As I was typing Jerry Barney's transcription of Gentle On My Mind, I couldn't help but notice how unusual the song is. Each verse is a whole sentence! Although it's going somewhere, it sounds very stream-of-consciousness.
This style is, to put it mildly, very rare in traditional song; I can't recall any other piece with that sort of long, drawn-out stanza. But there are many songs, especially in American tradition, with a sort of "stream-of-consciousness" feel -- something happens, then something else happens, and there really isn't much connection between them, or much point either.
Such songs are often humorous, sometimes bawdy, sometimes dependent on wordplay. (You need something to keep the listener's attention, after all, when the song doesn't have a plot to help you along.) The trick in this first verse is common; Bob Bovee and Gail Heil, for instance, have a song called George Washington which relies on the same trick, and Vance Randolph has a political song along the same lines. Less suitable for publication is the song family called Bang, Bang, Lulu (given some of the verses, I'm rather glad I don't know Lulu, or her duck -- or the song, for that matter).
Hopalong Peter isn't very widely collected, and I suspect that means it isn't very old. There seem to have been two recordings on 78s: By J. E. Mainer and by Fisher Hendley and the Aristocratic Pigs. (Until I discovered the Mainer version, I thought Hendley might have made this thing up. Lyle Lofgren tells me that the Mainer version sounds to be derived from Hendley; maybe my first reaction was right.) The Hendley version was recorded by the New Lost City Ramblers, who put it in their songbook (the only version in print, to my knowledge). I've heard other recordings (I think I first heard it sung by Roxanne Neat and David Stoeri), but they all seem to go back to the NLCR version.
I still think the song was slapped together by someone; most songs of this type repeat the wordplay, but this one has only the one verse where you expect a word and don't get it. The missing word probably seemed much more scandalous eighty or ninety years ago; maybe they didn't dare repeat the trick.
The NLCR version puts fermatas in the music all over the place. They slow down particularly at the end of the first verse, to make sure you get the point.
The music as I hear it in my head differs a bit from that in the NLCR songbook -- notably in the chorus; they show the words "where you" as being sung to an A note, I hear an F#. Lyle says he learned it with an A note. For safety, I've shown both.
You could obviously add a lot of nonsense to this song if you had
the mind. Or maybe it would be easier if you were out of your mind.
Old Uncle Peter, he got tight,
Started up to heaven on a stormy night.
The road being rough and him not well,
He lost his way and he went... to...
Hop along, Peter, where you going?
Hop along, Peter, where you going?
Hop along, Peter, won't you bear in mind
I ain 't comin' back till the gooseberry time.
Old mother Hubbard and her dog were Dutch,
A bow-legged rooster and he hobbled on a crutch.
Hen chewed tobacco and the duck drank wine;
The goose played the fiddle on the pumpkin vine.
Down in the barnyard playing seven-up,
The old tom cat and the little yellow pup,
The old mother Hubbard, she's a-pickin' out the fleas,
Rooster in the cream jar up to his knees.
I've got a sweet gal in this here town,
If she weighs an ounce, she weighs seven hundred pounds,
Every time my sweet gal turns once around,
The heel of her shoe makes a hole in the ground.
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