The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Christmas carol about the 12 days after Christmas that is mostly full of birds.

The Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas corresponds to the 12 day Christian season following Christmas. The 12 days of Christmas are after Christmas, not before it. Starting with Christmas Day as the first day the 12 days of Christmas end on January 5th the eve of the Epiphany. Incidentally the evening of January 5th, the 12th night, is the title reference in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Twelfth Night.

As for the song, it was originally a poem and has a cumulative verse style. It probably began life as a memory & forfeit game for twelfth night festivities where participants would recite the cumulative lines faster and faster until making a mistake and be eliminated. As a poem the earliest known publication is 1780 in Mirth Without Mischief (but the poem is likely much older). It was finally set to music in 1868.

1 + (1+2) + (1+2+3) …

The song is sung from the perspective of someone whose true love gives them gifts on each of the 12 days of Christmas. The first day is a partridge in a pear tree, the second day is two turtle doves, etc. However, the gifts are given repeatedly on each new day plus the latest gift. For example a partridge in a pear tree is given on the first day but it’s given on the other 11 days as well, meaning 12 partridges are given in total. Adding it all up there are 364 total items given across the 12 days – most of which are birds.

The items given each day really adds up over 12 days.

A covey, a bevy, a brood, … 

The first 7 days of gifts are all birds which, adding them up across the 12 days, means 224 birds are given. That’s a lot of birds. This works when you realize that the five gold rings were not originally jewelry.

As the lyrics have changed over the years, the five gold rings most likely started out as either five ringed pheasants or five “goldspinks” (an older name for the goldfinch). As strange as the song is this would make a lot more sense since the first 4 days are all birds and then the next 2 are also birds. 

The four calling birds also make little sense (birds sing but they don’t exactly call), but looking back at earlier versions of the lyrics this was previously “four collie birds”. The name “collie bird” is an older name for a blackbird with collie being a reference to colliery (another name for a coal mine).

The gift of a partridge is straightforward enough, but the pear tree is an odd addition. The English word “partridge”, through a series of language leaps, comes from the Greek “perdix” which is related to “perdesthai” meaning “to fart”. The partridge is a bird named after farting and probably acquired this flatulent name because of the sound its wings make when flapping. The “pear tree” is probably because it sounds like “pertis”, the French for “partridge”.

Go-old Rings

The melody and lyrics we know today are because of late 19th / early 20th century English musician Frederic Austin. Around 1905 Austin standardized The Twelve Days of Christmas, setting it to a traditional folk tune, which was published by Novello & Co Ltd. in 1909. He changed collie birds to calling birds and he also gave us perhaps the most memorable part of “five go-old rings”.

Austin made the fifth gift the jewelry of gold rings we know today. His innovation of singing this part as “five go-old rings” is copyrighted and as such royalties have to be paid to Novello & Co Ltd. should you use their version of the song.


When a fragment of a song repeats over & over in your mind.

Earworms (aka Involuntary Musical Imagery) are pieces of music that ceaselessly repeat in your mind until something finally breaks the cycle, ending the loop. Almost everyone experiences earworms. Sometimes a song gets stuck in your head after you recently heard it but other times it can be triggered by a memory (such as seeing a product and remembering an old commercial jingle).

The types of songs that get stuck in our heads tend to be faster simpler melodies that have some unique/catchy element that make them stand out from other songs. They also tend to be (but are not always) songs you like, particular to your musical tastes, and are songs you listen to more often. Another quality that makes a song a strong candidate for an earworm, which is also a quality that our brains like, is repetition. Typically when a song gets stuck in your head it’s not the whole song but instead is just a catchy fragment of a song that can seamlessly repeat over & over. Related to the Zeigarnik effect and how our brains hold on to unfinished tasks, a song fragment will remain in our brains, unfinished, looping over & over until we are able to complete the song (or until we get distracted). As such one way to stop an earworm is to listen to the entire song. Like nudging the needle on a record player that is skipping over and over, listening to the entirety of the song can help break the loop and bring a sense of closure.

