"Seven Drunken Nights" is an Irish version of a humorous folk song most famously performed by The Dubliners. The song (Child 274, Roud 114) is often referred to as "Our Goodman". It tells the story of a gullible drunkard returning night after night to see new evidence of his wife's lover, only to be taken in by increasingly implausible explanations.
According to Roud and Bishop
"This was an immensely widespread song, probably known all over the English-speaking world, with the wording varying considerably but the structure and basic story remaining the same."
In British Popular Ballads John E. Housman observes that "There is much of Chaucer's indomitable gaiety in this ballad. The questions of the jealous husband and the evasions of his wife are treated here in a humorous vein, and there are French ballads of a similar type."
The song is first found in a London of the 1760s entitled "The Merry Cuckold and the Kind Wife". The broadside was translated into German, and spread into Hungary and Scandinavia. Unaware of the origin of the German ballad, Child cited it as an analogy. It was also collected in Scotland in the 1770s and was believed to be a Scottish song. Unusually for such a popular and widespread song, it appears in only a few nineteenth century broadsides.
The structure and bawdy nature of the song allow it to be sung from memory by convivial companies. Among polite audiences only five of the seven nights usually are sung because of the vulgar nature of the final two. Each night is a verse, followed by a chorus, in which the narrator comes home in a drunken state to find evidence of another man having been with his wife, which she explains away, not entirely convincingly. The song also became part of American folk culture, both through Irish-Americans and through the blues tradition.
The song passed from oral tradition to a global mass market with The Dubliners recording of "Seven Nights Drunk". The record reached number 7 in the UK charts in 1967 and appeared on Top of the Pops, thanks to its diffusion on Radio Caroline, though it was banned from the national broadcasting station. The song also charted at No.1 in Ireland.
Euro Charts #11
- Seven Drunken Nights
- Paddy On The Railway
Lyrics and story
Different versions of the lyrics exist right from the start of the song though variation increases for the last two nights.
On the first, night (generally Monday), the narrator sees a strange horse outside the door:As I went home on Monday night as drunk as drunk could be, I saw a horse outside the door where my old horse should be. Well, I called me wife and I said to her: "Will you kindly tell to me Who owns that horse outside the door where my old horse should be?"
His wife tells him it is merely a sow, a gift from her mother:"Ah, you're drunk, you're drunk, you silly old fool, still you can not see That's a lovely sow that me mother sent to me."
In each verse the narrator notices a flaw in each explanation, but seems content to let the matter rest:Well, it's many a day I've travelled a hundred miles or more, But a saddle on a sow sure I never saw before.
The next four nights involve a coat (actually a blanket according to the wife, upon which he notices buttons), a pipe (a tin whistle, filled with tobacco), two boots (flower pots, with laces), and finally, this being the last verse often sung, a head peering out from beneath the covers. Again his wife tells him it is a baby boy, leading to the retort "a baby boy with his whiskers on sure I never saw before." Each new item appearing in the house is said to be a gift from the wife's mother.
The final two verses are often not sung, generally considered too raunchy, different versions are cited below. Verse six sometimes keeps the same story line, in which two hands appear on the wife's breasts. The wife, giving the least likely explanation yet, tells him that it is merely a nightgown, though the man notices that this nightgown has fingers. In yet another version, the wife remarks that he's seen a hammer in her bed, and his response is that a hammer with a condom on is something he's never seen before. This latter version usually ends day seven with the singer's target of choice in bed, and the husband replies that he's never seen so-and-so with a hard on before. Another version involves a carrot, on which a foreskin had never been seen before. Live versions of Sunday night include the following verse. As I went home on Sunday night as drunk as drunk could be. I saw me wife inside the bed and this she said to me: Then, the song wraps up with a part from "Never on a Sunday."
Another version exists with a slight twist. The man sees a man coming out the door at a little after 3:00, this time the wife saying it was an English tax collector that the Queen sent. (or the king of England ) The narrator, now wise to what is going on, remarks: "Well, it's many a day I've travelled a hundred miles or more, but an Englishman who can last till three, I've never seen before." While this departs noticeably from the standard cycle, the twist is slightly more clever, and takes a jab at the English (a popular ploy in some Irish songs). As this sort of wraps up the story, it is usually sung as the last verse, be it the sixth or seventh.
Probably the most common version of the seventh verse involves the man seeing a "thing" in her "thing", or in "the bed", where his "thing" should be. Again his wife is ready with an answer. It is a rolling pin. The narrator then remarks, "A rolling pin made out of skin, I never saw before." Another version reuses the tin whistle excuse, upon which the narrator remarks "...hair on a tin whistle sure I never saw before." Other versions claim the "thing" involved is a candle (in which case she doesn't recycle an excuse from an earlier night). The narrator this time remarks that he had never before seen a pair of balls on a candle.
There are also vernacular versions of the song among Irish-Americans, with at least one version referred to as "Uncle Mike."
In that version, the wife's reply to the drunkard (Uncle Mike) is: Oh you darn fool, you damn fool, you son-of-a-bitch said she, It only is a milk cow my mother sent to me.
The drunkard's reply to his wife is more similar to the "official" version recorded by The Dubliners and other Irish folk singing groups: Well, there's many times I've travelled, a hundred miles or more, But a saddle on a sow, sure; I've never see before.
Variations such as "Uncle Mike" are common in oral, local cultures. Note how in America the pig became a milk cow, and the distance travelled by the drunkard expands considerably. "Four Nights Drunk" and "Five Nights Drunk" are just two of the many versions of this song (Cray 1999).