Seven Drunken Nights

"Seven Drunken Nights" is a humorous folk Irish song, most famously performed by The Dubliners and others. The Dubliners version reached number 7 in the UK charts in 1967, thanks to its diffusion on Radio Caroline, though it was banned from the national broadcasting station[1]. It was based on an older English ballad, "Our Goodman" (Child Ballad #274), sometimes called "Four Nights Drunk". The song also became part of American folk culture, both through Irish-Americans and through the blues tradition. Among polite audiences only five of the seven nights usually are sung because of the vulgar nature of the final two. Each night is a verse, followed by a chorus, in which the narrator comes home in a drunken state to find evidence of another man having been with his wife, which she explains away, not entirely convincingly.

Contents

Lyrics and story

Nights 1-5

On the first, night (generally Monday), the narrator sees a strange horse outside the door:

As I went home on Monday night as drunk as drunk could be,
I saw a horse outside the door where my old horse should be.
Well, I called me wife and I said to her: "Will you kindly tell to me
Who owns that horse outside the door where my old horse should be?"

His wife tells him it is merely a sow, a gift from her mother:

"Ah, you're drunk, you're drunk, you silly old fool, still you can not see
That's a lovely sow that me mother sent to me."

In each verse the narrator notices a flaw in each explanation, but seems content to let the matter rest:

Well, it's many a day I've travelled a hundred miles or more,
But a saddle on a sow sure I never saw before.


The next four nights involve a coat (actually a blanket according to the wife, upon which he notices buttons), a pipe (a tin whistle, filled with tobacco), two boots (flower pots, with laces), and finally, this being the last verse often sung, a head peering out from beneath the covers. Again his wife tells him it is a baby boy, leading to the retort "a baby boy with his whiskers on sure I never saw before." Each new item appearing in the house is said to be a gift from the wife's mother.

Nights 6-7

The final two verses are not often sung, generally considered too raunchy, and due to their rarity several different versions have circulated. Verse six sometimes keeps the same story line, in which two hands appear on the wife's breasts. The wife, giving the least likely explanation yet, tells him that it is merely a nightgown, though the man notices that this nightgown has fingers. In yet another version, the wife remarks that he's seen a hammer in her bed, and his response is that a hammer with a condom on is something he's never seen before. This latter version usually ends day seven with the singer's target of choice in bed, and the husband replies that he's never seen so-and-so with a hard on before.

Another version exists with a slight twist. The man sees a man coming out the door at a little after 3:00, this time the wife saying it was an English tax collector that the Queen sent. The narrator, now wise to what is going on, remarks: "Well, it's many a day I've travelled a hundred miles or more, but an Englishman who can last til three, I've never seen before." While this departs noticeably from the standard cycle, the twist is slightly more clever, and takes a jab at the English (a popular ploy in some Irish songs). As this sort of wraps up the story, it is usually sung as the last verse, be it the sixth or seventh.

Probably the most common version of the seventh verse involves the man seeing a "thing" in her "thing", or in "the bed", where his "thing" should be. Again his wife is ready with an answer. It is a rolling pin. The narrator then remarks, "A rolling pin made out of skin, I never saw before." Another version reuses the tin whistle excuse, upon which the narrator remarks "...hair on a tin whistle sure I never saw before." Other versions claim the "thing" involved is a candle (in which case she doesn't recycle an excuse from an earlier night). The narrator this time remarks that he had never before seen a pair of balls on a candle.

Of course, the song leaves much unexplained, such as what happens when the man sobers up, and can tell what the items actually are, or if they're gone, notice their disappearance (particularly in verse five). On the other hand, if the man never sobers up, he never notices. Similarly, it takes quite a drunkard to notice a man's "thing", but not the man himself.


American blues singer Sonny Boy Williamson II recorded a song very similar to this in his original 40 track session at Chess Records. His song was called "Wake up Baby".

There are also vernacular versions of the song among Irish-Americans, with at least one version referred to as "Uncle Mike."

In that version, the wife's reply to the drunkard (Uncle Mike) is: Oh you darn fool, you damn fool, you son-of-a-bitch said she, It only is a milk cow my mother sent to me.

The drunkard's reply to his wife is more similar to the "official" version recorded by The Dubliners and other Irish folk singing groups: Well, there's many times I've traveled, a hundred miles or more, But a saddle on a sow, sure; I've never see before.

Variations such as "Uncle Mike" are common in oral, local cultures. Note how in America the pig became a milk cow, and the distance traveled by the drunkard expands considerably. "Four Nights Drunk" and "Five Nights Drunk" are just two of the many versions of this song (Cray 1999).

"Four Nights Drunk"

Another, more up-tempo, version of the song, "Four Nights Drunk" relates the same overall story, albeit abbreviated. The four nights follow the same pattern as the first nights of "Seven Drunken Nights", with a horse and boots appearing, followed by a hat, and then skipping to the strange man, again dismissed as a baby. This song was recorded by Steeleye Span on their album Ten Man Mop, or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again. They use a different air for the song, more precisely a reel named "The Primrose Lasses".

The drunk cowboy

Several translations exist in Russian, the best known one being by Alexander Tkachev, called "The drunk cowboy". It consist of five parts, at the end of each the wife tells the cowboy to go to sleep. The days include a horse (cow, saddled) a hat (chamberpot, from straw), pants (rags, with a zipper), a stranger's head (cabbage with a moustache), and, finally, a baby which doesn't look like the cowboy's (a log, but one which pees) [2].

Recordings

Album/Single Performer Year Variant Notes
Earl Johnson Vol. 1 1927 Earl Johnson 1927 Three Nights Experience .
Serenade The Mountains: Early Old Time Music On Record Gid Tanner & Riley Puckett 1934 Three Nights Drunk .
1947-1948 Tom Archia 1948 Cabbage Head Part 1 and Cabbage Head Part 2 .
Ten Man Mop, Or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again Steeleye Span 1971 Four Nights Drunk .
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Vol. 1 - Child Ballads Ewan MacColl 1961 Oud Goodman (Our Gudeman, Child 274) .
Folk Balladeer John Jacob Niles 1965 Our Goodman or Old Cuckold Compilation LP later reissued as My Precarious Life In The Public Domain.
Essential Collection The Dubliners 1967 Seven Drunken Nights .
Digital Library of Appalachia Jenes Cottrell 1973 Four Nights Drunk Recorded at the Mountain Heritage Festival in Carter County, Kentucky.
Irish Beer Drinking Favorites The Kilkenny Brothers 1998 Seven Drunken Nights .
Digital Library of Appalachia Sheila K. Adams 1998 Four Nights Drunk Recorded at the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music 10-22-98.
Going Up the Missouri: Songs & Dance Tunes from Old Fort Osage Jim Krause 1999 Cabbagehead .
Underneath The Stars Kate Rusby 2003 The Goodman .
Website Wendy Grossman 2005 Four Nights Drunk Parody.
If Pigs Could Fly Bootless and Unhorsed 2009 Seven Drunken Nights Live recording at the Last Chance Saloon, 1994.
Deathknot EP Wolfhorde 2010 Seven Drunken Nights Self-released .
Stubbies Assemble! The Stubby Shillelaghs 2011 Seven Drunken Nights Self-released .

References

  • Cray, Ed (1999). The Erotic Muse: AMERICAN BAWDY SONGS (Music in American Life). University of Illinois Press. pp. 11-21, 330.
  • Smyth, G (1994). "Ireland unplugged: the roots of Irish folk/trad. (Con)Fusion." Irish Studies Review 12 (1): 87-97.



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