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Pablo Nelson submitted a very good letter for the last “Ask Billboard” regarding pop hits based at least partly on nursery rhymes. Many were mentioned, but I’d like to add a few more.
First, The Elegants earned their only Billboard Hot 100 hit in 1958 with “Little Star.” This No. 1 was based on the lullaby “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” (The song topped the Hot 100 dated Aug. 25, 1958, becoming the third No. 1 in the chart’s history. Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool” led the first Hot 100, dated Aug. 4, as well as the chart the following week. On Aug. 18, Domenico Modugno’s “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu [Volaré]” was No. 1.)
In 1959, Cyril Stapleton and His Orchestra reached No. 13 and Mitch Miller, No. 16 (the same week, Feb. 9), with “The Children’s Marching Song (Nick Nack Taddy/Paddy Whack).” Both versions are based on the nursery rhyme “This Old Man.”
Inez and Charlie Foxx had a 1963 hit with “Mockingbird,” based on the lullaby “Hush Little Baby.” It reached No. 7 on the Hot 100, plus No. 1 in Canada for two weeks. (In fact, it was the No. 1 song in Canada on the day I was born.) The song has been recorded by several other artists over the years, most notably Carly Simon and James Taylor, who took their version to No. 5 on the Hot 100 in 1974.
Folk music was big in the early 1960s, and in 1964 folk group The Serendipity Singers scored a No. 6 hit with their debut single “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man),” partly based on the nursery rhyme “There Was a Crooked Man.”
Supertramp reached No. 11 in 1982 with “It’s Raining Again.” The song ends with a children’s chorus singing the nursery rhyme “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring.” As noted in the last “Ask Billboard,” a reworded version of that nursery rhyme also opens the 1979 Barbra Streisand/Donna Summer No. 1 “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).”
Metallica climbed to No. 16 on the Hot 100 in 1991 with “Enter Sandman.” The hard rock classic incorporates the bedtime prayer “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” and references the lullaby “Hush Little Baby.” (On a related note, but much more in a pop vein, Sophie B. Hawkins hit No. 6 in 1995 with “As I Lay Me Down.”)
Just more examples that show how prevalent nursery rhymes have been in music throughout the rock era.
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Thanks for adding to the list. And, the version of “Mockingbird” with which I’m most familiar is Clark and Ellen Griswold’s heartfelt duet from National Lampoon’s Vacation (the perfect lead-in to the Walley World national anthem.)
Oh, look who has a couple more thoughts about music that fits the category.
Just a little more about nursery rhymes.
Counting Crows (from my neighboring Berkeley, California) reportedly took their name from One for Sorrow, a British nursery rhyme about the superstitious counting of magpies … a member of the crow family. Frontman Adam Duritz apparently heard the rhyme in the film Signs of Life, starring his friend Mary-Louise Parker.
And, as for the current lullaby/nursery rhyme hit in our midst that inspired my first email, “Rockabye,” the universality of the literary genre is mirrored by the several cultures represented the acts involved: England’s Clean Bandit; British singer Anne-Marie, whose father is Irish; and Jamaican Sean Paul, who reportedly has the following roots in his family tree: Portuguese, Afro-Caribbean, English, Chinese and Jewish.
Singing songs of sixpence (none the richer),
Thanks again Pablo.
I’ll note two more nursery rhyme-related songs, heard during the past week. WFUV New York played “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” (my favorite R.E.M. song), from 1992’s Automatic for the People; surprisingly, the buoyant track peaked no higher than No. 24 on Alternative Songs and No. 28 on Mainstream Rock Songs in 1993. While partly inspired by The Tokens’ 1961 Hot 100 No. 1 “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” R.E.M.’s song alludes to the rhymes of Dr. Seuss, while famously featuring Michael Stipe’s laugh during the chorus (as he apparently had trouble singing “Seuss” correctly) and its arcane lyrics; “You’re on your own,” as to much of their meaning, Mike Mills has said.
Meanwhile, Bob Kingsley’s Country Top 40 flashbacked 20 years to Trace Adkins‘ first Hot Country Songs No. 1, “(This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing,” which topped the April 5, 1997, chart.
The song isn’t based on a nursery rhyme, but Adkins said in an interview aired on the countdown that it has those elements, and he has first-hand experience to verify it. The song is perhaps best recalled for its neurology 101 lyrics (and long before Rihanna‘s “Love on the Brain”): “This ain’t no thinkin’ thing, right-brain, left-brain / It goes a little deeper than that / It’s a chemical, physical, emotional devotion / passion that we can’t hold back.”
“You know, what was funny about that song was when families would come up to meet me in a meet-and-greet, or see me somewhere, or recognize me,” Adkins mused. “Inevitably, it would be a little kid that would go, ‘Hey mom, it’s Right-Brain, Left-Brain!’ That’s the coolest thing about that song. It has that nursery rhyme appeal. When kids latch on to something, that’s when you know you’ve got a hit on your hands.
“They have no idea what ‘right-brain, left-brain’ means, but just the way it sings – ‘This ain’t no thinkin’ thing, right-brain, left-brain’ – that’s nursery rhyme stuff, and kids just connect with it.
“And that’s what I started hearing. ‘Hey mom, look, it’s Right-Brain, Left-Brain!’ “