The ballad of a generation
Nursery rhyme or courtship checklist? You may consider “Billy Boy” as either a folk song or nursery rhyme. The words read like a folk song depicting a regular guy’s guide to courtship. Its narrative has been related to “Lord Randal”, an ancient ballad from the British isles in which the suitor is poisoned by the woman he visits. The point being, feeding has always been a phase of courtship. The ballad is told from Randal’s mother’s point of view. James Findlay wrote in his 2009 album sleeve for As I Carelessly Did Stray, that “Billy Boy” is a questionnaire one must ask about a partner before deciding on marriage.
Next, “Billy Boy” as a nursery rhyme. This is how the song flourished in the US, as a nursery rhyme almost all kids remember their teacher or nana singing to them, and then them being able to sing it way into their 70s, 80s or 90s. And there’s a Disney movie that has “Billy Boy” as one of its tracks titled “So Dear To My Heart” (1948). This must be the explanation for the song’s everlasting power. The Disney movie is about a young boy’s story about his pet lamb and his goal to bring home the gold ribbon at the country fair. It’s a familiar heartwarming plot that mirrors the situation of most young people in rural America at the turn of the 20th century. It was lifted from the book “Midnight and Jeremiah” by Sterling North. The film was touted to have inspired the construction of Disneyland.
The tune is said to be the work of Marina Russell of Upwey, Dorset who wrote tunes in medieval music and dance or Doric mode. As an English folk song, “Billy Boy”, touted to be a variant of “My Boy Billy” was curated and published by Ralph Vaughan Williams in Novello’s School Songs. American singer Jerry Lee Lewis recorded his version of “Billy Boy” on his album Rare (1975).