Other potential cures for earworms, beyond listening to the song in its entirety, are:
• Listen to “cure” songs (not the band, although …). Listening to other songs can distract/free your mind from the loop it is in.
• Do something else. Since we aren’t as good at multitasking as we thing we are, putting your conscious thoughts towards some other task can end the earworm.
• Chew gum. The act of chewing uses some of the same regions of the brain as speech and, since most earworms are songs with lyrics, chewing can help distract your brain from the looping lyrics of the earworm.

Added info: as for literal worms or bugs in your ears, it happens but it’s not common. Cockroaches (who are not adept at walking backwards), spiders, and flies seem to be the most common types of insects/arachnids that accidentally find their way into human ears. These creatures typically don’t want to be there but may end up getting stuck which is bad for everyone involved.

Finally the term “earworm” comes from the earwig insect which was thought to wiggle its way into your ears (which, thankfully, doesn’t happen).

TED-ed explores earworms.

the Darlene Love Christmas Tradition

Darlene Love performed Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) every year on Late Show with David Letterman for 28 years.

In the 1960s Darlene Love sang as part of the Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, for whom she sang both lead as well as background vocals on a host of hit songs. She’s the uncredited lead vocalist on The Crystals’ 1962 hit He’s a Rebel, she sang background on The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, she sang background on the Elvis ’68 Comeback Special, etc. Darlene Love’s voice can be heard all over the hit songs of the ‘60s.

A Christmas Tradition

In 1963 Love sang on A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. The album is packed with great songs but Darlene Love’s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is a masterpiece. While it wasn’t a hit at the time (it was released the same day as the Kennedy assassination) it’s become a Christmas standard. Basically, before Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You, there was Darlene Love’s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).

Despite her talent Love’s career stalled in the 1970s and she found herself cleaning houses for a living. When she heard her own Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on the radio while cleaning a home she decided she had to stage a comeback – enter David Letterman. In 1986 Letterman invited Love to perform Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on his show which became an annual tradition. For the next 29 years Love came back every year to perform the song (with the exception of 2007 during the writer’s strike). This Christmas tradition earned her the nickname of the “Christmas Queen”. In 2011 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Added info: During her comeback, Love sang backup on the cover of her own song when she sang background vocals on the 1987 U2 version of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Love has also had an acting career, notably playing Roger Murtaugh’s (Danny Glover’s) wife in the Lethal Weapon series.

Darlene Love’s final performance of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on the Letterman show in 2014.

A compilation of performances of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on the Letterman show.


The song about an Egyptian girl that became a surf rock classic.

At its height the Ottoman Empire controlled lands across North Africa, through the Middle East, Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), and up into the Balkans. By the early 20th century the empire had greatly reduced in size but culturally it was still a diverse mix of elements from the lands it once ruled as well as its neighbors. It’s in this environment that Rebetiko music was formed.

Rebetiko is Greek urban music that began in the early 20th century in Asia Minor. It’s a blend of styles pulling from Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Arabian, and Jewish music. It’s been referred to as the Blues of Greece due to its working class origins and its sometimes scandalous themes.

Egyptian Girl

The song Misirlou is a rebetiko song of the early 20th century (its exact origins are unknown). The title is a Greek pronunciation of the Turkish word “Misirli” which translates as “Egyptian girl”. It’s a passionate song about the singer’s longing desire for a beautiful Egyptian girl. Played in the traditional style the Middle Eastern influences are easy to hear. The earliest known recording of the song was by Theodotos Demetriades in 1927. Since then numerous other versions have been recorded in the rebetiko style but the song reached new audiences through 1960s American surf rock.

A traditional arrangement in the rebetiko style of Misirlou.

The King of Surf Guitar

Surf Rock began in the late 1950s in Southern California. It started as instrumental music with lots of reverb, later evolving into vocal surf with bands such as the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, etc. While a host of bands contributed to the creation of instrumental surf, perhaps the most notable pioneer was Dick Dale aka “The King of the Surf Guitar”.

