(Sorry for being late with this. If you follow my Twitter feed, you know that last night I was contemplating the best way to throttle my computer.)
"Scarborough Fair" is an English folk ballad, dating back several hundred years in its earliest versions. The version sung today contains the mysterious lyric "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme," which may refer to different virtues or possibly a love charm.
The lyrics are about a man trying to attain his true love. In Medieval times, the herbs mentioned in the song represented virtues that were important to the lyrics. Parsley was comfort, sage was strength, rosemary was love, and thyme was courage.
According to Wikipedia, "folksong scholar Märta Ramsten states that folksong refrains containing enumerations of herbs — spices and medical herbs — occur in many languages, including Swedish, Danish, German, and English," with the Italian equivalent being "ravanei, remulass, barbabietul e spinass." Imagine trying to sing a refrain about radish, horseradish, beet and spinach.
Several artists have covered the song over the years, including Sarah Brightman, Celtic Woman and (most famously) Simon and Garfunkel. I first heard the song from (of all people) the 80's/90's heavy-metal band Queensryche. It's found on the remastered version of their album "Empire."
The version here is an acoustic one from MTV circa 1993, back when, you know, they actually had music on their channel instead of Snooki. (I hate that nickname; it sounds like she and Snoopy were twins separated at birth.) This version is relatively restrained; to get the full impact of lead singer Geoff Tate's air-raid siren of a voice, you have to listen to the CD.
Yes, I'm something of a metalhead, although I certainly don't appreciate most metal bands' extreme sexism. Thankfully, Queensryche doesn't go in for too much of that. Their hour-long concept album, "Operation: Mindcrime," tells a complete futuristic story from start to finish, with sound effects and snippets of dialogue between songs. Highly recommended.