Cuckoo include:

Artist Album
Dave Alvin Best of the Hightone Years
Clarence Ashley Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 1-3
Joan Baez Live At Newport
The Be Good Tanyas Blue Horse
Big Brother and the Holding Company Big Brother and the Holding Company
Anne Briggs Anne Briggs'
Buck 65 Porch
Shirley Collins Sweet England
Eric Darling True Religion
Alfred Deller The Art of Alfred Deller: The Counter-Tenor Legacy
Donovan Beat Cafe
Dry Branch Fire Squad Hand Hewn
Bob Dylan Live at the Gaslight 1962
Rory Gallagher Wheels Within Wheels
Tim Eriksen and Riley Baugus Cold Mountain (soundtrack)
The Everly Brothers Heartaches and Harmonies
Kelly Harrell Worried Blues (JSP7743)
Kristin Hersh Hips and Makers
Ramblin' Jack Elliott Ramblin' Jack Elliott
Hem Rabbit Songs
Holy Modal Rounders Holy Modal Rounders 1 and 2
Hamish Imlach Best of the Transatlantic Years
Kaleidoscope Incredible!
The New Lost City Ramblers Vol. 4
Osborne Brothers Voices In Bluegrass
Pentangle Basket of Light
Peter, Paul and Mary A Song Will Rise
The Pine Hill Haints Ghost Dance
Jean Ritchie Singing the Traditional Songs of Her Kentucky Mountain Family
Tom Rush Tom Rush (Electra)
Martin Simpson Righteousness and Humidity
Hobart Smith In Sacred Trust: The 1963 Fleming Brown Tapes
Taj Mahal The Natch'l Blues
Richard Thompson The Harry Smith Project Live Vol. 1
Artie Traum ″Thief Of Time″
Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley Original Folkways Recordings: 1960–1962
Townes Van Zandt Roadsongs
Laura Veirs Two Beers Veirs

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Lawrence, Andrew. "The Cuckoo". Community Guitar. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  2. ^ a b "The Cuckoo". Grateful Dead Family. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  3. ^ "The Cuckoo". Folkinfo. June 8, 2006. Archived from the original on December 1, 2012. Retrieved 2016-02-09. 
  4. ^ Goldsmith, Thomas (February 6, 2005). "The beauty and mystery of ballads". The Raleigh News & Observer. p. G5. 

External links[edit]