In 1962 Dale (whose Lebanese-American uncle used to play Misirlou on the oud) recorded an instrumental version of Misirlou, changing the spelling to Miserlou. At a blistering pace of 173 beats per minute (the traditional version is around 78 bpm), Dick Dale’s surf rock version of Miserlou is one of the most famous instrumentals. Miserlou found new fans when it was used in the opening of 1994’s Pulp Fiction. The film brought new life to both Miserlou and Dick Dale’s career.

A live performance by Dick Dale and the Del Tones of Miserlou from 1963.

Part of the explosive opening to Pulp Fiction (with slight editing to Dick Dale’s Miserlou).

The Amen Break

The most sampled drum beat of all time used in thousands of songs and helped launch new genres of music.

The 1963 film Lilies of the Field stars Sidney Poitier as a traveling jack-of-all-trades who encounters a group of German speaking nuns in the Arizona desert. As he performs odd jobs for them he also helps teach them English through song, and in particular he teaches them the song Amen. The song is a traditional gospel song which, along with the movie, were inspiring to a young Curtis Mayfield who recorded a new version of the song in 1964 with his band The Impressions.

In Lilies of the Field Sidney Poitier teaches the nuns the traditional gospel song Amen.

After watching Lilies of the Field, Curtis Mayfield was inspired to write a more modern version of Amen.

The version of Amen recorded by The Impressions then served as inspiration in 1969 for an even funkier instrumental version of the song by The Winstons titled Amen, Brother. At 1:26 the song breaks for a 5.2 second drum solo by drummer Gregory Coleman. This drum solo has become one of the most prolific drum solos of all time.

The Winstons were inspired by The Impressions version of Amen, and wrote the instrumental song Amen, Brother. The drum break at 1:26 in has become the most sampled drum break of all time.

Sampling and the rise of Hip Hop

In 1980s New York the sampler, combined with the turntable, helped create hip hop. The sampler allowed musicians to take pieces of music, especially drum beats, and transform them into new songs. They could loop audio clips, rearrange the notes, change the pitch, change the tempo, etc. An additional asset in this new genre were bootleg records of collected beats that artists could sample. In 1986 Amen, Brother was included on Ultimate Breaks and Beats which was immediately popular for the drum solo which became known as the “Amen break”.

The Amen break at different speeds.

The beat that launched a thousand songs

The Amen break soon became a staple of sampling. Its popularity and influence can be heard throughout early hip hop. The Amen break became even more versatile once it was broken down into its individual components where each sound was isolated, allowing musicians to rearrange the pieces. Entirely new genres of music such as Hardcore, Jungle, Drum and Bass, etc. wouldn’t exist without the Amen break. While early hip hop tended to slow down the Amen break (such as in NWA’s Straight Outta Compton, DJs in Jungle sped it up into a frenzy (as heard in Incredible by M-Beat).

NWA’s Straight Outta Compton uses the Amen break as the drum beat throughout the song, but slowed down.

Jungle music took the Amen break, sped it up, and would rearrange the beats, as heard here in M-Beat’s Incredible.

The Amen break can be found in at least 5,617 songs. Some examples of songs using the Amen break include Salt-N-Pepa’s I Desire, Jay-Z’s Can’t Knock the Hustle, UK Apachi’s Original Nuttah, The Invisible Man’s The Beginning, the theme song to the TV show Futurama, etc.

Success or “Success”

The Winstons were never compensated for any of this. The Amen break took on a life of its own without the band. Today, you would clear the use of a song and pay royalties to the original artist but the Amen break became popular at a time when artists weren’t concerned with copyright laws and were more focused on their art. Richard Spencer of The Winstons says he only became aware that the drum solo from Amen, Brother had become the Amen break in 1996, at which point the beat was everywhere.

Over the years there have been multiple attempts to raise money for Spencer and for The Winstons’ drummer Gregory Coleman to compensate them for the unlicensed sampling of the song, but to mixed success. In 2006 Gregory Coleman died, reportedly homeless, having never seen any royalties from his contribution to music history.

