We'll be having cake and ice cream when she comes.
July 30, 2012 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Like many other great American folk songs, She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain reaches us through the filter of both religious and secular movements. The music underneath the words has its original genesis in a spiritual sung originally by slaves and later popularized in the black churches of the south; the lyrics we know today – the version which came into the larger cultural vernacular and which spawned various children’s versions – was, originally, a protest song.

At the very beginning – Wikipedia tells us the song initially surfaced in the 1880s – “she” was the chariot the returned Christ drives. The score was published as part of an article by William E. Barton (a minister, prolific author, and authority on the life of Abraham Lincoln), in the New England Magazine, in 1899:

O, who will drive the chariot When she comes? (x2)
O, who will drive the chariot (x3) When she comes?
King Jesus, he'll be driver when she comes, When she comes…
She'll be loaded with bright Angels When she comes…
She will neither rock nor totter, When she comes…
She will run so level and steady, When she comes…
She will take us to the portals, When she comes…

But then, like most folk music, the song left the realm of the spiritual and, with its new popularity, became social commentary, or at least the rallying cry of a social movement (and today it's even more popular principally as a children’s song). In some incarnations, it didn't look much like social commentary, nor did it bear any resemblance to its field chant or spiritual precursor.

Carl Sandburg included the song in his American Songbag in 1927, and wrote that he believed the now-updated lyrics – which quickly became popular in the late teens and early twenties, just a few years after the titular event(s) – were about Mary Harris ”Mother” Jones promoting unionization among the coal miners of Appalachia, and this is accepted today as the song's truest narrative.

She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes (x2)
She’ll be coming round the mountain (x3) when she comes
She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes…
Oh, We’ll all go out to meet her when she comes…
She’ll be wearing red pajamas when she comes…
She’ll have to sleep with Grandma when she comes…
We’ll be singing Hallelujah when she comes…
We will kill the old red rooster when she comes…
We will all have chicken and dumplings when she comes…

Its politicization doesn’t end with Mother Jones, though; watch and listen to this Neil Young & Crazy Horse version, which pairs the lyrics with and contrasts their message to footage from Birth of a Nation.

I was a latter-day red-diaper baby, born to grad students at Cal in 1970; songs like this (most often probably sung by this guy) were part and parcel of my childhood. Now that I am a parent, this and other traditional American folksongs are enjoying a revival in my home: my four-year-old constantly asks for me to sing her “round the mountain,” the song I calmed her with every night when she was first brought home from Korea at 9 months of age and was inconsolable and scared. We sing it together now, and if you don't already sing it with the young people in your life, I advise you to add this (and many of the other songs in Songbag and Pete Seeger's own catalog, several of which deserve their own post) to your repertoire.
posted by luriete (36 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks to @Taz and @Jessamyn and many other folks with this post & helping me get it ready for prime time. Also, if anyone is interested, you can peek in my profile for gratuitous video proof of the claim made at the end of the last paragraph.
posted by luriete at 12:58 PM on July 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


Yay!
posted by désoeuvrée at 1:03 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a fascinating subject and a good FPP, and I'm glad you were able to re-post it in MeFi-approved format.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:04 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am very glad to see that you decided to re-post this, luriete; it's a great post and I look forward to digging into the different version of the song that you've linked to here.

One question: are the last two lines in the list of different versions supposed to link to videos? Because, if so, they're missing.
posted by asnider at 1:11 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry about the use of @ above. Second nature at this point. I will cease & desist.
posted by luriete at 1:12 PM on July 30, 2012


@asnider I edited it down because I thought some of the videos I had weren't very compelling.
posted by luriete at 1:12 PM on July 30, 2012


DAMMIT I did it again. I wish I could edit out the @. Sorry.
posted by luriete at 1:12 PM on July 30, 2012


DAMMIT I did it again. I wish I could edit out the @. Sorry.

Meh, don't worry about it.

Yours sincerely,

Todd Lokken
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:14 PM on July 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


Good to know. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing anything.
posted by asnider at 1:18 PM on July 30, 2012


There appears to be a serious problem with this post's authenticity. I see no mention whatsoever of chocolate pizza, which to my understanding was considered an essential supply when traveling 'round the mountain back in the day.
posted by item at 1:20 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


As always, I can back up my research with an historical document for proof.
posted by item at 1:23 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thank you for that! Another version I had never heard of prior to beginning my quest into all things Coming Round the Mountain-based.

