Thomas the Rhymer is based on an old Anglo-Scots Border ballad, listed in J. F. Child’s famous collection as “Thomas Rymer,” Child #37.
Many people know the song from the 70’s British folk-rock group Steeleye Span recording. Here is a version the group recorded in 2002 on Present – The Very Best of Steeleye Span featuring art from the cover painting by Thomas Canty for the original U.S. publication of Thomas the Rhymer.
Me, I still prefer a more traditional sound. Here is the great folklorist and performer Ewan MacColl, singing a version with the oldest known tune for the ballad:
For Steeleye fans: Digging around on Wiki, I discovered this interesting fact for U.S. listeners:
The original version of “Thomas the Rhymer” was a 6-minute song that alternated rock and acoustic elements. However, when Now We Are Six was released in America, the band substituted a 3-minute version of the song that was more thoroughly rock-style and which was judged to be more radio friendly. Almost all the subsequent re-releases of Now We Are Six contained the 3-minute version of the song. On this album, however, the band chose to go back to the 6-minute version, which is how they had normally played the song in concert; they offered a variation on the song’s acoustic moments, while keeping the rock moments relatively intact.