What makes this lyric particularly "English"?
October 30, 2009 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Folk-music-filter: Is there something particularly "English" about the 1-2-3-4 construction I'm hearing in the song Roots by the group Show of Hands?

The song is a sort of lament over the fact that English music & traditions are not particularly admired or practiced in favor of more exotic musical fare. That the music that people listen to and dance all night to isn't particularly "English".

And it's done not in a horrible, racist BNP sort of way, but as the lyric reads,
what have they got and we've got wrong?

I really dig the song because it's not saying "Other people's music is shit", or even "Our music is better than other people's". It comes across to me as saying "Our music is worth enjoying and it's been neglected".

And as the song is about "Englishness", the line Seed, plant, flower, fruit, never gonna grow without their roots stuck in my ear.

The first thing I thought of was Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman from "Jack and the Beanstalk". Then I thought parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme

That 1-2-3-4 construction brings the thought of England to mind. Seed, plant, flower, and fruit sounds like something one of Prof. Tolkien's hobbits would have said.

Is what I'm noticing something that is particularly "English"? Any other similar examples?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey to Society & Culture (8 answers total)
Four things in sequence doesn't strike me as particularly English in any way.

Given your username, I'm going to suggest Confirmation Bias.
posted by Aquaman at 10:11 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're talking about 4/4 time. And that isn't very close to English folk music, as this book seems to indicate. Wikipedia confirms that "duple" means 2/4 time.

There is nothing inherently "English" about at 4/4 time signature--the majority of western music uses the 4/4 time signature. Listen to the song and you can hear it. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4.

In other words these dudes are posers.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2009

It has a "double, double, toil and trouble" kind of rhythm. Maybe it's subconsciously reminding you of Shakespeare.

(p.s. he's not asking about the time signature, it's the "noun1, noun2, noun3 & noun4" lyrical pattern.)
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:53 AM on October 30, 2009

(p.s. he's not asking about the time signature, it's the "noun1, noun2, noun3 & noun4" lyrical pattern.)

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:55 AM on October 30, 2009

I'm not an expert on this, but the basic concept you seem to be exploring is the concept of Meter

Meter (poetry)

That wikipedia article goes fairly deep into the most common meter in different languages and actually is a good launching point into the subject.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:09 AM on October 30, 2009

All the examples given are instances of Ballad Stanza (see also Ballad/Common Metre.

While this doesn't directly explain the noun list, its worth noting that it fits easily into this scheme. Ballads are very typical of English folk music up to the Nineteenth century.
posted by tallus at 11:15 AM on October 30, 2009

Also I have to say I'm not sure you can pull 4/4 time out of the equation each of your examples places emphasis on the beat.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:16 AM on October 30, 2009

- The chorus sounds vaguely English to me...sounds sort of like English choral music to me.

- I'm not an expert in harmony but I associate a lot of English vocal music (classical and folk) with somewhat simplified and square harmony. I hear that in the chorus too.

-There's a sing-songy element to the song that is definitely reminiscent of British Isles folk music. This isn't maybe the best example, but try this around around 3:30 (The Watersons singing 30 Foot Trailer)
posted by sully75 at 1:22 PM on October 30, 2009

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