Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Borrowed" melodies

A couple of postings ago I mentioned a new CD that has a version of "The Wreck of the Old '97." The funny thing about this song is that I had missed something obvious until I recently read the following fact: its melody was used as the basis of the Kingston Trio's hit, "The MTA." Come to think of it, it is! How did I miss that?

But I have done that before. I did realized that "Roll On Columbia" by Woody Guthrie is a reworking of "Goodnight, Irene." This borrowing is not unusual in the folk tradition.

At my camp we sang Tom Paxton's "Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound," which was one of my favorites. Many years after learning it at a campfire one summer, I got a hold of a Paxton album and listened to him sing it. And his melody was different - and stunk! Well, it didn't really stink, it just wasn't the one I knew. Not radically different as far as tempo and range and overall feel, but not the same.

Then someone pointed out to me that the Ajawah version of "Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound" is sung to the tune of "Blowing In the Wind" (with an additional and crucial three notes in the chorus for the second "where I'm bound."

Maybe I will investigate some day, but I wonder how this happened. Was it introduced this way? Just at Ajawah? Or from somewhere else? Or did the original tune morph over time into the more familiar one that Dylan wrote?

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