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March 5, 2003

Roll over Parnassus: Calpundit reports that you can sing all of Emily Dickinson’s poetry to “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Too true. (Mary Kay Kare in Electrolite’s comment section: “You have a thing for Emily Dickinson don’t you? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”)

Even better, though, Virgil’s Aeneid, in the original Latin, can be sung to “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” And Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” can be sung to “Hernando’s Hideaway.” Of such critical knowledge is a living literary culture made. Never fear, tomorrow we’ll get back to being outraged over something dreadfully important.

UPDATE: Teresa says “You forgot the best one! You can sing ‘Excelsior’ to the ‘Underdog’ theme song!” She’s right. I’m not fit for the company of educated women and men. [10:23 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Roll over Parnassus::

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2003, 10:42 PM:

Of course, anything that can be sung to "The Yellow Rose of Texas" can also be sung to the Coke Song. And did I mention that you can sing all the words to "Stairway to Heaven" to the "Gilligan's Island" theme song?


Buy me a drink or two sometime and I'll demonstrate how Dunbar's "Lament for the Makeris" can be sung as a calypso:

The state of man does change and vary,
Now sound, now sick, now blyth, now sary,
Now dansand mirry, now like to die:97
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

No state in Erd here standis sicker;
As with the wynd wavis the wicker
So wannis this world's vanitie:97
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

It's got a good beat. You can dance to it.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2003, 10:47 PM:

The middle-english metrical romance King Horn can be sung to "Molly Malone."

And the Marine Corps Hymn can be sung to either "My Darling Clementine" or "Ghost Riders in the Sky" (with the refrain being "Semper Fi-O, Semper Fi-Ay, United States Marines").

Rivka Wald ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2003, 11:00 PM:

Emily Dickenson's poems scan to lots of songs: Amazing Grace, for example, and the House of the Rising Sun, and the Gilligan's Island theme. Which last fact I learned from Darkhawk, who sang:

Because I would not stop for death
Death kindly stopped for me
The carriage it held but ourselves
And immortality, and immortality...

Kip ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2003, 11:01 PM:

I refer anyone interested in this vital subject to the book Joe's Got A Head Like A Ping-Pong Ball by the Pankakes, based on the popular "Department of Folk Songs" from Prairie Home Companion. Losing only a couple of points for accidentally including one or two MAD parodies (sent in by the folks at home), the book is an incredible anthology of stuff real kids actually sang, including such standards as "Gory, Gory, Bloody Murder" (and dozens of variants), "Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts," and Many More, as well as whole sections of things that can be sung to the tune of other things. Now how much would you pay? It might be out of print, but that won't stop anybody that really needs the book.

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2003, 11:12 PM:

A colleague once pointed out that most of these aren't all that taxing, as the words and the tunes live in different parts of the brain. He decided that a real challenge would be to sing the "Gilligan's Island" theme to the tune of the theme from "The Brady Bunch." And vice versa. Those songs, he figured, share the same neurons...

He worked out how to do it, but I can't quite remember how, since just thinking about the concept manages to get both tunes stuck in my head until I can pry them out with the aid of filthy rugby songs.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2003, 11:19 PM:

Indeed, Joe's Got a Head Like a Ping-Pong Ball is a milestone of modern American culture. And of course the title song shares the melody of the William Tell Overture.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2003, 11:28 PM:

See also Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts edited by our own Jo Sherman and Toni Weisskopf.

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 12:18 AM:

There are many of these matches of pop song and poetry; not strange when you think about it. I wish I could remember them all. "Stopping by Woods..." works with "Your Cheatin' Heart," I know.
Incidentally, you can download the original recording of "Gilligan"/"Stairway" at

Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 12:28 AM:

You can also transpose the melodies of "Gilligan's Island" and "Amazing Grace".

I also got the strangest look from Jeanne Robinson when Spider started playing "Blackbird" and I started singing "Yesterday".

My personal favorite is singing "Jabberwocky" to the William Tell Overture-- because doing that language at speed is a challenge.

(And, to no one's surprise, I'm the guy at the ball games who sings both "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" a word or two ahead of the actual notes...)

Cory Doctorow ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 12:31 AM:

Don't forget "House of the Rising Sun" to the tune of "Gilligan's Island."

Josh ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 01:06 AM:

As one of the links at aprilwinchell.com reminded me, this is basically the concept behind bootlegs (the new kind, where remixers splice two songs together). The ragtime version of Eminem's "Without Me" is now one of my favorites.

Sarah Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 01:09 AM:

Macdonald mentioned "The Marine Hymn" and "Clementine." The "Ode to Joy" fits, too, as I learned from Vickie McManus, who once wrote a Blake's Seven filk for which she offered the option of three tunes.

