Farmyard Cacophonies: Three Centuries of a Popular Song

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  2. Dr Vic Gammon
Author(s)Gammon V
Publication type Article
JournalFolk Music Journal
ISSN (print)0531-9684
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‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm’ is an immensely successful popular song. In this essay I explore the life of this song from its earliest known version as performed on the English stage in the early eighteenth century; its development as a vaudeville and blackface minstrel song in the nineteenth century; its place in oral tradition; commercial recordings of the song in the 1920s and later; its status today a modern ‘children’s favourite’ in a variety of forms. I consider the song in the context of other pieces that list animals, animal parts and sometimes animal sounds. I look at the way innuendo and satire can be read in versions of the song and the way the song relates to the relationships of humans to animals. I explore examples of the parodies, transformations and translations the song has spawned and hypothesise on the reasons for its enormous success. I emphasise that any sound history must look for continuity as well as change but also be aware of the ways in which texts can take on different meanings in different historical situations.
PublisherEnglish Folk Dance and Song Society
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