Added info: the Winstons’ Amen, Brother was actually the B-side to Color Him Father, which won the 1970 Grammy award for Best R&B song.

Another incredibly popular sample of the time was the Think break from the 1972 song Think (About It) by Lyn Collins and James Brown, famous for it’s “Woo! Yeah”. The Think break is perhaps most famously used in 1988’s It Takes Two by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock.

A deep-dive into the Amen break, and its copyright implications, by Landon Proctor.

the May 8, 1977 Barton Hall Concert

One of, if not thee, greatest Grateful Dead concert of all time (thanks to taping).

Having over 2,300 concerts to choose from, to try and pick just one Grateful Dead show as the best is both subjective and impossible (as well as controversial). That said, one show that is mentioned over and over as one of (if not thee) best is the May 8, 1977 Barton Hall concert at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The band were in especially good form during the 1977 tour. The Barton Hall concert is a legendary show partially because the music is accessible – it’s enjoyable for hardcore Deadheads and casual fans alike. But perhaps even more importantly the show is accessible in a more literal sense. Grateful Dead audio engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson recorded over 1,000 tapes of live concerts for the band and the Barton Hall show is one of her most famous recordings. The “Betty Board” recording of the Barton Hall concert is of excellent quality, without which the concert likely would not be held in such high esteem.

The Betty Board recording of the Barton Hall concert by Betty Cantor-Jackson has helped make the concert one of the most famous Grateful Dead shows of all time.

“Everybody’s favorite fun game, move back …”

Recording Grateful Dead concerts, and the Shakedown Street style trade of concert tapes, is an entire sub-culture of the band. More than 2,000 of the estimated 2,300 concerts have been preserved by tapers. The non-profit Internet Archive has an entire section just for Grateful Dead recordings with over 16,000 entries. Instead of being anti-piracy the band embraced tapers, giving them their own space behind the mixing desk. As drummer Mickey Hart said “We can’t be cops.” The decision inadvertently worked like a viral marketing campaign. Fans would record shows, they would trade tapes with other people, and in the process millions more people were exposed to the band’s music. Today the band’s website has a “Taper’s Section” devoted to highlighting taped recordings from each week’s concerts in the band’s history.

In 2017 on the 40th anniversary of the Barton Hall concert Tompkins County, NY (where Cornell is located) declared the day “Grateful Dead Day.” In 2011 the Barton Hall Concert was entered into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress alongside other culturally significant recordings such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, etc.

Added info: you can purchase the Cornell 5/8/77 concert as a 3-CD set, or you can listen to the concert for free on

A mini documentary on the magic of the Barton Hall concert.

In 2017 on the 40th anniversary of the concert the Cornell Chimes performed a concert on the bells.

the Gibson 1959 Les Paul Standard

One of the most legendary and sought-after guitars in the world.

In 1952 the Gibson Guitar company began to sell a solid-body guitar. The guitar was a collaboration with “The Wizard of Waukesha” guitarist & inventor Les Paul. The Gibson Les Paul guitar was created as an answer to the Fender Telecaster, created two years earlier becoming the first mass produced solid-body guitar. Despite some initial success Gibson sold fewer and fewer Les Pauls over the next 5 years. By 1958 Gibson decided to redesign the style of the guitar and turned to the sunburst finish of their hollow-body electric guitars for inspiration. They replaced the Les Paul’s gold painted finish with a cherry sunburst finish. This was the dawning of “the Burst”, some of the most famous guitars ever made.

Golden Gods

The 1958-1960 era of Gibson Les Pauls are some of the most collectible guitars in the world but they didn’t start out that way. Officially called the Gibson Les Paul Standard, but nicknamed the “Burst”, the guitar went relatively unnoticed until 1964 when a young Keith Richards bought a 1959 Burst from Selmer’s Music in London. He used it to record many of the Rolling Stones’ early hits including Satisfaction, Get Off My Cloud, and Let’s Spend the Night Together. Perhaps as importantly Richards was also seen with the guitar – in publicity photos, on tour, and in 1964 during the Rolling Stones appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Because of the great sound the guitar produced, other early blues-rock guitarists wanted to try it. Richards lent his 1959 sunburst to Jimmy Page (then a studio musician, pre-Led Zeppelin) as well as to Eric Clapton. Later the classic combination of Gibson Les Paul played through a Marshall amp was created by Clapton who used the combo on the highly influential 1966 album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. Whether Clapton used a 1960 sunburst or a 1959 is an item of debate.