I didn't know about "Ghost Riders in the Sky," though. Hmm.


julia ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 01:41 AM:

The Gilligan/Amazing Grace thing, if you do it backwards (the words to Gilligan's Island, the tune of Amazing Grace) is a very, very good way to get unwanted songs out of your head.

Did anyone mention that Oh My Darling Clementine and Beethoven's Ode to Joy are interchangeable?

Graham Sleight ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 01:57 AM:

You can put the lyrics of "Yellow Submarine" to the melody of "Jerusalem", and vice versa, if you're so inclined. And, with only a little fudging, you can put Larkin's "This be the Verse" to the melody of "Land of Hope and Glory".

Christopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 03:14 AM:

"Gilligan's Island" also works with "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

David Greenbaum ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 06:45 AM:

And the American-English translation of the Internationale can be sung to the tune of George M. Cohan's "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy."

And the German Internationale scans very well to "Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles."

The Italian? "O sole mio."


Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 07:05 AM:

Now I am really hurt, Patrick. I told you about the Emily/Yellow Rose connection as well as Hernando's Hideaway and Frost's Snowy Woods connection during one of our Scottish sojourns. I even SANG them for you. I remember you shouting out "Jesus Christ!" and laughing uproariously.

How soon we are forgotten. . .


Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 07:44 AM:

I never thought of this! I may "get" poetry after all!

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 08:42 AM:

Jane, I plead guilty to advancing middle-aged memory syndrome, but I also know that I first heard about the Robert Frost/"Hernando's Hideaway" in a conversation at Chip Delany's apartment in the mid-1980s.

It is entirely possible, of course, that these little encounters with the indeterminacy of memory are the result of us all drifting slightly between similar but not identical timelines as we age.

David Greenbaum's news about singing the "Internationale" to "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy" is, I think, the prize of this thread so far.

Arise, ye workers from your slumbers
Arise, ye prisoners of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant.
Away with all your superstitions
Servile masses arise, arise
We'll change henceforth the old tradition
And spurn the dust to win the prize!

Kip ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 08:47 AM:

"The Marine's Hymn." Say, do you folks know that this song was based on a humorous duet by Offenbach? It's sung by some gendarmes who are wary of offending dangerous criminals but who gladly swoop down on harmless citizens who walk on the grass or some such. I found it in a collection of Victorian songs and duets called... wait for it... Victorian Songs and Duets (Tear & Luxon).

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 09:42 AM:

Oh, golly. Thanks guys. It's 6:30 am, the cleaning crew will be here shortly I still have stuff to do before that and now I have alll these insane song pairings running through my skull... However, I get to feel superior. I've known about lots of these, esp. the Dickinson and Frost/Hernando connections since I was in college. Which was uh, a long time ago. Benefits of higher education.

Patrick: Personally I think Jim's Marine Hymn is the prize. The chorus rendered my speechless with laughter even at this ungodly hour. Clearly I need to hang out more with this man. This is the second time in a month he's done that. (Drinks are on me.)

Brick Barrientos ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 10:17 AM:

In this blog (http://matt979.blogspot.com/2002_11_10_matt979_archive.html), I was blamed for setting a questionable example:

"More than a decade later a meme was transferred
Specifically, you can sing 'Amazing Grace' to the Coca Cola 'I'd like to teach the world to sing' or to 'Gilligan's Island.' I first learned this at the Astrodome, of all places.

To paraphrase the old anti-drug PSA, 'I learned it by watching you, Brick.' "

"Ode to Joy," "The Marine's Hymn," "Clementine," and "Tantum Ergo Sacramentum" are also interchangeable.

I've also interchanged "Give My Regards to Broadway" with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "We Don't Need Another Hero" from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome with "Centerfield".

Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 10:20 AM:

One can, if so inclined, sing Beowulf -- or any other bit of Anglo-Saxon four-stress alliterative -- to the verse lines of the sea chanty Haul on the Bowline.

Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 10:50 AM:

My personal fave is to sing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun".

Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 11:02 AM:

I'm told that Sasha was deeply horrified when they sang 'Clementine" in school, and had to have it gently pointed out to him that the Ode to Joy was not the original tune for those words.

W.S. Gilbert's "Etiquette" goes very nicely to "The House of the Rising Sun". And "Stairway to Heaven" is the only tune I've yet heard to which it is possible to sing sonnets without utterly mutilating them.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 12:22 PM:

"Safe in their Alabaster Chambers --
Untouched by Morning --
And untouched by Noon --
Lie the meek members of the Resurrection --
Rafter of Satin -- and Roof of Stone!"

(#216, version of 1861)

Doesn't fit

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 12:32 PM:

... But did you know that Pachelbel's Canon in D makes terrific backup music for the song "Puff the Magic Dragon"?

