This is a traditional Scottish song commonly sung when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve and other festive occasions. The problem is, hardly anyone knows the words, just, "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot… for the sake of Auld Lang Syne."
Robert Burns is a poet who restored this song based on fragments of an old ballad dating from before his time. It appears he added a few verses to the song. The most compelling evidence is demonstrated in a letter from Burns to Mrs. Agnes Dunlop in which he comments:
"Light be the turf on breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment! There is more of the fire of native genius in it than in half a dozen of modern English Bacchanalians"
In this statement, Robert Burns was confirming that someone else had written this, but the original words had been lost over time. His reference to "Light be the turf" means the turf lying upon the writers grave. The "glorious fragment" confirms that Burns had taken the only known verses and added to them. His praise of the unknown writers talent demonstrates Burns great admiration for the words. On this basis, it has been concluded that Burns wrote at least two verses, which have been attributed to his style (Verses 3 and 4). The other verses and the famous chorus are believed to have dated from the middle of the 16th century, if not before.
This simple five-verse poem is best summed up in one single verse, which is usually sung in the famous shortened version of the piece. Whether Burns himself wrote these lines cannot be proven:Should old acquaintances be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?
Mike - Mountlake Terrace, Washington - for all above
"Auld Lang Syne" translates literally to "Old Long Since" or more idiomatically, "Days Of Long Ago."
This was sung over 150 years before Robert Burns came across it in the late 1780s. Burns transcribed it from "an old man singing," having been deeply moved by the words and in particular the line "should old acquaintances be forgot." He added at least two new verses to those which already existed and sent it to his friend James Johnson, the publisher of Scots Musical Museum, as an old Scottish song. Johnson delayed publishing it until after Burns' death.
The song's popularity as a New Year's tune can be attributed to Guy Lombardo, who in North America was the entertainer most associated with the holiday from the 1930s until his death in 1977 at age 75. Born in Ontario, Canada, Lombardo began performing in America with his band in 1923.
Billed as "Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians," they started the tradition of playing "Auld Lang Syne" at the stroke of midnight in 1930 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. Lombardo and his Orchestra became wildly popular in America, becoming mainstays at gala events like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and various presidential inaugurations.
His New Year's Eve shows were broadcast on various radio stations, which was how many Americans and Canadians brought the party into their homes. On the last day of 1954, these broadcasts were televised for the first time, and Lombardo became the face of the holiday. In 1966, Lombardo shifted venue to the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, where he broadcast until death, always playing "Auld Lang Syne" as the calendar turned. (The Royal Canadians did two more broadcasts sans Lombardo).
Lombardo's TV specials aired on CBS, and by the '70s had little appeal to a younger generation raised on rock and roll. Dick Clark countered with his own New Year's specials aimed at a younger audience, with the first Rockin' New Year's Eve broadcast in 1972 featuring the Rock band Three Dog Night, who played a more contemporary version of "Auld Lang Syne" to welcome in the New Year. Clark took over hosting duties for the special in 1974, and while he never made a big deal about the song Lombardo popularized, you could always hear it playing after the ball dropped.
Robert Burns has a keen musical ear and he wrote over 250 songs, mainly in Scots vernacular. Despite frequently borrowing other peoples fragments of verse he became known mainly through his songs as the National poet of Scotland.
In 1999 Cliff Richard had a UK chart topper with his "Millennium Prayer," which was the words of The Lord's Prayer sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne."
Glenn Miller and Guy Lombardo recorded the versions heard in films such as When Harry Met Sally and It's A Wonderful Life.
In the movie When Harry Met Sally, just seconds after he successfully declares his love for Sally (Meg Ryan) at a New Year's Eve party, Harry (Billy Crystal), goes on a rant about this this song, saying: "My whole life, I don't know what this song means. It means 'Should old acquaintance be forgot.' Does that mean we should forget old acquaintances or does it mean that if we should happen to forget them, we should remember them which is not possible because we already forgot?"
Sally then replies: "Well maybe it just means that maybe we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it's about old friends."
A popular version of this song was recorded by The Beach Boys in 1964 on The Beach Boys' Christmas Album, but the only charting version of this song on the Hot 100 (which was introduced in 1955), is by the saxophone player Kenny G. In 1999, he released "Auld Lang Syne (The Millennium Mix)," which went to #7. His version features his sax under a series of clips from famous broadcasts, including speeches by John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.