Soon other musicians wanted the sound & style of the 1959 sunburst. The problem was supply. In 1959 Gibson only made 643 Les Paul sunbursts. Even the whole of the sunburst run from 1958-1960 only produced somewhere around 1406-ish guitars. So by the late 1960s lots of musicians wanted one, but there weren’t enough to go around. This began a storied history of 1959 sunbursts being bought & sold, changing hands, and creating some very famous (and extremely valuable) guitars.

It’s who’s who of rock royalty who have played a 1959 burst.

Rock Provenance

While the guitar itself is a great guitar, the who’s who of rock guitarists who have played 1959 sunbursts adds to their value. The provenance of these guitars is what makes them famous.

  • Keith Richards: In 1967 Keith sold his sunburst to Mick Taylor, who had replaced Peter Green in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers (… who had replaced Eric Clapton in the Bluesbreakers). The “Keith Burst” would rejoin the Rolling Stones two years later when Taylor was brought in to replace Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones. In 1971 the guitar was either stolen, or maybe sold, but around 1977 it was sold to Bernie Marsden of Whitesnake who held onto it for about a week before selling it to Mike Jopp. In 2004 it went to an anonymous Swiss collector who supposedly paid $1 million for it.

  • Peter Green: Purchased around 1965 from the same shop as Keith Richards’ sunburst, Peter Green’s 1959 sunburst “Greeny” can be heard on 1967’s A Hard Road by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. The guitar went with him to the newly formed Fleetwood Mac and can be heard on their early blues-based albums including 1969’s Fleetwood Mac in Chicago. In the early 1970s he sold it to Gary Moore of Thin Lizzy where it can be heard on their albums. Moore sold it in 2006 for perhaps £300,000 or somewhere between $750,000-1.2 million, depending on the story. It further traded hands and most recently was sold in 2014 to Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. As for the price, it’s been reported that Hammett bought the guitar for $2 million but he’s said “I made a deal with the person I bought it from that I would never say what I paid for it. But it wasn’t $2 million. It wasn’t $1 million. It wasn’t even $500,000. That’s all I’ll say about it.”

  • Jimmy Page: The guitar that Jimmy Page calls his “Number One” is the 1959 sunburst that he bought off of Joe Walsh in 1969 while on tour in America. Incidentally after Joe Walsh joined the Eagles in 1975 he and Don Felder both played sunbursts including on the band’s biggest hit Hotel California. As for Jimmy Page his “Number One” has become one of the most iconic versions of the guitar. It can be first heard on 1969’s Led Zeppelin II. Page went on to own more than one 1959 sunburst and used them throughout the band’s career, part of which can be seen in their 1973 concert film The Song Remains the Same.

  • Billy Gibbons: Founder and front man of ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons purchased “Pearly Gates” from a rancher outside of Houston, Texas in 1968. After hearing Eric Clapton play a Les Paul sunburst he knew he had to have one. Gibbons named the guitar after a former car which in turn was named because it miraculously survived a drive from Texas to Hollywood. He’s played “Pearly Gates” on every ZZ Top album since. At one point he was offered $5 million for the guitar but declined.

