Remembering The Old Songs:


by Lyle Lofgren
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, November 2002)

I don't know the identity of the earliest song composed by a human, but I have a good bet for the second one: it was a parody of the first. Musical parody, at least in the sense of setting new words to an older tune, is so common in popular music history that we often don't notice how uncommon it is in the other arts. Parody is not necessarily comedy. It often makes serious statements. In the first half of the 20th century, for example, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) published their Little Red Songbook, filled with pro-union protest songs that were almost all parodies. There's no music notation in the book, but each song lists a popular tune to use when singing it, such as The Shade of the Old Apple Tree.

The Second Great Awakening started in the first half of the 1800s (the First was in the mid-1700s), and was a plush time for evangelists, who were in demand for tent revival meetings all over America. Many city sophisticates were bemused by the religious fervor, and one response was to make sport of it. The earliest reference I find (1861) to this month's song is sheet music that advertises:

Sung with immense applause in the musical extravaganza of Mazeppa at Mrs. John Drew's Arch Street Theater. Music arr. Chas. R. Dodsworth, Phila.

From the cover lithograph*, it's obvious that religious satire was intended ,  although there's no clue as to whether the song was also a parody of an existing gospel song. The song must have been quite popular, because it generated lots of parodies with patriotic Civil War verses, such as Dixie's Band and McClellan's Band.

The Old Testament (Judges, chapters 6 and 7) tells of Gideon and his band; how God made Gideon repeatedly reduce the size of his army until only 300 were left; how they surrounded the Midianites (at midnight?), using only trumpets and lanterns hidden inside pitchers. At the signal, they all blew their trumpets and broke the pitchers. The raucous noise and spectacular light show panicked the Midianites, who began to fight each other in the confusion and self-destructed without any other help. Many small groups of true believers with a cause have used the name Gideon's Band, and almost all of them have been targets for satire by groups that don't hold those beliefs. Although the Second Great Awakening never disappeared, moving out of the gospel tent into radio and TV, the Bible Belt wasn't as monolithic as it seemed. There was still an audience in the rural South for religious satire/parodies such as this song.

This version was recorded for Brunswick in 1928 by Al Hopkins and his Buckle Busters (when they recorded for Vocalion, they called themselves The Hill Billies). The band members, from the area where North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee meet, were townies rather than farmers, but were quite popular as entertainers in the Southeast. Although the song was at least 70 years old when they recorded it, they probably did not learn it from oral tradition. It was republished in 1918 in a popular collection called The Book of a Thousand Songs, and they most likely learned it from that book.


Complete Lyrics:
1.Oh, Noey, he did build the ark,
Oh, Noey, he did build the ark,
Oh, Noey, he did build the ark,
Of cinnamon wood and hickory bark.

Do you belong to Gideon's band,
Here's my heart, and here's my hand.
If you belong to Gideon's band,
We're hunting for a home.

2.Here come the animals, two by two, (X3)
A leopard and a kangaroo.

3.Oh, Eve she did the apple eat, (X3)
She popped her lips and said 'twas sweet.

4.Oh, keep your nose upon your face, (X3)
For anywhere else, it's out of place.

5.Oh, keep your hat upon your head, (X3)
For you will want it when you're dead.

* I found this sheet music at the Earl Gregg Swem Library Special Collection website. Since then, it's disappeared from their website, but you could try contacting them, if you're that curious. The original (now broken) link was
Return to the Remembering the Old Songs page.