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The song the world now recognizes as "The Riddle Song" was originally titled "I Gave My Love a Cherry." Like most traditional songs, both the author of the song and the date in which it was written are unknown. This song is a lullaby based on two English Folk songs, Child Ballad no. 1, also known as "Riddles Wisely Expounded", and Child Ballad no. 46. In this lullaby, which was said to be written in the 15th century, a maiden says she is advised to unite with her lover.
Some of the many artists to record this song include Burl Ives on his debut album Okeh Presents the Wayfaring Stranger (1941), Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Carly Simon, Doc Watson, Sam Cooke, Shelby Flint on her album Shelby Flint Sings Folk, and children's music singer and songwriter Nancy Cassidy for her album Kids' Songs Jubilee.
By the 20th century, rumors began to circulate that the song contains hidden messages. The most shocking of these was the rumor that the line "I gave my love a cherry that has no stone," was said to refer to a woman who has lost her virginity. The song's "cherry that has no stone" goes back to the 15th-century version's "the cherye with-outyn ony ston." Some have seen it as a reference to the hymen, and some have even tried to reconstruct an original bawdy version from which modern versions are supposedly bowdlerized. However, the relevant slang sense of "cherry" is not attested till the early 20th century. Equally shocking was the rumor that the line, "I gave my love a chicken that has no bone," was said to refer to pregnancy, as the "chicken that has no bone" referred to the baby inside the mother's womb. The other riddles in the original do not resemble the "reconstructions."
Despite the popularity of the title "The Riddle Song," it is merely one of a multitude of riddle songs; the format is common through folk music. The song was featured in the famous toga party scene in the movie Animal House
, where actor John Belushi's character, Bluto, comes across a folk singer (portrayed by singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop, who is credited as "Charming Guy With Guitar") performing the song for a group of college girls. Bluto abruptly takes the singer's acoustic guitar out of his hands and smashes it violently, then hands a splintered piece of it back, saying "Sorry." Bishop, who went on to write the hit "Separate Lives
," told us that he and Animal House
musical director Kenny Vance came up with the idea for his wussy folk-singer character to perform "Cherry." Says Bishop, "It seemed like the right song to do in the scene." (thanks, Annabelle - Eugene, OR, for all above)
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