bowdlerized song lyrics

Last week, I saw the movie Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? A couple of days ago, I bought the soundtrack CD. Listening to Harry McClintock sing “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, the thought crossed my mind:

Back in elementary school, when they taught us the song, they omitted any couplet that mentioned alcohol. Or hopping freight trains. In order to accommodate the missing lyrics, they used a melody less than half the length of the original.

They did this to other songs. My dad could always amaze me when he could sing my favorite songs with verses I had never heard.

The schoolbook version of “This Land Is Your Land” was shorn of any politically touchy material.

When they taught us “Dixie”, they deleted any verse that mentioned any racial material. It was not until high school or college that I saw the full lyrics, and understood why blacks hate the song so much.

So, you other Dopers: Which of your favorite childhood songs later turned out to have less-than-innocent words?

Those of you with children: Do your kids ever come home singing a song with lyrics altered from the version you remember?

A hundred years from now, what do you think the G-rated version of heavy metal or gangsta rap will be like?

“My Old Kentucky Home” had some racist lyrics (“the darkies are gay”), though I believe these had been purged when we sang it in school. I believe it had been changed to “the old folks are gay.” Of course, gay was used in its original sense–happy.
On a slightly different tack, my step-dad taught us a dirty version of “On Top of Old Smokie,” about an “encounter” between Roy Rogers and Marilyn Monroe.


“My Old Kentucky Home” certainly qualifies for me. I didn’t discover the part about “'tis summer, the darkies are gay” until I was in college. The Student Activities Board decided to put out a datebook with the lyrics printed on the back. Only problem is, they didn’t print the sanitized lyrics, they printed the “darkies” line. The Black Student Union was NOT happy.

Let me also chime in with a reverse scenario concerning “The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground. There’s a line, “I once got busy in a (bleeped out in the video) bathroom.” I always thought what got bleeped out was profanity. Turned out it was “a Burger King bathroom.”

To answer another part of the OP. I honestly don’t know if any popular music of today, other than a few defining songs, will be remembered a hundred years from now, let alone having to be sanitized.

How many songs pop into your head from 1901? Or even since mass recording/distribution became feasible? I can sing the chorus to “Over There,” from the WWI era, and a few anthems and hymns, but not much else.

Really, I think people in 2101 will have a very vague notion of who Elvis and The Beatles were, and may be able to sing a verse of “Yesterday,” but little else.

My HO.


We learned that “Joy to the World” song by Three Dog Night (the one that starts with “Jeremiah was a bullfrog”…) in music class in elementary school. Here are some of the lyrics we learned:

Jeremiah was a bullfrog
Was a good friend of mine
Never understood a single word he said
But we always had a mighty fine time

Not one mention of helping the frog drink his wine.

Our whole class would crack up when we sang a song with the word “gay” in it, so I suppose all those lyrics will eventually be changed. However, our fourth-grade class was (barely) able to make it through the word “ass” in “What Child is This”…the song got deleted from that year’s Christmas program because of the giggling sixth-graders, IIRC.

Not to hog this thread, but I want to note that “Children’s Songs” such as the OP first mentioned do seem to be an exception to my “standing the test of time” theory, but it seems to me that the songs that kids sing in school today are the same ones I sang back in the early 70s–“My Darling Clementine,” “Oh, Susanna,” “Home On The Range,” “Senior Don Gato,” etc., etc. No new ones seem to be taking their place.


If you listen to the album “Golden Throats” you can hear Andy Griffith (!) singing a very bowdlerized version of “House of the Rising Sun” that lacks any reference that would let you realize the House was a bawdyhouse.
We have a record called “The Parakeet Album”. My daughter loves it. It consists of kids singing cleaned-up Jimmy Buffet songs. “Cheeseburger in Paradise” has “an ice-cold beer” changed to “a cold root beer”. (And, of course, they don’t even attempt to do anything with “Why don’t we get drunk and screw”).

It wasn’t until recently that I learned that “This Land is You Land” had political content. I still have to look up the lyrics. I certainly didn’y know about “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” I can easily believe it all, though. For all our talk about the free democratic America, the history of labor action is shockingly underreported in our news and history. Look up the works of Helen Keller, or the Great Uprising of 1878, or even the great void in our national news about the recent WTO protests.

