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"Oh My Darling, Clementine" is an American western folk ballad in 87.87D trochaic metre usually credited to Percy Montrose (1884), although it is sometimes credited to Barker Bradford. The song is believed to have been based on another song called "Down by the River Liv'd a Maiden" by H. S. Thompson (1863).
While at first the song seems to be a sad ballad sung by a bereaved lover about the loss of his darling, the daughter of a miner in the 1849 California Gold Rush, as the verses continue it becomes obvious that the song is in fact a tongue-in-cheek parody of a sad ballad. For example, in the second verse we learn that Clementine's feet are so big that she has to wear boxes instead of shoes (presumably because size 9 shoes are not available), hardly a detail that would be mentioned in a serious romantic ballad. Her "tragic demise" is caused by a splinter in her toe that causes her to fall and drown – clearly a ridiculous accident, but told in a deadpan style. Finally, at the end of the song, the lover forgets his lost love after one kiss from Clementine's "little sister".
The verse about the little sister was often left out, or replaced, in folk song books intended for children, presumably because it seemed morally questionable.
Gerald Brenan attributes the melody to originally being an old Spanish ballad in his book South from Granada. It was made popular by Mexican miners during the Gold Rush. The melody was best known from Romance del Conde Olinos o Niño, a sad love story very popular in Spanish-speaking cultures. It was also given various English texts. No particular source is cited to verify that the song he used to hear in the 1920s in a remote Spanish village was not an old text with new music, but Brenan states in his preface that all facts mentioned in the book have been checked reasonably well.
It is unclear when, where and by whom the song was first recorded in English for others to hear.
The melody is whistled by the character J. Frank Parnell (played by Fox Harris) in the 1984 film Repo Man, directed by Alex Cox.
The melody for the song has become popular as the rhythm for a number of chants by sports supporters, such as the Barmy Army. Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Huckleberry Hound often sang an off-key version of "Clementine".
Line 1 and 2 were sung by Yui in the K-On! anime
An instrumental version was used in the movie Back to the Future Part III.
It is used as background music in another John Ford film, The Grapes Of Wrath, also starring Henry Fonda.
A North Korean musical movie from 1972, The Flower Girl, used the song's melody as its main theme. This musical was said to have been written by Kim Il-sung.
A birthday version with Chinese lyrics is featured in the 2001 movie Quitting. Excerpts of the song can also be heard in Michel Gondry's film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Kate Winslet's character, Clementine Kruczynski, complains that people always make fun of her name because of this song. Also subtle emphasis is placed on the phrase, "you are lost and gone forever," to fit with the film's theme.
The song provides the central musical theme in the 2006 South Korean television drama, Spring Waltz (봄의 왈츠).
This song is also used in one doll of a children's toy called Sing-A-Ma-Jigs.
During the Campaign of Zamboanga City Ill-fated Mayor. Cesar Climaco the melody is used in "Ay si Cesar, Ay si Cesar Climaco" sung in Chavacano. It was also sung during his Funeral in 1984. Coincidentally, O my Darling Clementine was the Love Song of Cesar Climaco to his Wife, Julia Floreta-Climaco.
On February 8, 1986, the TV series Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales & Legends aired the episode "Darlin' Clementine", wherein Clementine was the only woman in a mining camp and fell in love with a miner named Levis. After a harrowing experience with "The Mountain Man" who wished to take Clementine for his own, her father gave his blessing to marry Levis, and it was as she went to meet Levis that the incident happened. The song is sung during both the opening and closing credits; Shelley Duvall (as Clementine) hums the tune, claiming she had made it up as a kid, and Levis sings a version of it as he returns to the camp to ask her father's blessings, carrying a special gift for Clementine. The story seems to pull elements from both songs, "Oh My Darling Clementine" and "Down By The River Liv'd a Maiden", as Clementine did have a drink before heading to the river and is seen by Levis after the incident.
The Malayalam funeral march "Samayamam Rathathil Njan" by Volbrecht Nagel uses this tune.
An English nursery rhyme, "Call the Doctor", uses the tune.
The 1963 film Hud, starring paul Newman, included a scene in a small town movie theatre where the audience sang along to the song prior to the start of the main feature.
In the 1981 film Death Hunt, Charles Bronson's character sings part of the song to himself alone in his log cabin as his pursuers listen on from outside.
A rendition of the song was heard on Shining Time Station. David Lister (in the Sci-fi show Red Dwarf season 1) sang a parody of Clementine. The Lyrics 'Miner 49er' were changed to 'lived and old Plutonian Miner' implying that the farmer lived on the planet Pluto.
Bobby Darin recorded a version of the song, in which he made fun of Clementine's weight, joking at the end of the song that whalers might find her: "Hey you sailor, / way out in your whaler, / a-with your harpoon and / your trusty line, / if she shows now, yell... / a-there she blows now! / It just may be chunky / Clementine".
Jan and Dean had a minor hit with "Clementine". It was released under the Dore label (SP DORE 539 (US)) in November, 1959; "You're On My Mind" was the B Side.
Tom Lehrer recorded a set of variations on the song on his live album An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer, demonstrating his theory that "folk songs are so atrocious because they were written by the people." He plays the first verse in the style of Cole Porter, the second in the style of "Mozart or one of that crowd", the third in a disjointed jazz sound in the style of Thelonious Monk, and the final verse in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan.
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