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Often the song is sung as a duet, with the woman then giving her sometime lover a series of equally impossible tasks, promising to give him his seamless shirt and her heart once he has finished.

However, according to Alan Lomax, Mac Coll's source was probably Cecil Sharp's One Hundred English Folk Songs, published in 1916.

Their version used the melody from Frank Kidson's collection Traditional Tunes, published in 1891, which reported it as being "as sung in Whitby streets twenty or thirty years ago", or about the 1860s. The version using the melody later used by Simon & Garfunkel in "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" was first recorded on a 1956 album, English Folk Songs, by Audrey Coppard.

It was included by Ewan Mac Coll on Matching Songs For The British Isles And America (1957), by Mac Coll and Peggy Seeger on The Singing Island (1960), and by Shirley Collins on the album False True Lovers (1959).

The earliest commercial recording of the ballad was by actor/singers Gordon Heath and Lee Payant, Americans who ran a cafe and nightclub, L'Abbaye, on the Rive Gauche in Paris.

They recorded the song on the Elektra album Encores From The Abbaye in 1955. Lloyd's 1955 album The English And Scottish Popular Ballads, using Kidson's melody.

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