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 01:05 PM:

The same guy who told me about "Hernando's Hideaway" would play and sing "The Raven" as a cha-cha.

There is an actual record of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" to the tune *and arrangement* of the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun."

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 01:26 PM:

Wow, I never knew there was a book of Department of Folk Songs stuff. I really miss that segment.

The Prairie Home Companion once featured Amazing Grace sung to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club song.

Surprisingly catchy.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 01:44 PM:

Mack The Knife is also in the Ode to Joy/Clementine complex. "...lived a miner/forty-niner/and his daughter - Mack the Knife!"

Also, you can sing "The Walrus and the Carpenter" to Shubert's The Trout. I don't know that I'm the first to notice this, but I've never heard it mentioned anywhere.

Xopher, arggging ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 01:51 PM:

Please forgive the inconsistent quoting and italics in the previous post.

Bits of the Requiem mass can be sung to "Doodah." Also, I used to sing the opening bit of it to "Doo Wah Diddy." "Requiem eternam dona eis domine, singin' doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo."

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 01:56 PM:

The trouble is that sometimes the weird connections are not accidental. The Chistmas carol "While Shepherds Watched..." can be sung to the same tune as "On Ilkley Moor", but the tune (named "Cranbrook") was borrowed from the carol for "Ilkley Moor".

"House of the Rising Sun" to the same tune doesn't quite work, you have to adjust a few lines.

Jim Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 01:57 PM:

When I was a kid in church choir, I noticed that one of the cool things about the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal was that each hymn featured a numerical code which explained the length of its lines. Sometimes, the hymnal provided two melodies for one lyric, or one melody would show up in more than one place. But you could always use the code to mix'n'match melodies and lyrics. I don't know why more songbooks don't have this feature.

On a related note, did you ever notice that the "Flintstones" theme uses the same chord sequence as "I Got Rhythm"? It takes some creative work to actually switch the lyrics around, but jazz musicians can always have fun with the chord changes.

Dave Greenbaum ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 02:27 PM:

Need to clarify the particular translation (Engels' is a little funky) - this one:
Arise, you prisoners of starvation!

Arise, you wretched of the earth!

For justice thunders condemnation.

A better world's in birth.

No more tradition's chains shall bind us.

Arise, you slaves, no more in thrall!

The earth shall rise on new foundations.

We have been naught, we shall be all.

'Tis the final conflict;

Let each stand in his place.

The international working class

Shall be the human race.

Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 02:40 PM:

Jim, the chord changes to "I Got Rhythm", also known as a 2-5-1 progression, are used in many, many jazz songs. Indeed, they are commonly improvised into any chord progression, as follows: when preparing to change to any chord, make a transition into it by treating it as the "1" in a 2-5-1 progression, adjusting duration to fit the time signature.

Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 04:38 PM:

While it's certainly fun to put the lyrics of Clementine to the tune of Beethoven's 9th, for me the real joy in this particular complex lies in reversing the procedure, and singing Schiller's Ode an die Freude to the tune of Clementine.

Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 04:45 PM:

Your apologies (sung to the tune of the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy") gratefully accepted.


Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 10:27 PM:

The way I heard it, as far as the "Hernando's Hideaway" version of "Stopping by Woods..." (I believe it was Gardner Dozois who told this story), there were a bunch of drunken folks late one night at some writers' colony or other (MacDowell? Yaddo? or maybe it was a college where he was in residence--whatever...) where Robert Forstt happened to be staying. So they went by his house and proceeded to serenade the great man himself. There was only silence in reply...

ers ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 11:20 PM:

Nice Jewish Girl that I am (more-or-less), I learned in Nice Jewish Youth Group to sing the hymn "Adon Olam" to the tune of "The Saints Go Marching In." (What's the spiritual equivalent of "genderfuck"?)

A friend of mine used to sing the long version of the Hebrew Grace after meals to "Gilligan's Island"; he said it usually took folks until the tune reached "the Professor and Mary Anne" to figure it out.

I don't think this proves the existence of a merciful G-d -- one could argue the absence of bolts of lightening striking the singers either proves or disproves it.

Jeffrey Kramer ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 11:27 PM:

With a little fiddling every fourth line, you can sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic to the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies' theme song.

Josh ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 12:00 AM:

ers -- you can also do "Adon Olam" to the tune of the William Tell Overture. There are several other possibilities, none of which I can recall at the moment.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 12:18 AM:

Should I be appalled at the tunes people admit to remembering? Probably not as much as at the fact that you can get "Gilligan's Island Cruises" (with Bob Denver, on the Potomac, IIRC; one can only wish that the boat really would get lost with a load of your-choice-of-political-animals).