  • Duane Allman: While Allman was more famous for his 1957 gold top Les Paul, he sold it in a deal to buy a 1959 sunburst. That sunburst is most famously heard on the Allman Brothers Band’s 1971 live album At Fillmore East. Today it sits in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  • Joe Perry: Unsure exactly who he traded guitars with, or when, Joe Perry ended up with a 1959 sunburst at some point in the 1970s. He played it on the early Aerosmith albums and can be seen playing it on the album art for Aerosmith’s Live! Bootleg album. Around 1982 Perry needed money and sold it for $4,500. It changed hands a few times, eventually going to Eric Johnson who offered to sell it back to Perry for what he paid for it, but Perry didn’t have any money and declined. It was sold again and by the time Perry had the money and went in search of his old guitar it was owned by Slash of Guns N’ Roses. The Joe Perry Les Paul can be seen in the November Rain video. In 2000 as a surprise 50th birthday present, Slash gave Perry back his old guitar.

Because of their iconic status the 1958-1960 Les Pauls have inspired many knock-offs. Some 1957s were refinished to look like 1958s, while others are just very convincing fakes. This leads to variations of the joke that between 1958-1960 Gibson made around 1,500 sunbursts and there are only about 3,000 left.

Of the sunbursts the 1959 is still the most valuable. The “Holy Grail” of guitars, the 1959 sunburst is so popular that Gibson currently makes a reissued version of it which you can buy new for just around $7,000. This is relatively inexpensive given that original 1959 sunbursts, even those with no particularly interesting provenance, sell for a few hundred thousand dollars each.

Five Watt World gives an excellent history of the Burst Les Pauls.

Clapton’s sunburst Les Paul combined with a Marshall amp, as heard on the album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, helped set the template for what blues-rock should sound like.

You can hear Peter Green’s “Greeny” burst on Watch Out by Fleetwood Mac.

ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons demonstrates the sound of his 1959 Les Paul, “Pearly Gates”.

Jimmy Page’s “Number One” burst is one of the most iconic 1959 Les Pauls in rock.

Viking Helmets & Wagner

Viking warriors didn’t wear helmets with horns or wings on them.

There’s no evidence that Viking warriors wore helmets with horns or wings. There are actually very few Viking helmets of any kind in existence and none have been found with horns or wings. Medieval sources show Vikings more commonly wearing simple headgear (perhaps made of leather or iron) while others have nothing on their heads at all. Vikings who wore metal helmets were probably in the minority and all of those helmets were fairly plain.

The Gjermundbu helmet is one of the few Viking helmets in existence. Medieval sources show Vikings wearing simple head coverings or nothing at all. Winged or horned helmets were never used in battle.

South of Scandinavia, Germanic and Celtic tribes did have religious headpieces with horns, antlers, wings, etc. but these were purely ceremonial and never worn in battle. To wear a helmet with large decorative extensions in combat would be impractical.

The paintings of August Malmström and the stage productions of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle set the standard for what we think Viking warriors looked like.

Artistic License

Fast-forward to the early 19th century, the Romanticism movement produced works that turned away from classical Greek & Roman influences and embraced medieval history from other European cultures further north (such as the Germanic and Celtic cultures). Within Romanticism was the Viking Revival in which the Swedish painter August Malmström is believed to have been one of the first to paint Viking warriors with wings on their helmets. In the spirit of the Mark Twain quote, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” there are a variety of historical inaccuracies in Malmström’s paintings and the winged helmets are a big one … but they make for some great paintings. The fact that winged headpieces were purely ceremonial and probably Celtic (and not Viking), seems to have been lost on Malmström.

But perhaps the most influential source of this myth is the composer Richard Wagner. Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is a German 4 opera cycle by Wagner which tells the tale of a mythical past, a magic ring, and the fall of the Nordic / Germanic gods. For the first Bayreuth production in 1876 Wagner’s costume designer Carl Emil Doepler added wings to the helmets of the female Valkyries (which inspired this feline Brünnhilde) and horns to the helmet of the minor character Hunding, husband of Sieglinde.

What’s Opera, Doc?

Over time the Valkyries’ wings were replaced with horns, giving us the idea of a female opera singer with a horned helmet. This spread across pop culture most notably in the comic strip Hägar the Horrible, the Minnesota Vikings football team logo, Julianne Moore’s character in the Gutterballs dream sequence from The Big Lebowski, and the legendary 1957 Warner Bros. cartoon What’s Opera, Doc? which pulls from several Wagner operas and features Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in winged/horned Wagnerian costumes.

