Possibly the Greatest Of All Time goat ditty
How many of the most popular songs we know have unknown composers and date of origins? For sure each one of us has got a list since the answer to the question is a lot. These folk tunes have been passed on through the ages via word of mouth and their sheer recall-ability, take “Bill Grogan’s Goat” for instance. Generations of kids in the US and Canada have learned this song from kindergarten to their scout campfires, to family get-togethers thanks to…unknown song-makers. It is about a goat that gets into a bind when it eats a red shirt then it’s tied to the train track. The storytelling of it is just fabulous, it creates an anticipation for a suspenseful fate for the goat that belongs to Bill Grogan.
The repetitive melody of “Bill Grogan’s Goat” is the reason for its popularity as a beginning of campfire programs. There only needs to be one who calls out the lines and all everyone has to do is repeat after the caller does in the same way. Perfect icebreaker right? Some have taken the chiming in parts seriously enough to sing the parts in varied voices; even though it’s a simple song, who says you can’t glee-up the song?
Who does the song belong to? The echo song “Bill Grogan’s Goat”’s origin is said to be linked to Englishman Robert Service’s poem “The Ballad of Casey’s Billy Goat” (1904). There’s no documentation to confirm it though, but it could be interesting to note that the goat’s name in Service’s poem was Shamus and it threw up the red shirt which stopped the train (close enough to the story of “Bill Grogan’s Goat”). Norm Cohen (who is a University of California music and folklore specialist) makes no mention in his notes about “Bill Grogan’s Goat” of Service’s poem. Instead, Cohen mentions its links to the 1904 text of “Tale of a Shirt” or the song “O’Grady’s Goat” (1890) by Will Hays.