Saturday, November 29, 2008


"If God had meant us to fly," Michael Flanders once remarked, "he would never have given us the railways."
In America, there was romance and excitement as the nation became linked via thousand of miles of track. It wasn't quite so exciting or romantic for those who were working on the railroad, all the live-long day.
To keep up their spirits, the workers sang, and often about the ironies and miseries of their lives. "For it's work all day for the sugar in your tay," was the Irish chorus on "Drill Ye Tarriers Drill." Another popular tune was "Pat Works on the Railway," which includes a typical Irish nonsense-word chorus, "Fill-a-me ory-ory-ay."
The lyrics are simple, easy to remember rhymes that could go for nine stanzas. "In Eighteen hundred and forty one, I put my cordoroy britches on. Put my cordoroy britches on, to work upon the railway..." Each year is just as bland.
"Drill Ye Tarriers" is more amusing, as the grousing lead singer takes a shot at his boss, the boss's wife, her cooking, and the cheap ways of the railroad. Hear for yourself the vivid picture of a fellow blown skyward, and his punishment.
The Weavers covered both songs, and they are joined by two extra Tarrier versions (Chad Mitchell and Cisco Houston) and two other "Pat Works on the Railway" attempts, one from The Cottars, and an oddity from Mechanicy Shanty, a European group of wild and crazy guys who sing with Russian-Polish accents and have their own nonsense syllables to replace "Fill-a-me ory-ory-ay," which sounds like: "Rilla-he-rollin-rollin-way."
The whole point of nonsense refrains was to create something catchy even illiterates or those who don't know the language can easily remember and sing. These days, it could be the entire song. But we'll save "Who Let the Dogs Out" for another day...

Various Versions of "Drill Ye Tarriers Drill" and "Pat Works On the Railway"

1 comment:

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