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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Donald, Where's Your Trousers? - John Henry and Savannah

Apropos of nothing, except I can't get the song out of my head after hearing it on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles at the close of the Adam Raised A Cain episode. It's interesting listening to what started life as a comic song becoming dark and portentous simply with a change in music.

I've just got down from the Isle of Skye,
I'm not very big but I'm awfully shy,
The lassies shout as I walk by,
"Donald, where's your trousers?"

Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low
Through the streets in my kilt I go.
All the lassies cry, "Hello,
Donald, where's your trousers?"

I went to a fancy ball
It was slippery in the hall
I was afeared that I may fall
Cause I had nae on trousers.

The lassies love me, every one
They must catch me if they can
Ye cannae put the breeks on a Highland man,
saying, "Donald where's your trousers?"

I went down to London town
To have a little fun on the Underground
Ladies turned their heads around
saying, "Donald, where's your trousers?"

Sometimes called the unofficial Celtic national anthem, Donald, Where's Your Trousers? is a much more recent song than it sounds. It was written in 19 and 60 by Andy Stewart and Neil Grant. "Neil Grant" was a pen name taken by Iain Macfadyen, the head of BBC Scotland's delightfully named "light entertainment" division at the time. Macfayden or Stewart probably adapted the music from the traditional Oro Se Do Bheatha Bhaile, a song which may have also inspired the tune for What Shall We Do With The (A) Drunken Sailor?

Stewart, a Scottish musician and entertainer, would popularize Donald, Where's Your Trousers? in 1961, and it would chart a second time in the `80s. You can hear Stewart's version here on YouTube, which includes a spot-on Elvis imitation midway through. The strength of the song brought Stewart a world tour and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. "Breeks," by the way, are the Scottish term for trousers. A highlight of Stewart's live show - which he performed in kilts - was his doing a Highland kick, and changing the lyrics to, "And now you know that Donald has nae trousers."

To give credit where credit is due, the names of the actors portraying "John Henry" and "Savannah," both of whom are doing a great turn on this song, are Garret Dilahunt and Mackenzie Brooke Smith.

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