It is a mark of unsophistication in music to pay no attention to the arrangement. That would be me, generally. I think of a song as the tune and the lyrics, the rest fairly optional. I do at least know this is quite wrong. I suppose this approach to arranging is similar to the old military saying that amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics.
Yet sometimes even I notice things. I put this song up on a family text thread when discussing camping vacations from 25-40 years ago. (We were trying to remember what our nickname was for a particular camping food.) I did notice, as I had before, that it used unusual instruments for a 60s pop song. My wife commented on the films in the background, finding them inappropriate for the song. "I always thought it was more Eastern European. Those old scenes look English." Well, Hopkin was British - Welsh, I believe - and probably no one worked too hard to be authentic. But I agreed. "I always thought it was sort of klezmer. It sounds more Greek or Russian." I think someone told me it was a gypsy song years ago. Klezmer and Cigane were two styles that had enormous mutual influence.
So I listened more closely this time. A clarinet, a cimbalom, a balalaika, something oompah sounding which contributes greatly to the air of forced gaiety - I kept expecting an accordion or derivative.
I looked it up. The song was originally Russian with somewhat similar lyrics, had been sung by a gypsy, was in a British movie in 1953 with new English lyrics, and had been arranged in 1968 by someone more familiar with jazz than pop. Hopkin was only 17 at the time.
Close to twenty-five years ago I met a former Navy SEAL named Steve Robinson, who had been involved in the Navy's dolphin-training program during his time in service. He later went to Russia, having been taught Russian by the Navy, and became a blacksmith who was certified by the Russian guild. You can read about his efforts to out fake Navy SEALs here:
Anyway, he was also a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. He wrote a version of this song that I learned from him in those long-ago days, and now present to you.
"The Viking Fighting Man"
By Steve Robinson
Many years ago when I was younger
Other men would look at me and say,
"You are such a puny little fellow,
How can you survive another day?"
But then I learned to fight with shield and longsword,
To swing an axe and use a sharp spear too,
I'd split a warrior's skull from top to bottom,
And then before he fell I'd run him through.
I am a fighting man, a Viking fighting man,
I drink and wench to pass the time away,
I live the life I choose
I fight and never lose!
I kill them all, and then I sail away.
I sailed upon the seas with Viking warriors;
I learned to drink intoxicating brew.
I fought in foreign lands for gold and silver,
And soon I was a Viking warrior too.
I took all my pleasures where they pleased me,
Wine and golden treasures, slaves who'd shriek,
I learned that women loved a Viking warrior
If he'd had a bath within the week.
And now my twilight years they are upon me,
And my thinning hair is silver grey.
I look back upon my many battles,
I smile, and raise a glass, and I will say:
I am a fighting man, A Viking fighting man,
I drank and wenched to pass the time away.
I lived the live I'd choose
I'd fight and never lose,
I killed them all... and then I sailed away.
Sometimes, the arrangement is the thing.
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