A scene from the 1957 Wagner inspired Warner Bros. cartoon What’s Opera, Doc?.

Drop in to see what condition your condition is in with the Wagner inspired Gutterballs dream sequence from The Big Lebowski.

Auld Lang Syne

The nostalgic song toasting times gone by that has spread around the world.

Auld Lang Syne started as a traditional Scottish folk song. The lyrics were written down, added to, and made famous by 18th century Scottish national poet Robert Burns. In the late 18th century Burns was touring Scotland collecting folk songs & poetry when he recorded Auld Lang Syne in 1788 and submitted it to The Scots Musical Museum.

Burns contributed hundreds of songs to the Museum whose intention was to preserve the fading Scots language & culture which was becoming increasingly influenced by English culture. Auld Lang Syne is written partially in English but also partially in Scots (which is a Germanic derived Scottish language, different than “Scottish” which is a Celtic Gaelic derived language). The lyrics were originally set to a few different melodies but in 1799 they were paired with the melody we know today.

Written down and added to by Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne has become the unofficial theme song of New Year’s.

What is it and why New Year’s Eve?

Because the lyrics are partially in Scots most people don’t know exactly what the song means. The title “auld lang syne” is Scots and translates to “old long since” or more loosely “for the sake of the good old days gone by”. The song is a toast to friendship and to the fond memories of days gone by.

Given the song’s spirit of looking back while looking forward it became a standard sung every Hogmanay (the Scottish New Year’s Eve). Its association with New Year’s in North America was because of Guy Lombardo. On New Year’s Eve 1928 Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians big band hosted a concert at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City and at the stroke of midnight they played Auld Lang Syne. For the next 47 years they played NYE concerts and every midnight they played Auld Lang Syne, earning Lombardo the nickname of “Mr. New Year’s Eve”. When Dick Clark created Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve from Times Square in 1972 he too played Lombardo’s version of Auld Lang Syne at midnight. Since then the song has become synonymous with New Year’s.

Guy Lombardo’s classic 1947 rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

Around the World

While the song is internationally recognized as the unofficial theme song of New Year’s Eve the melody has been used in other ways. The Korean national anthem Aegukga had used the melody of Auld Lang Syne until 1948 when it was replaced with an original melody. It was also the melody of the national anthem of the Maldives, Qaumii salaam, until 1972 when it too was replaced with an original melody.

The Dutch song Wij houden van Oranje (which translates to “We Love Orange”) is a national soccer chant set to the melody of Auld Lang Syne. Also in Japan the melody is used for for the graduation ceremony song Hotaru no Hikari, it’s the melody used to mark the end of the day in department stores, etc.

QI discusses the history of Auld Lang Syne

Toasting the Past, Looking Forward

Like the Roman god Janus, Auld Lang Syne is a seasonal reminder to look back at the days gone by but also look ahead to the future. It’s a nostalgic song that toasts the people with us today as well as the people with us in spirit.


The haunting crying instrument that you’ve heard in thriller / horror movies.

Invented around 1968 by Richard Waters, the waterphone is an atonal musical instrument which has vertical metal rods of different lengths attached to a metal resonator pan/bowl. Inside the resonator is a bit of water, similar to a water drum, so when the vertical rods are played (with a mallet or more frequently with a bow) the resonator can echo and bend the sounds. The effect ranges from spacey to creepy.

Given its haunting sound the waterphone has been used to create tension and uneasiness in a variety of TV shows, theatrical productions, and movies. You can hear it in ALIENS, Poltergeist, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, etc. It’s used for jump scares such as in The Matrix when Neo’s new cellphone rings. It’s been used in multiple productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead has used the waterphone, Tom Waits has used the waterphone, as well as a host of contemporary classical composers.

Waterphones aren’t all scary though. Composer and activist Jim Nollman used the waterphone on Playing Music With Animals, where he played a waterphone to orcas.

A demonstration of the waterphone.