As a former music teacher, I can attest to two things:

  1. Lyrics of many folk and ‘popular’ songs certainly are cleaned up for the elementary school students, and

  2. The editors and publishers of the music basal series** rarely use popular music for several reasons (in answer to Sir Rhosis’s observation):

A) Royalties: most folk songs and ‘anonymous’ songs are in the public domain and do not require payments for publication and arrangements. Others, like “Goodnight, Irene”, are likely nearly the end of their royalty life.
B) Most popular music is available in sheet music or choral arrangements, and can be easily used for classroom use, saving space in the books for the ‘freebies’ (see above).
C) Many of the school districts where I worked had some sort of state-heritage requirements - in New York State, IIRC, the 4th grade and 7th grade history curriculum was the history of ‘New York State, from colonization to today’. Naturally, the classroom teachers would have me teach “Erie Canal” and other folk songs pertaining to the state history. This is not to mention all the ‘themed’ songs I taught when the kids studied the Rev War, the Civil War, the Irish Potato Famine, WWI & WWII. (Never touched the Viet Nam copnflict, but that’s another thread somewhere).

Back to the OP:
My experiences with lyric changes-

[li]Oh, Susannah - the line “the sun so hot I froze to death” becomes “the sun so hot I froze myself”. (There was an episode of Jeopardy! where a woman lost the Daily Double because she quoted the words of the way she learned it in school rather than what Stephen Foster originally wrote.)[/li]
[li]Titwillow from one of the Gilbert & Sullivan’s operettas was changed to “Oh, Willow” in one book series, and of course, no recording was available of the changed version, so when I played the regular version for the kids to listen to, the kids were highly amused. Not to mention confused, since the song is about a bird, not a tree.[/li]
[li]Mama Don’t 'Llow was rewritten by my elementary school principal since he didn’t like that it ‘seemed to undermine a parent’s authority’ - the line was “I don’t care what mama don’t 'llow/Gonna play my gee-tar anyhow”. I don’t remember what he changed the lyrics to, but it was really lame (no sense of musical meter), and had ‘proper grammar’. :rolleyes:[/li]
[li]Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes by Jimmy Buffet, played at Disney’s Blizzard Beach waterpark. They managed to edit the verses so well that it wasn’t until awhile later, I realized the line “Good times and riches and son-of-a-bitches/I’ve seen more than I can recall” was missing from the song.[/li]There are probably dozens more, but I likely looked at them, thought, “okay, reference to alcohol/drug/sex/death, not appropriate for this age group” and went on with the song.

**all those grade level-specific hardcover books used for general music class - usually had just the melody line and some pretty pictures.

[topic diversion]
Um, CalMeacham what was the ‘Great Uprising of 1878’? Definitely missed that one in the history books.
[/topic diversion]

When I was young, the neighbor lady taught my sister this cute little ditty:

My mommy told me
If I was goodie
That she would buy me
A rubber dolly.

My auntie told her
I kissed a soldier.
Now she won’t buy me
A rubber dolly.

Much later in life, I was perusing a book on everyone’s favorite topic and found these song lyrics reproduced. The phrase “rubber dolly” in this more adult context, was taken to mean…well…dildo.

Kind of off-topic I know, since the song wasn’t white-washed for kids. But apparently, when the meaning is lost, no white-washing is necessary.


In Ledbelly’s original, the line was “I’ll get you in my dreams”. I believe even he sang the bowdlerized version sometimes, though.


You ask about the Great Uprising of 1877 (my faulty memory was off by a year). Look here, or use search engines for other sites:

I first learned about this is Larry Gonick’s book “A Cartoon History of the United States”. I wouldn’t have known of it otherwise. But it explains why there are all those heavily-constructed armories in a lot of eastern US cities.

Here’s another site on the Greart Uprising of 1877. Makes you wonder what else they didn’t tell you about in school.:

Speaking of “Goodnight Irene,” Leadbelly also sang

You better believe that didn’t make it into the kiddie version! The Irish Rovers left it out of their version too. I didn’t learn of it until I read Ken Kesey’s novel that took its title from that line.

When my daughter’s 5th grade choir did show tunes, they changed a line in “So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye” from “I’d like to stay and taste my first champagne” to “I’d like to stay and dance the night away.” Come on! I’d been to see The Sound of Music when it first came out in the 1960s and I was a just a wee laddie. Nobody thought it was a corrupting influence on minors then. In those days marihuana and LSD were the big issues. I can’t believe how squeamish everyone has gotten these days.

The notorious lines from “This Land is Your Land,” always censored whenever filtered through authority figures, go like this:

Tamex, you forgot what they did to the second verse of “Joy to the World:”

If I was the King of the world,
I’ll tell you what I’d do:
I’d throw away the cars and the bars and (something…I forget)
And I’d spend my time with you.

