Although the UK Singles Chart did not begin until 1952, Britons have been enjoying the greatest pop hits for several centuries, academics reveal.
Experts have ranked 120 popular songs from the Elizabethan and Stuart eras, and they are slightly edgier than songs from the likes of Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift.
Among the most popular songs of the 17th century is the song about the Scotsman who felt the wrath of God after trying to seduce his sister.
Another composition is about a woman who kept her imprisoned father alive by breastfeeding him through the bars of his cell.
Musicians have created new recordings of historic hits for today’s audiences to enjoy, providing a fascinating insight into the origins of pop music.
Number one on the list and therefore “the best of 17th-century pop” is “The Wandering Prince of Troy,” a ballad first obtained in print in the 1560s.
The ‘100 Ballads’ project is the work of two UK historians: Professor Christopher Marsh of Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Angela McShane of the University of Warwick.
The 120 Songs of 17th-Century Britain include stories of lovers, pirates, ghosts, murders, battles, strange romances and “patriotic hero worship.”
“Here we identify and present a set of the greatest hits of 17th-century England,” the academics say in the newly published document. 100 Ballads website.
“An exercise like this has never been attempted before.”
Professor Marsh and Dr McShane describe the songs as “broadband ballads”: single-score songs that were widely sold and performed in taverns and town squares.
Its ranking is based on several metrics, including how many known printed editions of the score there have been, as well as how many editions were historically published in short periods of time.
Number one on the list (and therefore “the best of 17th-century pop”) is “The Wandering Prince of Troy,” a ballad first obtained in print in the 1560s.
It tells the story of the mythological Trojan Aeneas, the hero of Virgil’s epic poem ‘Aeneid’, during his journey after the fall of Troy in the 13th or 12th century BC.
One of the most colorful songs is a strange ballad about Jasper Coningham, from Aberdeen, who tried to seduce his sister.
Mr. Coningham was of the opinion that there was no god, no devil, no heaven or hell, and so he had no qualms about saying to his “beautiful and brilliant” sister: “Let me have pleasure.”
Soon after, “the Lord brought harsh judgment upon him” and his “eyes fell from his head” and “his filthy blasphemous tongue” rotted away.
Professor Marsh told MailOnline: “The unfortunate Scottish gentleman, Jasper Coningham, is cremated at the climax of issue 77.
‘It wasn’t good to be an incestuous atheist in 17th century England!’
Many were about love, but there were also hit songs about family relationships, heroic escapades, supernatural kidnappings, disguised kings, religion, politics and death (file photo).
Another notable composition, ranked 32nd on the list, is about John Ward of Kent, the intrepid pirate who later converted to Islam and terrorized English ships.
As ‘Captain Ward’s Sailor’s Song’ says, the ‘riches he has won’ and obtained through bloodshed ‘may well be enough to support a king.’
John Ward (1553-1622) is famous for being the inspiration for Jack Sparrow, the fictional pirate from the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ film franchise played by Johnny Depp.
Unfortunately, the listing for this composition has the lyrics but no new recording, because the original melody has been lost to history, Professor Marsh said.
Another pirate song at number 21 celebrates the Swedish sailor Andrew Barton (1466-1511), who gained notoriety as a privateer who attacked Portuguese ships.
According to legend, Barton was shot dead by an English archer after the English captured his ship off the coast of Kent.
“In these songs, pirates seem to be condemned and celebrated at the same time,” Professor Marsh told MailOnline.
The Death of Andrew Barton, Illustrated in James Grant’s British Battles on Land and Sea, 1873.
Another ‘personal favorite’ of the academic is issue #38 (about a woman who keeps her imprisoned father alive by breastfeeding him through the bars of his cell).
This song detailing the “extreme act of submission” was a huge hit for about 200 years after its first appearance in the late 16th century.
“The sexual undertones of the story are arguably even more disturbing,” the academics admit.
For its part, number 98 is a ‘sex ballad’ in which the sound of the nightingale singing is a euphemism for a woman’s orgasm.
For the project, most of the songs have been recently recorded by English folk musician Andy Watts along with over 20 other musicians.
The project’s website presents the recordings free of charge to all users, along with facsimile images of the original songs, full transcriptions, and a wide range of contextual information.