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Johnny Todd

[ Roud 1102 ; G/D 8:1583 ; Ballad Index FSWB174A ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang Johnny Todd in about 1954/55 on his, A.L. Lloyd's and Harry H. Corbett's Topic album The Singing Sailor. This track has been reissued lots of times, e.g. on their albums Row Bullies Row Singing Sailors (Wattle Records), Off to Sea Once More (Stinson Records) and A Hundred Years Ago. Lloyd commented in the last album's sleeve notes:

A curiosity: a 19th century sailor ballad, that passed into the keeping of Liverpool children who used it as a ball-bouncing song, and finally emerged as a wildly successful theme-tune for the television cops-and-robbers serial, “Z Cars”. Main credit is due to the folk song collector Frank Kidson, who published it in his Traditional Tunes in 1891.

Ewan MacColl also included Johnny Todd in his 1960 book The Singing Island where he noted:

This song first appeared in print in Frank Kidson's Traditional Tunes. Kidson had heard it as a child in Liverpool, where it was sung as a children's game song, and during the last fifty years many other versions have come to light. The fourth stanza is the one most subject to variation and it crops up in many songs, particularly urban ones. A Scots version, Johnny Johnson, is known to Edinburgh children.

Isla Cameron sang Johnny Todd on her 1956 Tradition album Through Bushes and Briars.

Bob Roberts sang Johnny Todd in a Peter Kennedy recording on his 1960 Talking Book EP Windy Old Weather. This track was also included in 1994 on the Saydisc CD of sea songs collected by Peter Kennedy, Sea Songs and Shanties. Kennedy commented in the latter album's booklet:

Collected by Frank Kidson, the tune of this song became well-known in the late sixties when it was used for the TV series “Z Cars” which featured the Liverpool police. It seems to be a sailor's version of Madam Will You Walk? (known in a Somerset version as The Keys of Canterbury). The only other version I have recorded was Johnny Sailor, sung by children in the streets of Belfast.

The Galliard sang Johnny Todd in 1963 on their album England's Great Folk Group.

Paddie Bell sang Johnny Todd in 1965 on her EMI album Paddie—Herself.

Louis Killen sang Johnny Todd in 1973 on the National Geographic Society's anthology Songs & Sounds of the Sea.

Hughie Jones sang Johnny Todd on his 1999 Fellside CD Seascape.

The Andover Museum Loft Singers conducted by Paul Sartin sang Johnny Todd in 2012 on their WildGoose CD The Bedmaking. The album's liner notes commented:

A Liverpool song for Loft Singer, conducting assistant and Scouser David Hughes, the melody of this found fame as the theme to “Z Cars”. It was first published by collector Frank Kidson in 1891.

A Scottish variant is printed in Norman Buchan's 101 Scottish Songs with the title My True Love's a Sailor.

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings Johnny Todd Bob Roberts sings Johnny Todd

Johnny Todd he took a notion
For to cross the ocean wide.
And he left his true love behind him
Weeping by the Liverpool tide.

Johnny Todd he had a notion
For to sail the ocean wide.
But he left his true love behind him
Walking by the Liverpool tide.

For a week she wept full sorely,
Tore her hair and wrung her hands,
Till she met with another sailor
Walking on the Liverpool sands.

For a week she wept in sorrow,
Tore her hair and wrung her hands,
Till she met with another sailor
Walking by the Liverpool sand.

“Why, fair maid, are you a-weeping,
For your Johnny gone to sea?
If you'll wed with me tomorrow
I will kind and constant be.

“O fair maid, why are you weeping?
For your Johnny out at sea?
If you'll wed with me tomorrow
I will kind and constant be.

“I will buy you sheets and blankets,
I'll buy you a wedding ring.
You shall have a gilded cradle
For to rock your baby in.”

“I will buy you sheets and blankets,
I'll buy you a wedding ring.
You shall have a gilded cradle
For to rock your baby in.”

Johnny Todd came back from sailing,
Sailing o'er the ocean wide,
But he found that his fair and false one
Was another sailor's bride.

Johnny Todd came home from sailing,
Sailing o'er the ocean wide,
But he found that his fair and false one
Was another sailor's bride.

All you men who go a-sailing
For to fight the foreign foe:
Don't leave your love like Johnny,
Marry her before you go.

So all you who go a-sailing,
Or to fight the foreign foe:
Do not leave your own true love like Johnny,
Marry her before you go.

My True Love's a Sailor in 101 Scottish Songs

Johnnie Johnston's ta'en a notion
For tae go an' sail the sea,
There he left his ain dear Jessie
Weepin' on the Greenock Quay.

“Weep nae mair my own dear Jessie,
Tak' your baby on your knee,
Drink his health, my jolly sailors,
I'll come back and marry thee.”

“I will give you beads and earrings,
I will give you diamond stones,
I will give you a horse to ride on,
When your true love's dead and gone.”

“What care I for beads and earrings?
What care I for diamond stones?
What care I for a horse to ride on,
When my true love's dead and gone?”

Links

See also the Mudcat Café threads Tune Req: Johnny Todd and Lyr Req: Johnny Todd pinched a z car.