“Old MacDonald had a farm” is one of the most famous and popular children’s song and nursery rhymes and children’s songs of all times. The rhyme describes a farmer, whose name is MacDonald. The old farmer has a farm with many animals. Every verse lists one animal and makes its respective noise. The song first lists the cow, with the sound “moo.” It then proceeds to pig, with the sound “oink.” Next in the list is a duck, with its characteristic “quack” sound. The song then moves on to the horse, which makes a “neigh” sound. Next on the list is the lamb, with its “baa baa” sound. Finally, there is the chicken with its “cluck cluck” sound. The concluding part of the song lists out all the sounds again.
The origins of the “Old MacDonald had a farm” song is shrouded in obscurity, with several variants in existence. The earliest recorded version is in “The Kingdom of the Birds,” an opera published in 1719-1720 in Thomas D’Urfey’s “Wit and Mirth,” also known as “Pills to Purge Melancholy.” This work dates back to 1720’s. Another British variant is “TThe Farmyard,” or “The Merry Green Fields,” published in “Cecil Sharp’s Collection of English Folk Songs.” This version dates back to 1908.
Another early allusion came in “Tommy Tunes,” a 1917 book written by F. T. Nettleingham, which is a book that aggregates songs during the time of World War I. One of the songs in this book, “Ohio,” with the lyrics “Old Macdougal Had a Farm” is very similar to the modern day version of “Old MacDonald had a farm.” Another variant, Mr. H. F. Walker’s “Old Missouri”, was published in 1922, but this version described the mule and its different parts, rather than various animals. Both these versions have similar rhyming versions, with some difference in words. The oldest version of the version as it exists today, in “The Traditional Ballad Index,” is the Sam Patterson Trio’s work of the same name,” in 1925.
Today, there are many versions of “Old MacDonald had a farm.” In some versions, the noises made by animals are cumulative, with noises of animals from preceding verses carrying over to each subsequent verse. Needless to say, this popular song has been adapted and translated into several other languages, and each translation has modifications to fit cultural requirements, and also to match requirements of rhyme in the respective languages. The song is now adapted and popular in Arabic, German, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese, Slovene, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Korean, Finnish, Czech, and other languages.
The popularity of “Old MacDonald” is owing to several factors. First, the lyrics are catchy, and the tune lively and melodious. It strikes a positive chord among audience, both young and old, and inspires them. Next, the lyrics are informative as well. It is a good way for children to get acquainted with most of the animals they see in day to day life and get to know the sounds they make. The verses also rhyme well, and are easy to remember. This nursery rhyme finds inclusion in most editions and collections of the most common rhymes, across the world, transcending cultures, race, religion, and other barriers. “Old MacDonald had a farm” is one of the biggest hit songs in the world, with its popularity extending beyond children, to even adults.