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'1000 Years of Popular Music' Song Descriptions
7/18/2003 (updated 8/21/2004)

Richard Thompson
1000 Years of Popular Music


  1. Sumer is Icumen In
    The oldest known round in the English language - it can be sung in six dovetailing parts. Written down by John Farnsette, a monk at Reading Abbey, in the mid-13th century. His manuscript still viewable in the British Museum.
  2. King Henry V's Conquest Of France
    Based on the true story of the King of France's nicely insulting gift of a barrel of tennis balls to King Henry V of England - the ballad changes it to a more calculating three tennis balls. Amazingly collected in the 1928 in Cade's Cove, Tennessee, long after it had disappeared from England. This version slightly rendered into more modern English, and the odd missing line added.
  3. When I Am Laid In Earth
    From Dido and Aeneas, by Henry Purcell. Aeneas has been tricked away to war by the witches, and Queen Dido, in despair, is about to kill herself. First performed at a School For Gentlewomen in Chelsea in 1689.
  4. So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo
    Composed by Orazio Vecchi (1550-1605), a cathedral musician from Modena. This obviously written in secular spare time:
    I know a lucky fellow. But I can't say who it is
    He seems to be quite a favourite. But my lips are sealed
    O! If I could only tell you. Who comes, who goes, who stays.
    But if I did, You would probably despair.
    There is a dance that goes with it?
  5. Shenandoah
    A work song on the old square-rigged sailing ships, for turning the capstan. The Shenandoah mentioned is more likely the one in Iowa, hence the 'Wide Missouri'.
  6. Blackleg Miner
    Popular with folk revivalists, a song from the Durham coalfields, of indeterminate age - Deleva and Segal Mines both saw industrial action on many occasions. Blackleg being British for "Scab."
  7. Waiting at the Church
    Written and performed by the great Vesta Victoria. A Music Hall classic from 1906.
  8. Trafalgar Square
    One of those "pretending to be a toff" or 'toff fallen on hard times' songs, like "Burlington Bertie" or "We're a Couple Of Swells." Subtitled "The Optimistic Outcast'," a parody of the false values of aristocratic society.
  9. There Is Beauty?
    From the "Mikado" by Gilbert and Sullivan. According to Opera convention, it's not just the young folk who get married at the end - at least one set of wrinklies are required to get hitched as well.
  10. Why Have My Loved Ones Gone?
    Did Stephen Foster's love of Black music help prolong racial stereotypes or break down the barriers? This seems a more personal song. He died in New York in poverty, having given away his copyrights.
  11. Old Rocking Chair's Got Me
    I love my old version of this by Louis Armstrong, duetting with the author, Bloomington, Indiana's finest, Hoagy Carmichael.
  12. Orange-Coloured Sky
    Borrowed this from a Nat King Cole record - jazz gets a little zanier!
  13. Cry Me A River
    Based on the Julie London hit - thanks for those licks, Barney Kessel.
  14. Drinking Wine Spo-dee-o-dee
    The Sticks McGhee classic via Jerry Lee Lewis.
  15. The Fool
    Originally by Sanford Clark.
  16. Legal Matter
    From the days when The Who were just the best band in town. Kings of the Marquee Club in Wardour Street, and Pete was writing great three minute pop songs.
  17. Tempted
    Great blue-eyed soul from Tilbrook and Difford, heirs to The Beatles' mantle of melodic pop.
  18. Kiss
    Strategically sung about an octave lower than Prince, one of the best pop songs of the 80s, by one of the best artists.
  19. Oops! I Did It Again
    Where's the audience on the singalong? Taken out of context, this is a pretty nice song.
  20. Sam Hall
    This version based on that of W.G. Ross. Composer unknown. Performed in the disreputable Cyder Cellars in Maiden Lane, London. Probably derived from an
    earlier song about Captain Kidd:
    My name was Captain Kidd. And God's laws I did forbid
    And most wickedly I did. When I sailed
  21. Money
    Clever arranging and composing ideas from Bjorn and Benny, behind the disco façade.
  22. It Won't Be Long
    The greatest pure pop of the 20th century, from the fortuitous alliance of John and Paul and the other George (Martin).
  23. Marry, Ageyn Hic Hev Donne Yt
    ‘Anonymous fragment from the 13th century, possibly from Brittany, to bring us full circle.