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The Foolish Boy / The Swapping Song

[ Roud 469 ; Master title: The Foolish Boy ; G/D 8:1696 ; Henry H732 ; TYG 58 ; Ballad Index E093 ; SwappingSong at Old Songs ; GlosTrad Roud 469 ; Wiltshire 741 ; DT WIMWAMWD ; Mudcat 56919 , 99078 ; trad.]

The Swapping Song is from Cecil Sharp’s English Folk Song for Schools.

Shirley Collins recorded The Swapping Song in a two day session in London in 1958 for her 1960 LP False True Lovers. She also sang this song as The Foolish Boy in 1959 or 1960 on her Collector EP English Songs Volume 2.

Mummers of Dorchester, Dorset sang Wim Wam Waddles on the anthology Songs of Animals and Other Marvels (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 10; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

Cyril Tawney sang The Foolish Boy on his 1970 Argo album Cyril Tawney Sings Children’s Songs From Devon and Cornwall.

Peggy Seeger sang The Swapping Song on the 1971 Argo Records anthology The Word of Folk.

Troy Penfold sang Wim Wim Wobble O in a recording made by Sam Richards and Tish Stubbs in between 1974 and 1980 on the 1981 Folkways record An English Folk Music Anthology.

Sarah Ogan Gunning sang Ring Dang Rantigan on her 1976 Rounder album The Silver Dagger. Mark Wilson noted:

In Appalachia, the two songs heard here are generally combined into one piece called The Swapping Song. Sarah, however, knows these as two distinct songs, the first of which is quite close to the earliest printed version, reproduced here, in Mother Goose’s Melody, printed ca. 1765 by John Newbery. (The compilation of this volume is usually attributed to Oliver Goldsmith.) The theme of successive barters at a loss—what might be called “The Bottle Imp” motive!—forms the basis for any number of songs and stories and the Brown collection contains a rhyme quite similar to Sarah’s. Trading is still an integral way of life in rural Kentucky and Jim [Garland; Sarah Ogan Gunning’s brother] says that one family became well off if not rich by meeting in the barn loft and trading with each other every Saturday. And there were two fellows who wanted to trade chickens. One man had Leghorns and the other Dominickers. The first one said that the only fair way to swap was to trade a dozen Leghorns for a dozen Dominickers. The second fellow said that that was alright but his chickens were so big that nine of them made a dozen!

The Claque sang I Went to London in 2008 on their WildGoose CD Sounding Now. They noted:

I Went to London is from the singing of Karl Peachey of Devon. It belongs to the family of swapping and lying songs where a singer would try to out-claim the fantastic declarations of the singer who sang the previous verse, often holding some token that would be passed around. Our great claim is that we, once, nearly got this completely right in performance. At Cheltenham, Tom’s phone went off just as he was about to sing his bit. We didn’t flinch!

Jeff Davis with Brian Peters on chorus sang The Foolish Boy as collected by Cecil Sharp from Fitzhugh Droghan, Berea, KY, on 22 May 1917, in 2013 on their CD Sharp’s Appalachian Harvest. They notes:

Droghan, an earnest young student at Berea College, was, Sharp noted, “only interested in songs that contain ‘great thoughts’ and regards the fool songs as something of beneath his intellectual notice.” Might he have been more interested if he had known that The Foolish Boy is an old English nursery rhyme, its story found in the folk tales of [Hans Christian Andersen] and the Grimms? Often called Swapping Song, it was widely known on both sides of the Atlantic, and has been recorded by many, including Shirley Collins and Burl Ives. To imagine that the verse implying electoral corruption might be an American addition, would reveal a too-rosy view on British balloting.

Andy Turner sang this song as Old John Braddalum as the 23 August 2014 entry of his blog A Folk Song a Week.


Shirley Collins sings The Swapping Song

My father died and I can’t tell how,
He left me six horses to follow the plough.

Chorus (after each verse):
With a wim-wim-wobble-o
Bubble-o, pretty boy, over the brow.

So I sold the horses and I bought a cow,
But how for to milk her I didn’t know how.

So I sold the cow and I bought a calf,
I never made a bargain but I lose the better half.

So I sold the calf and I bought a cat,
The pretty little thing in the corner sat.

I sold the cat and I bought a mouse,
It set fire to its tail and burnt down my house.

Peggy Seeger sings The Swapping Song

When I was a little boy I lived by myself
And all the bread and cheese I got I laid it on the shelf

Chorus (after each verse):
To my wing-wong waddle, to my Jack Straw saddle,
To my jolly fair faddle, to my long way home!

Well, the rats and the mice, they led me such a life
That I had to go to London for to get myself a wife

The roads were so rocky and the lanes were so narrow
That I had to bring her home in an old wheelbarrow

My foot slipped and I got me such a fall,
Down came wheelbarrow, little wife and all

I swapped my wheelbarrow and I got me a horse
Then I rode home from cross to cross

I swapped my horse and I got me a mule
Then I rode home like a doggone fool

I swapped my mule, I got me a cow
And in that trade I learned just how

I swapped my cow and I got me a calf
And I ever got a bargain, I just just half

I swapped my calf and I got me a sheep
Then I rode till I fell asleep

I swapped my sheep and I got me a hen
Oh! what a pretty thing I had then!

I swapped my hen and I got me a rat
I sat it on a haystack to keep it from the cat

I swapped my rat, I got me a mouse
Its tail caught afire and burned our little house

I swapped my mouse, I got me a mole
And the dog-gone thing went straight to the hole!

Sarah Ogan Gunning sings Ring Dang Rantigan

When I was a little boy living by myself,
All the meat and bread I got, I put it on the shelf.

Chorus (after each verse):
Singing, Ring dang rantigan, Jack straw stranigan,
Fing fing fanigan, a long way home.

Well, the rats and mice they led me such a life
That I had to go to London to get myself a wife.

Well, the roads was so muddy and the streets was so narrow
That I had to bring her home in an old wheelbarrow.

Well, the wheelbarrow broke and my wife got a fall
And away went the pretty wife, wheelbarrow and all.

There’s an old hymn book lying on the shelf
And if you want any more you can sing it yourself.

— — —

Went to the river and I couldn’t get across
And I paid five dollars for an old grey horse
And the horse wouldn’t pull and I swapped him for a bull
And the bull wouldn’t beller and I swapped him for a heifer
And the heifer wouldn’t swaller and I swapped him for a dollar
And the dollar won’t pass and I throwed it in the grass
And along came a grasshopper kicking up his …