I also was unfamiliar with Ye Cannae Throw Yer Granny Off The Bus, yet it, too, exists.
posted by luriete at 1:28 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rocking FPP. Many links.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:30 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chocolate pizza sounds sorta vile, actually. If that's what we're gonna have to do when she gets here, I hope she gets stuck over on the other side of that mountain she's coming around.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:45 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


You mean Ye Cannae Shove Yer Grannie aff the Bus?
("Singin' Ah wull if you wull, so wull I ...")
posted by scruss at 1:54 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


This brings back bits of poorly remembered childhood memories, I don't remember worrying too much about who 'she' was but it never seemed in any way religious. I think I would have assumed originating around Montana as that was the conjunction of mountains and family, which is me dredging up my still naive inner nine year old less than thoughtful analysis. Always a fun rousing song around a campfire.
posted by sammyo at 2:29 PM on July 30, 2012


Brilliant post. I sing this to / with my daughter every night before she goes to sleep.
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 2:40 PM on July 30, 2012


Great post! Keep in mind that the melody for Ye Cannae Shove Yer Grannie is not the same as She'll Be Comin'... there are similarities, but they're different. Prime among them being that Ye Cannae Shove Yer Grannie goes good with Guinness and chips with vinegar.
posted by theplotchickens at 2:42 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Laughing my head off here. She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain was part of our culture, growing up in WV. The first link as a children's song, above, with the British woman narrating? Notice that the intro music is different from the actual verse. And that chorusy bit? First time I've heard that, too. It's some kind of a mashup of Comin' Round the Mountain and Ye Cannae Shove Yer Grannie! Awesome! Now I'm going to want to eat chicken and dumplings and drink stout all night.
posted by theplotchickens at 2:49 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yay! Was hoping this would make it back to the Blue!
posted by trip and a half at 3:08 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


REPOST
posted by thelonius at 3:41 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I learned this song as a child, I thought it went "she'll be riding six white horses". I pictured spectacular mid-ride leaps so each horse got a fair turn. Sometimes, I just thought she had very very long legs.
posted by likeso at 4:11 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or maybe the horses are stackable? (That's awesome!)
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:14 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


My ex-husband always said this song was just about sex, and he'd always snicker at the "we'll kill the old red rooster" line. This is much more interesting - thank you!
posted by queensissy at 4:20 PM on July 30, 2012


This song is timeless.
posted by sneebler at 4:28 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


another, rather non-folkish version of note
posted by pyramid termite at 5:39 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


likeso: Me, too, and I only found out that I had the lyrics wrong as I was reading your comment!
posted by amarynth at 5:41 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My banjo instructor and I had a similar conversation about this song before playing it together in a recent lesson, although he substituted "eating hot pastrami" for "six white horses" since he couldn't remember the words. It worked just fine!
posted by timetoevolve at 6:07 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry about the use of @ above.

@'s alright mama
@'s alright for you
@'s alright mama
any old way you do
@'s alright
@'s alright
@'s alright now mama
any way you do
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:09 PM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


...any way you do
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:11 PM on July 30, 2012


When I learned this song as a child, I thought it went "she'll be riding six white horses". I pictured spectacular mid-ride leaps so each horse got a fair turn. Sometimes, I just thought she had very very long legs.

That's the version that I'm most familiar with, too, although I can't remember a time when I didn't assume that the 6 horses were pulling a wagon. I guess my imagination wasn't as good as yours.
posted by asnider at 7:01 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Ye Cannae Shove Yer Grannie goes good with Guinness and chips with vinegar

wat? It's a Scottish song. We don't drink none of that broon shite.
posted by scruss at 7:18 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


An apartments.com ad featuring this song started playing at the very instant my eyes came across this post. Perhaps it was a coincidence... or perhaps the internet has become self aware and is choosing to fuck with me in really mundane ways.
posted by gincrazed at 9:04 PM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


For some reason, this song in Dutch is all about some weird aunt coming home from Marocco.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:45 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My scottish maternal(!) granny never taught me the one about the bus. Anyone know the rationale for shoving your ugly cousin? I can't make it out for the life of me. And apparently neither can the rest of the Internet.
posted by maniabug at 6:23 AM on July 31, 2012


Late to the party, but I wanted to note that American Songbag is available for online reading or download from the Internet Archive. (Though I cannot recommend the epub/kindle/text versions, they are rough machine OCR without proofreading. Stick with PDF or Read Online.)
posted by fings at 9:10 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


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