Thursday, September 17, 2009

Henry Carey--"Sally in Our Alley" (1725)

I thought that this poem's claim on immortality was pretty slight when I read it as a poem, though I thought it might be a parody or a fun favorite of schoolboys though the generations. I see that I also thought it might be a song, which is in fact what it is. Henry Carey was, as it turns out, the Paul McCartney, or Andrew Lloyd Webber, of the 1720s and 30s, the most popular songwriter of the time. "Sally in Our Alley" has enjoyed a long fame, and was known to be one of George Washington's favorite songs. Carey is also among the suspects for the authorship of "God Save the King", which is evidently undocumented, having been present at the first recorded occasion of its having been sung. He was also the author of the satirical poem "Namby-Pamby", which was pointedly directed at Ambrose Philips, whose own poem I was recently writing about.

Carey hanged himself when he was 56, the reason for which is in dispute, the main contenders being financial difficulties and despondency over the death of his son. As I noted in an earlier post, suicides among prominent British artistic figures seem quite rare compared with those of other Western nationalities, including the United States. Here is the best sounding English version of the song I could find. I guess it's...nice...I have neglected the development of any real emotional connection to this sort of music, which I think I could have.

Here is a German version, which sounds to me to be the best musically.

This 60s version , while having slightly updated lyrics, is obviously playing off the original. The story is pretty fundamental.

Favorite lines?: "Her father he makes cabbage-nets,
And thro' the street does cry 'em;
Her mother she sells laces long
To such as please to buy 'em..."

I've tried to analyze these lyrics to wring some insight from them, but I think there isn't much to say other than that this is the 18th century version of a kitchen sink drama or skiffle love song. We're British, we're living the squalid urban working class life, Sally is one of us, she's hot, and I want her in spite of all the evidence before me that working class British marriages are wretched, miserable affairs. That's called culture, baby.

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