Tam Lin: Halloween's Greatest Hit

“I forbid you maidens all that wear gold in your hair
To travel to Carterhaugh, for young Tam Lin is there"
- Tam Lin [traditional ballad]

Well, I was doing a little research for songs about Halloween for a post and came across "Ten Halloween Songs That Aren't as Lame as the Monster Mash" by Blog Critics Magazine. I was extremely pleased and at the same time dismayed by the list.

Pleased because it is better than any list I could come up with.
Dismayed because it is so good that there's no longer any point for me make a list.

I will comment, however, on the song that tops their list - Tam Lin.

In this blogger's humble opinion, "Tam Lin" is so incredible, so hauntingly magnificent that it renders any other Halloween song inconsequential. The song is at least as old as 1549 (when it was mentioned in The Complaynt of Scotland) and tells of midnight riders and fairy queens on Halloween night. The best version that I've heard is by the English folk band, Fairport Convention.

Now, maybe English folk is not your cup of tea. I can understand that it may be an acquired taste. I'm more of a Foghat kinda' guy myself, but can still appreciate the splendor of this recording. What makes the song so great, so much so that I have basically gushed praise for the last two paragraphs?

First, there's the singing prowess of Sandy Denny. She recorded this song a couple days before Halloween in 1968, and the spirit of the season certainly shines through. Many may recognize her vocals from Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore", and it is undeniable that she has one of the best voices in contemporary music.

The antiquity of the song gives it a certain degree of mystery as well. Indeed, there is supposedly a spot of ground in Scotland where grass will not grow - where 3 containers of milk or water stood where Janet dipped her lover to turn him back to a human.

Also, I will add that the lyrical quality reads like great literature and elevates the song even further.

"But tonight is Halloween and the fairy folk ride
Those that would let true love win at Mile's Cross they must bide"

Add to the mix the incredible guitar of Richard Thompson, and you've got yourself one helluva Halloween song!

For a much more in-depth (and far superior) analysis of "Tam Lin" go here and here. You can get lost in the history and mythology of the song- to see how complex the analysis of the song can be, go here and here where the storyline and history is plotted in excruciatingly intricate detail.

Try to do that with a Foghat song!


  1. Yea I love this song and Sandy Denny. I have a batch of their stuff here somewhere. I hope I did not forget to back that stuff up. I like a song by them called Fair Nottomun Town (not sure of the spelling, but it will come up in a Google search). Bert Jansch did a version I like more, but it too is a haunting traditional tune inspired by a painting by Heronymous Bosch (again, spelling???) I do not know the full details, but Sandy fell down some stairs quite a few years back and died. What a great voice.

  2. Willy- Bert Jansch is another great artist in that same vein. Brilliant guitarist, but not exactly the best singer (then again, neither was Bob Dylan).

    If it was inspired by a painting by Heironymous Bosch, then it's no surprise the song is creepy.

  3. I went and checked out that list. It's a good one. I don't think I could do any better. I love this song. Sandy Denny has a wonderful voice. I don't mind music like this. It takes all kinds to make the world go round. I guess it helps get me in touch with my roots. I enjoyed it a lot. I have no problem with this being #1.

  4. One: thanks for taking the time to look up the spelling for Heironymous Bosch. I know his work from my art student days.

    Two: Thanks for the info abut the site on IE. yet again.Last time it was The Collector. I work on the site and view it in Mozilla. Why browser have this problem is beyond me.

    So far as I can figure something in the Poll post screwed it all up. Maybe some image file. I will bet my money it was the damned Mickey Rourke pic. I deleted and reinstalled the last three posts and reinstalled them, sans the poll one, which I thought was sort of funny. Anyway, I will figure out the issue and redo the post after all the results are in.

    Sometimes I want to give up man. But, I've got a 4/10 page rank on Google in just four months or so!!! That is good. And my readership is up to 180 a day, so now is not the time to give up.

    Thanks and I will check my posts in IE now after I publish them. Can be a hassle to go back into 3 or 4 posts to find the problem. My verdict: i was slipped a Mickey.

    Thanks buddy

  5. Last: If go back you'll see the Poll post gone and all back to "normal". I will will rewrite the post with final results since Jimmy is catching up.

    I renamed all the image files in a batch converter and this usually fixes the problem, lets see later. There may some weird line of text in the file name that screws it all up, like it did with the Collector one.

    Sometimes all this sucks. But at least I seem to be able to solve the problem. I bet others have just given up or taken a chainsaw to a bunch of hippies over this type of thing.

  6. Willy- Yeah, please don't give up. Your technical issues will surely level out soon... although you still may want to chainsaw some hippies to eleviate some stress.

    Congrats on the page rank of 4 after just a few months. I'm getting about the same #s per day as you are, but I'm still stuck at a 3. However, it seems like the Google search engines have just discovered retrospace the past couple weeks, so visits are steadily climbing. I guess if this somehow generated income, this would all matter somehow...

  7. Gil

    One thing that is popular with the Worpress platform is the multitude of plugins you can select from, one which is a SEO plugin, Search Engine Optimization. I had to go back and tweak every post form the beginning with info but it helps Google to find my site easier. And there were a couple other such plugins as well but I forget what they did exactly, but I did not have to any code work, which I cannot.

    Maybe your platform has something similar somewhere you can search for? To help Google along...

    I went and downloaded three Fairport Convention albums from Rapidshare, including the one with the song you sampled here. Can't wait to hear them later when I have free tie.


  8. Willy- Don't think there's any SEO with Blogger. I will say that Google may only capture your page rank every three months; thus, you may actually have a higher page rank than you think - you were actually ranked three months ago at a 4 but are actually at a 5. At least that's my understanding. Of course, pageranking can be screwy sometimes... for example, my Google toolbar currently puts this comment page at a page rank of 8. (?) No comprende.

    Glad I was the impetus for some free Fairport downloading. Pentangle and Steeleye Span aren't too bad either. I've listened to Bert Jansch's greatest hits ad nauseum.

    I'm Italian, but there must be a Celtic gene down deep. It's the only explanation.

  9. Well, I am of Irish and Scottish descent, but I like lasagna.