Fol-the-rol-lol

The recently launched Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, provides a great collection of early recordings from the Edison era.

Among these Edward M. Favor‘s Fol-the-rol-lol is one of my favourites, at least since Arthur Deex sent me a cassette with one of the two recorded versions (I’m sorry to say the cassette has gone missing: I have been searching for it at least since I started this podcast).

The one above is the later, longer version of 1908, but do not miss the 1905 one, also available on the site and probably not known to Arthur.

Arthur, the most learned of limerickologists, also sent me an article from his monthly newsletter, The Pentatette; I’m sure he will not be offended if I republish it here:

FOL THE ROL LOL
Arthur Deex

Although all but forgotten today, one of the earliest (if not the original) refrain to the sung limerick was “Fol the rol lol.” When Edward M. Favor, the noted vaudeville comedian and singer, appeared in England and America at the turn of the century (1898 to 1910) his repertoire of “comic song(s) in Irish dialect” included limericks with the “Fol the rol lol” refrain after each pair of five line verses.

In the great “record wars” of 1905-1908, the National Phonograph Co. and the American Gramophone Co. discovered what was to become the first law of canned music — You make more money on records than you do on players. One of the early two minute wax (metallic soap compound) cylinders recorded by Edison in November 1905 was Edward M. Favor singing limericks. As the fever of competition swept though the infant record/recording industry (there were a surprisingly large number of companies) the Indestructable Company threatened to flood the market with its high quality Indestructable Records. Edison responded with a four-minute record, albeit on the same fragile cylinders as its standard two-minute version. In the race to regain its share of the market, Edison sold conversion kits for its older recorders virtually at cost. For five dollars (eight-fifty for fancier models) a gear reducer, reproducer, and a set of ten “specially-recorded demonstration records” could be obtained. By the end of 1908 thousands of the Edison kits had been sold and thousand of Edison recorders could play the new (200 grooves per inch) long playing four minute cylinders.

One of the very first, number fourteen to be specific, of the new Edison “Amberol” records made at the Edison studio and factory in West Orange, NJ, was a four-minute version of FOL THE ROL LOL by Edward M. Favor. Cut in September 1908, this recording was listed as “Fol-the-rol-lol, Limericks. Eighteen verses of nonsense, but the kind of nonsense that is clever and mirth-provoking.” It shared the lime light with such other Amberol favorites as “Gee! But It’s Great to Meet a Friend from Your Home Town” by Billy Murray, “He’s My Soft Shell Crab on Toast” by Marie Dressler, and “Goo-Goo Land” by Harry Fay.

The record began with an announcement by Favor that this was Fol The Rol Lol by Edward M. Favor, presented by Edison. Then he jumped into the limericks (with accompaniment):

I just learned a comical ditty
From some of my friends in the city.
      The verses are short
      And I think that you ought
To admit that the verses are witty

There was a young lady from Pella
Fell in love with a bowlegged fella
      This nutty young chat
      Made her sit in his lap
But she fell staight through to the cella

Fol The Rol Lol – Fol The Rol Lol –
Fol The Rol Lol La La Lonny

Fol The Rol Lol – Fol The Rol Lol –
Fol The Rol Lol La La Lonny

The verses continued in pairs followed by the nonsense refrain…

There was an old woman took stuff…

A Russian he rushed into Russia…

Jim Jones was the son of a brewer…

The was an old lady in Worchester…

A certain young maiden named Emma…

There was a bright youngster from Maine…

There was a young miss from Decatur…

Another young miss from Fall River…

A composer who lived in the ghetto…

There was an old maiden named White…

There was a young man from Woontucket…

There was a young girl from Pawtucket…

A dame in a riverside flat…

There was a young lady in Lynn…

There once was a blushing youg bride…

There was a young lady named Mabel…

The only one familiar to today’s limerick buff is the young lady from Lynn, who was so uncommonly thin… and fell in.

Listening to Favor belting out the verses in his “stage Irish” dialect, brings waves of nostalgia for the music hall circuit when burlesque was a family affair. It is interesting to note that of all the principals – Edward M. Favor, Amberol Records, the “Fol The Rol Lol” refrain, and the limerick – only the limerick remains.

From The Pentatette, March 1985.

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