Sing a Song of Earworms

I could have put this as a comment on Florence Hazrat’s post about refrains and earworms, but I wanted to embed another Youtube clip, because it’s too good to miss. This is a modern performance of a song, Richard Dering’s ‘The Cries of London’, which probably dates to around 1600. It’s one of a number of songs from the period that are made out of the characteristic calls of street sellers.

The words…
What do ye lack do ye buy sir, see what ye lack, pins, points, garters, Spanish gloves or silk ribbons?
Will ye buy a very fine cabinet, a fair scarf, or a rich girdle and hangers?
See here, madam, fine cobweb lawn, good cambric or fair bone lace.
Will ye buy any very fine silk stocks, sir?
See here a fair hat of the French block, sir.
New oysters new, lily white mussels new.
New mackerel, mackerel new.
New haddock, haddocks new, new great cockles new.
Quick, periwinkles, quick, quick, quick!
Plaice, plaice, plaice, new great plaice.
Will ye buy my dish of eels?
New sprats, new sprats tuppence a peck, tuppence a peck at Milford stairs.
Salt, salt, salt, salt, fine white salt.
Will ye buy any milk today, mistress?
Ha’ ye any work for a tinker?
Ha’ ye any ends of gold or silver?
Ha’ ye any old bowls or trays or bellows to mend?
What kitchen stuff ha’ ye maids? My mother was an honest wife, and twenty years she led this life. What kitchen stuff ha’ ye maids, what kitchen stuff ha’ ye maids?
Will ye buy a mat, a mat for a bed? [etc. at considerable length]

There are all sorts of things that makes these songs interesting, but the one that matters here is that they are, very unusually, collages of earworms. They take the kind of nagging sounds that would infiltrate the minds of Elizabethan Londoners as they walked through the city streets, and they weave them into a loose song structure. Whether this tames those earworm qualities, or unleashes them, I’m not sure. It’d be interesting to hear of any similar songs.

E-mail me at rtrl100[at]cam.ac.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.