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Goodnight Irene - Chords, Lyrics and Origins

Origins

Popularized by Lead Belly (real name Huddie Ledbetter) and made famous by The Weavers, Goodnight Irene is a song that has a special place in American roots music.  A long list of artists have chosen to record the song.  In addition to Lead Belly and the Weavers, this includes Johnn Cash, Little Richard, The Kingston Trio, Ry Cooder, Michelle Socked, Dr John, The White Stripes, Tom Waits and Jerry Lee Lewis.

So what's the history of the song?  Well, in 1934 Lead Belly was discovered by the folklorists John and Alan Lomax singing Goodnight Irene whilst incacerated for murder in Louisiana State Penitentiary.  According to the Lomaxes, Lead Belly himself claimed to have learned the song from his uncle.  Apart from this, the Goodnight Irene's origins seem to be largely unknown.  (Though there's an amusing, though dubious, account of Goodnight Irene's origins here.)  You can find more detail about the Lomaxes' encounters with Leadbelly in this Mudcat thread, and 

Goodnight Irene is a waltz in 3/4 time.  So try picking the bass note of each chord with your thumb, followed by two down strokes on the remaining strings with your index finger.  The song is based around the first, fourth and fifth chords, using C, F and G shapes with a capo at the sixth fret.  But there are also two interesting chords thrown in, both of which significantly enhance the song: Adim and Dm7.  If you haven't come across Adim before, here's a chord diagram for it: Adim Chord

Lead Bellly died in 1949.  This YouTube video features the Weavers singing Goodnight Irene a few years later.  They managed to sell over two million copies of their recorded version.

Chords

Capo at 6th Fret

C  Adim         G7                           C

Irene    goodnight, Irene goodnight,

        C         C7              F            Dm7
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,

      G7                    C
I'll see you in my dreams.





 
      C                Adim          G7
Last Saturday night I got married.

G7                                     C            
Me and my wife settled down.

         C                  C7          F           Dm7
Now me and my wife are parted,


                   G7                                      C

I'm gonna take another stroll downtown






C  Adim         G7                           C
Irene    goodnight, Irene goodnight,

 
        C         C7              F          Dm7
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,

      G7                    C
I'll see you in my dreams.





C                     Adim         G7
Sometimes I live in the country;

G7                             C               
Sometimes I live in town;

C                     C7                 F          Dm7
Sometimes I take a great notion

 
     G7                                    C
To jump into the river and drown




C  Adim         G7                           C
Irene    goodnight, Irene goodnight,

          C         C7              F          Dm7
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,

      G7                    C
I'll see you in my dreams.






         C              Adim                    G7
Stop ramblin',           stop your gamblin';

 
        G7                         C         
Stop stayin' out late at night;

      C                      C7           F            Dm7
Go home to your wife and family;


         G7                                  C
Stay there by your farsight bright.




C  Adim         G7                           C
Irene    goodnight, Irene goodnight,

        C         C7              F          Dm7
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,

      G7                    C
I'll see you in my dreams.






C  Adim         G7                           C
Irene    goodnight, Irene goodnight,

 
        C         C7              F          Dm7
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,

      G7                    C
I'll see you in my dreams.

Lyrics

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight,
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,
I'll see you in my dreams.

Last Saturday night I got married.
Me and my wife settled down.
Now me and my wife are parted,
I'm gonna take another stroll downtown

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight,
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,
I'll see you in my dreams.

Sometimes I live in the country;
Sometimes I live in town;
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump into the river and drown

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight,
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,
I'll see you in my dreams.

Stop ramblin', stop your gamblin';
Stop stayin' out late at night;
Go home to your wife and family -
Stay there by your farsight right.

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight,
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,
I'll see you in my dreams.

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight,
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,
I'll see you in my dreams.

Other American Folk Songs
Other Traditional Folk Songs