Monday Double Shot: Shirtless young men sing ‘Barbara Allen’


I suppose on some level, this is a modern music ethnographer’s damp and lightsome dream. Two different versions of a Scottish ballad predating the 17th century sung, for reasons unknown, half naked.

My conjecture is that the custom was handed down from father to son through the generations in honor of Edward Balliol’s disinheritance in the first Scottish War of Independence (1296–1328). “Off with that shirt, lad! Remember braw Eddie!”


Figure 1 (America):

Figure 2 (England):

Note: It’s impossible listening to this song twice through not to start thinking of rhymes for dwelling’: smellin’, melon, swellin’, felon. Very hard though to think of any for Allen — which explains why everything in the song rhymes with dwellin’, I guess.

Homework assignment: Try singing “and then he started smellin’!” in a loud voice to the tune of the last line in the verse. Satisfaction!

Last Week’s Double Shot: Countertenor Smackdown – Klaus Nomi vs. Jeff Buckley

Your barista is Katie Taylor, a Portland-based writer, opera singer, director and librettist. Contact Katie at

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