Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Byrds: John Riley

From “Fifth Dimension,” my favorite album by The Byrds, today’s traditional tune based on Homer’s “Odyssey.” Although the story premise is much older, the song dates from 17th century England. “John Riley” is a tale of a sailor who tests the love of the girl he left behind seven years earlier by trying to dissuade her from waiting for John Riley to return.

He argues that Riley may have died in battle, drowned in the sea, or married another in order to tempt the fair young maid; however, she is steadfast in her commitment to John Riley. At the end of the song, the protagonist reveals that he is John Riley of whom she is waiting.

This traditional tune (incorrectly credited on the LP to Bob Gibson and Ricky Neff) was introduced to the band by Roger McGuinn. “Fifth Dimension” was the first LP that was released after the departure of Gene Clark; however, he appears on two of the album’s original tracks and three of the bonus tracks of the CD re-release.


A fair young maid all in her garden,
A strange young man comes passing by
Saying fair maid, will you marry me
And this answer was her reply

No kind sir, I cannot marry thee
For I've a love who sails all on the sea
He's been gone for seven years
But still no man will I marry

Well what if he's in some battle slain
Or drowned in the deep salt sea
Or what if he's found another love
And he and his love both married be?

If he's in some battle slain
I will die, when the moon doth wane
And if he's drowned in the deep salt sea
I'll be true to his memory

And if he's found another love
And he and his love both married be
Then I wish them health and happiness
Where they now dwell across the sea

He picked her up all in his arms
And kisses gave her one two and three
Saying weep no more my own true love
I am your long lost John Riley.

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