But crossing "Yellow Submarine" and "Jerusalem" -- now that's brilliant.

For the utterly random, Clam Chowder used to sing the official verses of "How Long, Dear Savior", then go on to the composer's complaint about slow service, and finish with his biographical footnote.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 12:19 AM:

Alas, my abilities to spot and grok these are completely and utterly gone. Years of running sound have turned me into an incredibly critical listener, attuned to matching previously heard patterns, so most of the "Sing X to Y" break for me, since I simply think "no, something wrong with lead VOX...." Sometimes, being technically ept ruins the magic of life. Well, anymore, it's "always", but hey.

However, one element of joy remains -- I, for some reason, can still instantly recognize when a particular phrase scans perfectly to the first line of "Camptown Races," and thereupon immediatly supply the required "Doo-dah, Doo-dah." Done correctly, it'll pretty much shut down any relevant train of thought in a fifty foot radius.

Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 08:49 AM:

There's a problem with singing "Gilligan's Island" to the tune of "Amazing Grace" or "HOTRS", as I discovered last night trying to do it. What do you do with the fill? (I speak of "With Gilligan... The Skipper too... The Millionaire, and his wife... The Movie Stah! The Professor and, Mary Ann, here, on, Gillig-an's, Isle!") It won't fit! The melodies have only verses.

Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 08:52 AM:

Hmm, actually I guess that's probably not a "fill" coming as it does at the end of the song. But whatever... The song is not complete without it.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 10:58 AM:

"...And the rest," dammit, "...and the rest"!!!

When the second season of Gilligan's Island first aired, I was shocked at the change from "and the rest" to "the Professor and Mary Anne". Yes, the cast did in fact include the Professor and Mary Anne, but they changed the song! They weren't allowed to do that, were they?

It was my first inkling that there was something truly wrong with the world I lived in.

William Denton ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 01:23 PM:

I discovered that you can sing some of Kipling's "Gunga Din" to "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands."

You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din (clap clap)/

You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din (clap clap)/

Though I've belted you and flayed you, by the livin' Gawd that made you/

You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din (clap, clap)

Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 02:07 PM:

Alan -- yes, but if you use the "And the rest" version, you miss out on that cool "The Mo-vie Stah!" voicing -- it's just, "The Mo-vie Star, and the, Rest" -- not nearly as much fun. I must admit here that I am not sufficiently old to have caught any of the Gilligan's Island episodes in their original airings so I cannot speak with authority. At least one particular type of authority. I was happy when I found out a couple years ago that there were black & white episodes -- the island and the castaways photograph very nicely in black & white, don't look quite as much like wallpaper.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 05:13 PM:

Well, the Dickinson/Amazing Grace/Yellow Rose/I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (or Buy the World a Coke) parallel is because they're all written in the Hymnal Stanza, which makes interchanging melodies much easier.

From what I understand, the tune we associate with Amazing Grace was actually a much older African song that had the poetry of Amazing Grace set to it, because of this same parallel. Not that I know the original lyrics.

What's really fun is to sing the original lyrics of "To Anacreon in Heaven" when everyone else is singing "The Star Spangled Banner."

Croaking Soulfully ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2003, 04:14 AM:

I'll second Kevin Murphy. You don't even get that many funny looks. The present tune is an awkward match for the original words, though. I doubt that it originally wound up so high at the end:

And besides I'll instruct you like me to intwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine

BSD ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2003, 11:11 AM:

ERS and Josh both mention "Adon Olam" being sung to vaguely inappropriate tunes. It was always an amusement in USY, however, to try and find even ODDER songs to sing it to. Black Sabbath's Iron Man works, if you have the time, as do various Souza tunes. We never found anything that couldn't work to at least SOME extent.

Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2003, 08:20 PM:

"Adon Olam" works with a mind-boggling variety of tunes. Favorites in my Junior Congregation (Temple Emunah, early 80s) included "Suicide is Painless (theme from M*A*S*H)" and "I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General."

I chickened out at my bat mitzvah, and used the simple call-and-response tune that, as far as I know, doesn't go to any other lyrics. Didn't want to upset the relatives.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2003, 11:39 PM:

"And you can sing anything you want to Alices' Restaurant."

Which we did for about 2 hours one night at a midwestern sing.


Beth Friedman ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2003, 12:29 PM:

I've been hearing the "you can sing all Emily Dickinson to 'Yellow Rose of Texas' thing" for years, but it doesn't work for one of the few of her poems I have memorized:

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
'T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur, -- you're straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

As for "Adon Olam," the worst I've ever sung it to was probably "Cherry Baby." Hadn't heard "Saints Go Marching In" suggested before; it works frighteningly well.