Morning Music: On Top of Old Smokey

The Weavers - Greatest HitsI’m finally back home, so if you think my work has been slipping recently, I should be back up to my usual quality of work tomorrow. Today, we are going to listen to “On Top of Old Smoky.” This is another of those songs that were so well know that we had parodies of it. In fact, I remember singing “On Top of Spaghetti” in the third grade. According to Pete Seeger, parts of the song date back to the Elizabethan period, but that may be folklore. But there is no doubting that the song is old. Seeger seems to have been the first guy to nail down the version that we now know. Previous versions don’t sound much like it.

The song was made famous in 1951 with a recording by The Weavers. It’s well made. But it doesn’t exactly inspire me.

10 thoughts on “Morning Music: On Top of Old Smokey

  1. Being a childless Anthropologist From Mars, I’ve often wondered if children’s culture as it used to exist still does. I mean by that the customs, games, legends and crafts that are not taught by adults but are passed on as oral culture from child to child.

    Games like Red Rover, Hop-Scotch or Mother May I. Legends like “the black stuff at the center of golf balls that will melt anything”. Crafts like paper airplanes or those paper foldy fortune-teller things, or string & button buzz wheels. Dead Baby jokes, jump rope rhymes and yes, song parodies.

    The specifics of children’s culture do change over time, naturally. No one plays mumblety-peg any more because boys don’t carry pocket knives as a daily thing. Even in my time that was mostly true, but in my father’s both men and boys did (along with a handkerchief, which I do still have in my pocket daily). When I was a pre-teen, we made spitball guns out of ball point pen cartridges and coat hanger wire. Can’t do that now because the cartridges and coat hangers aren’t made of metal anymore.

    What I’m wondering is whether spontaneous oral culture still exists for children or if it’s been organized and engineered out of existence. Not sure if how to use an IPhone counts, but maybe it does. I never see groups of kids playing on the sidewalks anymore (do they even still have Recess at school?) Double-Dutch jump ropers have national competitions now and Dodgeball is apparently taught in gym class by a coach instead of on a playground by other kids — hell, for all I know they have Dodgeball leagues.

    The last time I ran across a book on this topic was Robert Paul Smith’s wonderful 1957 memoir “Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing.” and that was about my father’s generation, the Depression Era kids. And mostly from a boy’s point of view.

    • I can’t answer your questions, but I admired how you put them, Ambassador From Mars. I have read that recess is waning in schools; charters have no use for it and public schools are under pressure to spend every second training kids for tests. If I was a kid in school now I’d definitely be stressed to the gills. We made up games in the 1980s, but unstructured play is probably considered inefficient now.

      • Depends on the wealth of the parents. The poorer you are, the more time for play since your parents are too busy with work.

    • I think folklore moves on. For example, IRL I’m still valued because I know so much nonsense, which could easily be found on people’s phones. But people still have a strong desire to interact. And I’m sure that kids still stay up late telling ghost stories. But I would check out recent research on folklore.

      • They stay up late playing Minecraft these days. My nephew is probably doing that right now and has for years.

        • I’m sure. But we stayed up late playing Monopoly. We still talked.

          I continue to be amazed that the first-person shooter games are popular. They are mind numbingly boring.

          • I always thought so but he enjoys them. Then again, Saint’s Row IV was actually a lot of fun except for how hard it was to aim.

            Now, when they are not playing video games, they table top. Board games are a lot different then they were just fifteen years ago. And I am glad they are.

            • I like games like Q*bert where I’m running away from things. That’s the appropriate approach to life.

              • You would have loved Outlast. It was a decently scary game for about twenty minutes then it was just all about how do I get out of here?! So like real life with ghosts and weird men.

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