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Rockin' Robin

A close look at the legendary outlaw, Robin Hood's links with Popular Music

"Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen ...." so goes the signature tune of the 143 episode ATV television series starring Richard Greene. Penned by American composer Carl Sigman in 1956, the song spent 28 weeks in the British pop music charts courtesy of versions by Gary Miller and Dick James (who later became a key publisher of hit songs by the Beatles and Elton John). When Sigman died in the year 2000, it prompted the World Wide Robin Hood Society to take a closer look at the legendary outlaw's unlikely links with the world of pop and rock music and the findings make interesting reading!!

Robin Hood is specifically mentioned in the lyrics of two UK chart hits namely Connie Francis' "Stupid Cupid" (1958) and Five Star's "Rain or Shine" (1986). Bob Dylan mentions him in his lengthy "Desolation Row" track on the "Highway 61 Re-visited" album and ELO's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" also contains a lyrical reference. In fact band member, Jeff Lynne seemed to have a bit of a fascination with the outlaw, as he also had a song "Wild Times" included on the soundtrack of the Kevin Costner block-busting movie, "Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves", which emotively conjures up the spirit of Robin Hood and on ELO's 1974 album "Eldorado" he included a track called "Poorboy (The Greenwood)" which makes a direct mention of Maid Marian and the outlaw way of life.

Inevitably, over the years, the musical scores from all the Robin Hood movies produced some memorable melodies, with Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" from "Robin Hood- Prince of Thieves" holding the number one chart spot for an amazing 16 consecutive weeks in 1991, a record yet to be broken. Before then, it was the popular HTV series "Robin Of Sherwood" which put Irish folk band, Clannad, into the charts in May 1984 with their haunting "Robin (The Hooded Man)" theme tune.

However, the appeal of the legendary outlaw to songwriters wasn't confined to film and television music and such credible bands as Deep Purple and Ocean Colour Scene have all recorded different tracks called "Robin Hood". Prefab Sprout also refer to him in their song "Appetite" and the progressive acoustic band, Nickel Creek, recorded a song called Robin and Marian" on their eponymous album.
The Sherwood swashbuckler also gets a mention in the MGM musical "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers", where in the song "Sobbin' Women", the brothers sing "Just remember what Robin, Robin, Robin Hood would have done..." – and in the musical version of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" he gets mentioned again in the lyrics to the song "My Old Bamboo".

But reference to our hero of the Greenwood does not always ensure success, as hit composer Lionel Bart discovered to his cost in 1965 when his musical adaptation of the legend, "Twang" was brutally panned by the critics and closed in London's West End after the first six weeks! However, Bart did make a reference to Robin in the lyrics of the song "You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two" from his award winning musical "Oliver".

On a more bizarre note, in the early Sixties, Decca Records signed Robbie Hood and his Merry Men as recording artists and Mike West (Robbie) recalled that he wore a Lincoln Green stage outfit and his backing group had boots, feathered hats, jerkins made from sackcloth and bright red, blue or yellow tights!

In 1979, Alabama folk-rock outfit, 38 Special, put out an instrumental "B" side entitled "Robin Hood" which, in a quirky, toe-tapping way sounded like Mike Oldfield meets Guns 'N' Roses! Another Robin Hood based tune was by David Marks, (an original early member of the Beach Boys) who recorded a surfing instrumental entitled "The Sheriff of Noddingham"!

Even Abba tribute band Bjorn Again, have a clip in their TV documentary/ video which shows it's two female singers limbering up their vocal chords with a Robin Hood/ Merry Men voice exercise!

A track titled "Robin Hood" was featured by The Mekons on an album called "So Good It Hurts" and Woody Ball is listed as having cut a track called "Robin Hood and his'56 Ford" on their "Hot Rod Gang" album.

Charlotte Dahlgaard, one of the Society's members in Denmark, tells us that a song called "Robin Hood" was a Danish entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Another strange connection with Robin Hood and the popular music industry is that Peter Asher, who played the young Prince Arthur in an episode of the Richard Greene TV series, then went on to become one half of the duo, Peter and Gordon who topped the charts with a "World Without Love" in the mid-60's. The song was written by Lennon and McCartney and Peter's sister, actress Jane Asher, was Paul McCartney's girlfriend at the time. Peter later became a record producer in the USA and was responsible for enhancing the careers of stars like James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt.

Legendary bandleader, Louis Prima wrote and recorded a song called "Robin Hood" in 1944 that included the lyrics "They would scamper through the forest to the Blue Boar Inn" and "Had a fear for no man – only for his chick whose name was Mari-anne." Apparently Prima was such a fan of the man from Sherwood Forest that he even set up his own record label in the early 1950's and called it Robin Hood - which according to Nick Tosches, in his 1984 book "Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll", the label produced some groundbreaking music.

"No Good Robin" was recorded in 1956 by American rockabilly artist Delbert Barker and Irish singer/songwriter, Luka Bloom wrote and recorded" Lonesome Robin". Another musical connection was made with the legend when the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem recorded "Brennan on the Moor" – a traditional song about Ireland's Robin Hood, highwayman William Brennan, who was tried and executed for his crimes at Clonmel in County Tipperary in 1804.

Icelandic female vocalist, Bjork recorded a single called "Robin Hood Riding Through The Glen" but, strangely enough, there was no actual reference to Robin Hood in the song!

A traditional ballad, "Robin and the Pedlar" was arranged and sung by a Mr. Verrall of Horsham, Sussex and Folk band, Steeleye Span included their version of the story in "Gamble Gold (Robin Hood)", a track on their hit album of 1975. Fred Wedlock,(a sort of West Country Billy Connolly) also has a track called "Robin Hood" on his 1981 "Village Thing" album.

According to Dr. Andrew C. Rouse, of the University of Pecs, Hungary, an artist called Keith Christmas wrote an uproariously funny spoof ballad called "Robin Head" about trafficking drugs in Sherwood and the tune is often also attributed to the previously mentioned Fred Wedlock but with the title of "Ode to Nottingham". Dr. Rouse even includes a chapter partly related to Robin Hood in his 2005 book "The Remunerated Vernacular Singer", in which he studies the relative social caste of the minstrel through text analysis!

Protest singer, Billy Bragg has a line in one of his songs that goes "Robin Hood and his Merry Men, They've all gone away. We won't see them back again."

In 2004, Bootlace Johnnie and the Ninetynines released a song on Burning Shed Records called "Down Pentonville Way" that included the lines "Now one thing my old man had understood, We could trace our roots back to Robin Hood".

The original "Gest of Robyn Hode" was probably composed in the mid-to-late 1400's and first printed in the early 16th century and is believed to be the longest ballad of its type in English literature. However, Californian musician, Bob Frank was not deterred by its lengthy verses and recorded a modern translation, full of wit and drama, in an Arlo Guthrie - style delivery that lasts for a full hour and twenty minutes !

In fact, I am always amazed at how Robin Hood's name manages to creep into all kinds and styles of songs and we fairly regularly learn of a new song or musical that has been written about Nottingham's legendary Sherwood hero.

So, if you know of a song or musical that is not already mentioned on our site, then just send us the details and we will add it to this quirky list of popular music's unlikely fascination with the traditional tale of Robin Hood - the iconic people's champion of English folklore!

Many thanks to everyone who, over the years, has sent in information about Robin Hood –related songs and KEEP 'EM COMING!