The song begins in the key of A, because that’s the one key that is easy to play this melody in on the guitar. There’s lots of repetition. Each verse consists of a melody phrase of two lines, repeated exactly in the next two lines. Then, the same phrase is repeated once again in the chorus. The first and second verses are identical. To add a little variety to all this repetition, I have used a pattern pick in the chorus, and used mostly chords in the verses. There are only four chords used in the first two verses, and all four are dead easy to play.
At the end of the second chorus, there’s a key change to C. It’s not technically difficult to make the change, but you may find it mentally difficult to go from one key to another in the middle of a pattern pick. It’ll also blow the minds of your audience, so practice the key change until you can do it without any change in tempo. The trick is to not think of it as a key change, but as just another chord change, which, in fact, it is.
The verse part of the third verse continues the pattern pick, right on into the chorus, still in the key of C. But the third verse chorus is repeated as a bass line, leading up to the final four measures of chords. These are still easy chords. In fact, there’s not a barre chord or a difficult chord in the song anywhere. That doesn’t mean the song is easy, though. The 88 beats per minute tempo is pretty fast, considering that the pattern picks are all eighth-notes. If you’re not used to playing pattern picks, be careful! The pattern changes a lot to bring out the melody, and may not be apparent at first. You’re going to be doing a lot of left hand movements to hit the right notes, including lots of ligados (hammer-ons and pull-offs and slides), right from the beginning.
Yeah, there are twelve of them, but that’s not as bad as you may think, as you probably already know almost all of them, by one name or another. Specifically, the first two verses just use A, E, E7, and D. If you want, you can just play the whole song in this key by repeating the verse and chorus a third time. Duck soup easy, but not terribly impressive.
For those who are a bit more adventurous, play the third verse as tabbed, in the key of C. Here’s where the majority of the chords come in. There’s C, F, and G7, of course, plus a couple of “added fifth” chords for flavor, and a couple of alternate ways of playing C, F and G. Those last two are actually easier to play than the normal way.
Added fifth chords (a bit of chord theory)
In playing CaddG, you are just adding the fifth note of the C scale to a normal C chord. In playing G7addD you are adding the fifth note of the G scale to a normal G7. That’s why they are called “added fifth” chords. These extra notes are actually part of the normal chord structure, but are added in again to emphasize that note. For example, a C chord contains the notes C, E, and G. That’s the definition of a “C Major” chord. But, as normally played on the guitar, it comes out: x32010, or [blank] C E G C E. If you want to emphasize the G note, or if the G on the open 3rd string is too low for the melody, you can add in a higher G by fretting the 1st string in the 3rd space: x32013, or [blank] C E G C G. Chords like this are usually called “added fifth” chords, and are usually written Cadd5 or Gadd5. Frankly, I find this more confusing than helpful, but I don’t want to just call them C or G, (which would technically be correct) as they are played differently. So I specify the added notes in the chord name: CaddG and GaddD. Please don’t just play an ordinary C or G. In this song, the added notes are needed to carry the melody or an important harmony.
Alternate bass chords are similar-- you’re just using a different note of the chord than usual for the bass note. Such chords are written like this: C/G. Technically, this chord would be called “C with a G bass,” or something similar, but most guitarists just call it “C over G”. Pianists and other guitarists know what they mean, and who else cares? C/G is played by adding a bass G on the #6 string, 3rd space with the pinkie. If you have a very small hand and a very wide guitar neck, this might be hard for you. You can substitute a normal C chord, if you wish. G/C is even easier. You just play it like the first three strings of an F, only in the the third space (Third Position). Easiest of the lot is F/C. That’s another three-string chord, played exactly like an ordinary D chord, only in the Fifth Position (5th fret), as shown in the tab and the chord charts.
That’s IT. There are NO BARRE CHORDS and NO HARD CHORDS in this song. NONE!
In measure , starting from a normal A-Shape position, move the left hand DOWN the neck of the guitar (toward the nut) to fret the Ab on the 3rd string, 1st space, then slide right back to the 2nd space. You’ll have to lift the fingers off the strings going down to avoid scraping the string, but don’t change the hand shape, as you’re going to need it again immediately. Next, the ring finger gets a workout, fretting and releasing the 2nd string, still without changing the chord shape. Fret the 2nd string in the 3rd space with the pinkie, still maintaining the chord for the three-string pinch in the 4th measure. Move up to Second Position (shown by Roman numeral II) for the pull-off, going back to the A chord for the next two measures.
Continue to play as shown throughout the second line, with one exception: in measure , you don’t actually have to change chord shapes with your left hand. From the E7, you can just flatten the fingers across the strings to hit the A chord, then go right back to the E. In the last measure of the line, it’s best to actually change to the A-shape, as you’re going to let the notes ring. Measures  through  are played exactly like  through , except that the last three chords are strummed instead of being pinched. All the notes are identical.
/ MTIM *TRM / RTIR *TRM / RTIM RMRI / RTIM RMRM /
/ RTIM RIRI / RTIM ITIT / RTIM RTRT / MTIR MTIM /
The pattern doesn’t repeat exactly, but it’s not completely random, either. Play this chorus, exactly the same, after each of the first two verses. Then, change chords to the C chord that begins the third verse. Since you’re now playing in a different key, the pattern pick must change also. The pattern for measures  -  is:
/ MTIM *TMI / RTIM RIRM / RTIM (III) RM (I) RM / RTIM RMRM /
/ RTIM RMRM / RTIR MTMT / RTIR *T RT / MTIR M T I T /
IMPORTANT: These patterns do not indicate which strings to play with the right hand, only which fingers to use! They have been worked out to avoid situations where you might have to play the same string with the same finger in twice succession, which would cause you to mess up the rhythm. However, this is a personal preference. If a further modification suits you better, by all means use it.
Measures  -  are played exactly like  - , but the next line is NOT an exact duplicate of the second line, as you might expect. Measures  and  are:
/ RTIR RT*T / RTIR MTMT / but next is a measure of pinches, followed by a strum.
The chorus of the third verse (measures  -  inclusive) is exactly like  - , except for the last note, which is a bass G on the 6th string, 3rd space, to lead into the chorus reprise. This reprise, comprising measures  - , is basically just the melody line of the chorus, played on the bass strings, up until the C chord in measure . The two notes on the open G string in  give you plenty of time to move your hand to the Fifth Position (5th fret) for the F/C chord. Slow down a bit as you change positions for the other two chords of the measure, just enough for emphasis, but not so slow that it looks like you are having trouble reaching them. I like to end on a C/G chord for a fuller sound, but if this shape is too hard to reach quickly, just play a regular C. No one but you will notice the difference.
A wonderful family history entry about Cyrus H. Wheelock, who wrote the words, can be found at this link: https://familysearch.org/photos/stories/2965374. The tune, called “Babylon”, was adapted from the song, “Long, Long Ago”, written in England by Thomas H. Bayly in 1833. It was a nostalgic tune that immediately became quite popular in England, and was also popular in the United States by 1844. Brother Wheelock could scarcely have helped hearing the song, as he served three missions to England, and was writing hymns in Utah during the period of its greatest popularity in the US, but we have no information about the date the poem was written, or who adapted the tune to it.