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"Auld Lang Syne," In All Its Many Colors

Harry: What does this song mean? My whole life, I don't know what this song means. "Should old acquaintance be forgot" - does that mean we should forget old acquaintances, or if we happen to forget them, that we should remember them, which is not possible because we've already forgotten them?

Sally: Maybe it means that we should remember we forgot them or something... anyway, it's about old friends.

- When Harry Met Sally, 1989

No matter where you are when the ball drops Friday night and 2010 becomes 2011, you'll likely be within earshot of "Auld Lang Syne." You may be hammered, too, which would be appropriate - this anthem of remembrance and New Year's Eve is also a drinking song. Exactly what did you think was in that cup of "kindness," anyway?

Like other semi-well-known tunes ("America the Beautiful," for example), "Auld Lang Syne" is a song to which a lot of people know the first verse and the chorus, and not much else. Both the lyrics and music are so old that their exact origins are unknown, but the poem written by Scotsman Robert Burns (left) in 1788 remains the most commonly used set of lyrics today. Judging by these later verses, Bobby fancied himself a wee pint or two:

And surely you'll buy your pint cup!

and surely I'll buy mine!

And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty friend!

And give us a hand o' thine!

And we'll take a right good-will draught,

for auld lang syne.

As for the melody, which is now sung all over the world, it is No. 6294 in British librarian Steve Roud's index of more than 20,000 English-language folk songs, which also includes "Midnight Special" and a whole bunch of songs about Robin Hood. A New Year's Eve tradition in America thanks largely to Guy Lombardo's annual broadcast from the '30s to the '50s, "Auld Lang Syne" has been recorded or performed live by everyone from Bugs Bunny, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis to U2, Prince and Mariah Carey.

Is it the most adaptable tune in history? Perhaps. Rocks Off did some YouTube trolling, and discovered there are many ways to remember old friends...

 

METAL

This version by all-female Motorhead pals and New Wave of British Heavy Metal veterans Girlschool, who lost longtime lead guitarist Kelly Johnson to cancer in 2007 but are still around, puts the "Headbanging New Year" into 2008 compliation We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year. Only available on the two-CD expanded version, though.

SMOOTH JAZZ

For Kenny G's 1999 CD Millennium, the Seattle soprano saxman spliced in several of the outgoing century's best-known sound bites for a version he dubbed the "Freedom Mix." Don't front.

SOUL/GOSPEL

YouTube won't let Rocks Off embed this 1987 duet between ailing diva Aretha Franklin and late Houston keyboard whiz Billy Preston, but give it a whirl. It'll have your toes tapping more than most.

POLITICIANS

As perhaps the best-known work of Scotland's No. 1 favorite son, "Auld Lang Syne" is near and dear to the hearts of many a clan. Rocks Off doesn't know if the Scottish Parliament called in a ringer or two for this one, but we'd rather listen to this than our own House of Representatives singing "God Bless America"... if they could even agree which key to sing it in.

BAGPIPES

Duh. Maybe not as stirring as "Amazing Grace," perhaps, but not too far off.

RED HOT CHILI PIPERS

Yep. The sound quality is horrible, but this tribute band breaks away from aping Flea and friends to have a draught or two of kindness. Give it away now.

FLAMING LIPS

Because you always knew Wayne Coyne was a softie at heart. He also wisely recites the words for the audience (Oklahoma City, NYE 2007) before starting the song about four minutes into the clip.

MARIAH CAREY

The latest version, from Carey's new holiday LP Merry Christmas II You. Because it's just not the holidays without a cheesy dance track and a bunch of fireworks. She is honest, though, tossing off the aside "does anybody even know the words?" before making up some of her own.


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