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!