I never show the play count field in iTunes, but I turned it on the other day just so I could see what I've been listening to the most. Turns out it's this song. By a lot. It beats the next closest by like 35 plays.
This is the third Steeleye song to make this blog and, while I'm not such a huge fan of the Elf Knight, I love Saucy Sailor > Black Freighter. But while that tune really utilizes the beautiful voice of the second (or third–it depends on how you feel about Jacqui McShee) greatest British folk singer ever, Maddy Prior doesn't sing a note of this one. But that doesn't make it any less renntastic!
Sung by British folk music legends Tim Hart and Martin Carthy, this traditional ballad is way old; 19th century American scholar Francis James Child, who spent much of his life collecting, comparing then distilling the myriad of vernacular folk songs into 305 easy to identify ballads, classified The Fause Knight Upon the Road as #3 in his ever-inspirational ten volume catalog, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. The Elf Knight, Thomas the Rhymer, Allison Gross, Sir Patrick Spens and Tam Lin are other Child ballads electrified by Steeleye and Fairport.
It's Renn Rock to the max, the band firing on all cylinders as the narrative, which concerns a disguised devil engaged in a snappy comeback competition with a wisenheimer kid, reaches it's hell's bell tolling conclusion. Ashley Hutchings, Steeleye co-founder (and the co-founder of Fairport Convention–he left after the release of the legendary Liege & Lief) is on the bass, Peter Knight plays the violin.
There's also a live version recorded in 1977 where Ms. Prior sings the entire second portion of the song, but it doesn't catch fire quite the same as this rendition, which appears on the band's second album, Please to See the King.