The last line, of course, used to be “make sweet love to you.” Just like the infamous Rolling Stones television performance of “let’s Spend the Night Together” (the censors made them change it to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together,” and Mick Jagger visibly rolls his eyes and makes an ugly face every time he has to sing it…)

And how about the cleaned up edit of “Brown-eyed Girl,” where they replace “making love in the green grass” with the “laughin and a-runnin” from the first verse? The worst part about that is that the rhythm speeds up as the song goes along and when they reinsert that lyric the whole tempo crashes.

something = the wars
[For awhile, I thought it was ‘whores’.]

Oh yeah, Under the Boardwalk (The Drifters?)
“We’ll be making love” became “We’ll be fallin’ in love”

What about “The Yellow Rose of Texas”? I first heard that song as a child on a Readers Digest set of records of American songs. One line went “She’s the sweetest little rosebud, this soldier ever knew”. Later I heard it said that the song was aobut a girl of mixed race, and I wondered where they got that idea from. Then I watched a show “Songs of the Civil War”(part of the Cicil War series by Ken Burns) and heard it sung the presumably original way “She’s the sweetest rose of color, this soldier ever knew”

It’s not just folk songs, and not just for children. For example:

“I Get a Kick Out of You” – Cole Porter
In the original lyrics, the second verse begins “I get no kick from cocaine.” This was unacceptable when it went to the movies, so Porter rewrote it to “Some like the perfumes in Spain,” probably the first time anyone sang about Spanish perfumes. That was the standard version used on screen and on TV until Mel Brooks used the original lyrics in “Blazing Saddles.”

“Kodachrome” – Paul Simon
Original lyric: “When I think back about the crap I learned in high school.” When the single was released, there were at least three versions: the original lyrics, one with “crap” replaced with a “beep” and a third where they took “the girls I knew” from the second verse to replace the offending words.

“Lola” – the Kinks
No, it had nothing to do with the implications of transvestism. The first verse says “I met her in a club down in old Soho, where they drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca Cola.” The BBC refused to play it, since they didn’t allow any references to commercial products. Ray Davies went into the studio and changed the last two words to “Cherry Cola” for the single.

Was this only bleeped in the video? If so, it’s almost certain to be MTV’s no-product-endorsements policy. They also blur out product logos in videos and in their shows, unless it’s a deliberate placement by one of their sponsors.

Let’s not forget the infamous saga of the Mom’s Apple Pie album cover. Sometime back in the 70s a record of no doubt forgettable tunes was released. The only notable thing about it that rescued it from total obscurity was thw cover painting. A woman licks her lips as she holds out an apple pie with a slice out of it. In the center of the sliced-open pie you see a nice little pink vulva rendered in loving detail.

Apparently that brought the heat down on them. The original cover was withdrawn and in its place they used . . . the exact original picture. Except that this time the vulva was painted over with a miniature Berlin Wall topped with barbed wire. Cops were added outside, looking in the kitchen window.

With the Beatles’ Butcher Album cover, they censored satirical violence. With Mom’s Apple Pie they censored sex and got satire in response The original became a minor collector’s item.

My favorite example of this is the Smiley Lewis song One Night of Sin which has become known as One Night with You in Elvis’ popular cover of it. Actually, Elvis did record a version with the original lyrics, but it wasn’t widely released. Compare:

One night of sin
Is what I’m now paying for
The things I did and I saw
Would make the Earth stand still

Don’t call my name
It makes me feel so ashamed
I lost my sweet helping hand
I got myself to blame

Always lived, very quiet life
Ain’t never did no wrong
But now I know that very quiet life
Has cost me nothing but harm

One night with you
Is what I’m now praying for
The things that we two could plan
Would make my dreams come true

Just call my name
And I’ll be right by your side
I want your sweet helping hand
My loves too strong to hide

Always lived, very quiet life
I ain’t never did no wrong
Now I know that life without you
Has been too lonely too long

Also, the lyrics to Little Richard’s Tutti Fruiti have been cleaned up, according to The Story of English. The song used to contain these lines:

Tutti frutie, good bootie
If it don’t fit, don’t force it
Get it greasy, make it easy.

As much as they whitewashed these lyrics, Pat Boone went two shades whiter.

I remember a song called “Mississippi Mud” from The Muppet Show. It went, “It’s neat to beat your feet on the Mississippi Mud.” I discovered years later that it was an old Tin Pan Alley tune whose lyrics origianlly said, “When the darkies beat their feet on the Mississippi Mud.”