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What Can a Young Lassie?

[ Roud 1295 ; Ballad Index RcWCAYLD ; Bodleian Roud 1295 ; Wiltshire 240 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang What Can a Young Lassie? in 1959 on his Folkways album Songs of Robert Burns.

Jane Turriff from Aberdeenshire sang What Can a Young Lassie? at her home in Fetterangus on August 18, 1967 to Bill Leader and Peter Hall. This recording was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology As Me and My Love Sat Courting (The Voice of the People Volume 15). Another recording, made on June 13, 1979 by Allan Palmer, was included in 1996 on her Springthyme album Singing Is Ma Life.

Barbara Dickson sang Fit Can a Young Lassie? live in between 1969-73 in a folk club recording that was included in 2013 on her anthology B4 Seventy-Four.

Cilla Fisher sang What Can a Young Lassie? on their 1979 Topic album with Artie Trezise, Cilla & Artie. The album's sleeve notes commented:

This song is borrowed from Cilla’s sister Ray, who learned it from Jane Turriff of Fetterangus. We added the fiddle introduction to underline the especially haunting melody.

Alison McMorland and Peta Webb learned What Can a Young Lassie? from Jane Turriff and sang it in 1980 on their eponymous Topic album Alison McMorland & Peta Webb.

Ray Fisher sang What Can a Young Lassie? in 1991 on her Saydisc CD Traditional Songs of Scotland. She noted:

There are many songs within the Scottish tradition that tell of young women who marry old men. Invariably, the old men have plenty of money but lack most of the other attributes that young women seek in husbands. The young lassie vows to ‘hert-brak’ him, i.e. break his heart, and buy herself a younger man with the old fellow's money. This text is very close to the one attributed to Robert Burns, but I feel the origin of the song is much older.

Ian D. Benzie sang What Can a Young Lassie Do Wi' an Auld Man? on the 1996 Linn anthology The Complete Songs of Robert Burns Volume 1.

Maureen Jelks sang What Can a Young Lassie? at Celtic Connections 2001 in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in January 2001. This recording was included in the following years on the festival anthology Scots Women.

Lori Watson sang What Can a Young Lassie? in 2006 on her CD Three.

Sylvia Barnes sang What Can a Young Lassie Dae Wi' an Auld Man? on her 2007 Greentrax CD The Colour of Amber. She noted:

There are a great many songs in the tradition which deal with the subject of young women being married off to old men for money or status. Credited to Burns, but possibly recreated from a traditional original, set to a pre-existing air of the same name.

I particularly like this version as the heroine refuses to meekly accept her fate…!

Lyrics

Cilla Fisher sings What Can a Young Lassie? Ray Fisher sings What Can a Young Lassie?

What can a young lassie, what shall a young lassie?
What can a young lassie dae wi’ an auld man?
Bad luck on the pennie that tempted my Minnie,
Tae sell her poor Jenny fir siller an’ land.

What can a young lassie, what shall a young lassie,
What can a young lassie dae wi’ an auld man?
Bad luck on the penny that tempted my Minnie,
Tae sell her pair Jenny for siller and land.

He’s always compleenin’ frae mornin’ tae e’enin’,
He hosts an’ he hirpls the weary day lang,
He’s doyl’t an’ he’s dozin’, his blude it is frozen,
Oh dreary’s the night wi’ a crazy auld man.

He’s always complainin’ frae mornin’ till evenin’,
And I never can please him dae a’ that I can,
He’s peevish an’ jealous o’ a’ the young fellows,
O dule on the day I spend wi’ an auld man.

He hums and he hankers, he frets an’ he cankers,
I never can please him dae a’ that I can,
He’s peevish an’ jealous o’ a’ the young fellas,
Oh dool on the day I met wi’ an auld man.

For he hums and he hankers, he frets and he cankers,
He hosts and he hirples the weary day lang,
He’s doighted and dozin’ and his blood it is frozen,
Oh weary’s the nicht I spend wi’ an auld man.

My auld auntie Katie upon me taks pity,
I’ll do my endeavour tae follow her plan.
I’ll cross him an’ wrack him until I heartbreak him
An’ then his auld brass will buy me a new pan.

Now my auld auntie Katie on me has ta'en pity,
I’ll do my endeavour tae follow her plan.
I’ll cross him and wrack him until I hert-brak him
An’ then his auld brass will buy me a new pan.