"Oh My Darling, Clementine" is an American western folk ballad in trochaic meter usually credited to Percy Montrose (1884), although it is sometimes credited to Barker Bradford. The song is believed to have been based on another song called "Down by the River Liv'd a Maiden" by H. S. Thompson (1863). This American folk song is commonly performed in the key of F Major. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.
Gerald Brenan attributes the melody to originally being an old Spanish ballad in his book South from Granada. It was made popular by Mexican miners during the California Gold Rush. The melody was best known from Romance del Conde Olinos o Niño, a sad love story very popular in Spanish-speaking cultures. It was also given various English texts. No particular source is cited to verify that the song he used to hear in the 1920s in a remote Spanish village was not an old text with new music, but Brenan states in his preface that all facts mentioned in the book have been checked reasonably well.
It is unclear when, where and by whom the song was first recorded in English for others to hear but the first version to reach the Billboard charts was that by Bing Crosby recorded on June 14, 1941 and this briefly touched the No. 20 spot. It was given an up-dated and up-tempo treatment in an arrangement by Hal Hopper and John Scott Trotter. The re-written lyrics include a reference to Gene Autry ("could he sue me, Clementine?") amongst the five swinging verses.
The melody is whistled by the character J. Frank Parnell (played by Fox Harris) in the 1984 film Repo Man, directed by Alex Cox.
The melody for the song has become popular as the rhythm for a number of chants by sports supporters, such as the Barmy Army, popularized by the 1998 hit song "Carnaval de Paris" by English dance trio Dario G.
The 1963 film Hud, starring Paul Newman, included a scene in a small town movie theatre where the audience sang along to the song prior to the start of the main feature.
In the 1981 film Death Hunt, Charles Bronson's character sings part of the song to himself alone in his log cabin as his pursuers listen on from outside.
In the 2001 Columbo episode "Murder With Too Many Notes", Lieutenant Columbo sings the first verse of the song along with Billy Connolly's character Findlay Crawford when the Lieutenant visits him in his bungalow. Columbo is also heard singing it in the 1978 episode "Make Me A Perfect Murder.
Bobby Darin recorded a version of the song, credited to Woody Harris, in which he made fun of Clementine's weight, joking at the end of the song that whalers might find her: "Hey you sailor, way out in your whaler, a-with your harpoon and your trusty line, if she shows now, yell... there she blows now It just may be chunky Clementine".
Jan and Dean had a hit with "Clementine" hitting as high as 65 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was released under the Dore label (SP DORE 539 (US)) in November, 1959; "You're on My Mind" was the B Side.
Tom Lehrer recorded a set of variations on the song on his live album An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer, demonstrating his theory that "folk songs are so atrocious because they were written by the people." He plays the first verse in the style of Cole Porter, the second in the style of "Mozart or one of that crowd", the third in a disjointed jazz sound in the style of Thelonious Monk, and the final verse in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan.