Nonsense!

Sheet music for "Chickery Chick"

Sheet music for “Chickery Chick”

(Please note: To listen to any of the songs on this page, just click on the song title.)

What can I say about a song that has as its lyrics:
Chickery chick, cha-la, cha-la
Check-a-la romey in a bananika
Bollika, wollika, can’t you see
Chickery chick is me?

The obvious answer to that question is “Not much. The words are nonsense!”

Well, nonsense songs have been around for quite a while.

A nonsense song is a type of song written in fun using nonsense syllables at least in the chorus. Such a song generally has a simple melody and a quick (or fairly quick) tempo.

The roots of this song type can be traced at least as far back as the 1890s song, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay. This song was a kind of can-can with an obvious accent on the word “boom.” Mostly, the song was a way of letting off steam. The refrain of the song, consisting of the nonsensical words, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay! is repeated eight times in a row.

Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay was first heard in Henry J. Sayers’ 1891 revue Tuxedo, which was performed in Boston, Massachusetts. The song became widely known in the version sung by Lottie Collins in the London music halls in 1892. Stephen Cooney, Lottie Collins’ husband, heard the song in Tuxedo, and purchased from Sayers performance rights for his wife to perform the song in England. Lottie Collins worked up a dance routine around it, and, with new words by Richard Morton and a new arrangement by Angelo A. Asher, debuted the song at the Tivoli Music Hall on The Strand in London in 1891 to an enthusiastic reception, and it became her signature tune. According to reviews at the time, Collins delivered the suggestive verses (for the times) with deceptive demureness, before launching into the lusty refrain and her celebrated “kick dance,” a kind of can-can in which, according to one reviewer, “she turns, twists, contorts, revolutionizes, and disports her lithe and muscular figure into a hundred different poses, all bizarre.”

The song’s authorship was disputed for some years. It was originally credited to Henry Sayers, but Sayers later stated that he had not written the song, but had heard it performed in the 1880s by a black singer, Mama Lou, in a well-known Saint Louis brothel run by “Babe” Connors.
Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay

The tune is widely recognizable and has been used for numerous other songs, including children’s camp songs and military ballads from the early twentieth century. Those who lived through the era, may remember that the tune was used for the theme song to the show Howdy Doody (It’s Howdy Doody Time)

Every era, it seems, has had its own nonsense songs. At the turn of the twentieth century the William Jerome and James Vincent Monaco song, Row, Row, Row was popular. The song was featured in the Broadway show Ziegfield Follies Of 1912. The lyrics contain the nonsensical lines:
And then he'd row, row, row,
A little further he would row,
Oh, oh, oh, oh,
And then he'd drop both his oars,
Take a few more encores
And then he'd row, row, row.

Row Row Row

The jazz age – those years after World War I and ending with the Stock Market crash in 1929 – created many nonsense songs. Perhaps the one that is the most fun to roll off the tongue is Ja-Da. Say the words aloud as you read the chorus, and you'll hear the rhythm in them.
Ja-da, ja-da
Ja-da, ja-da, jing, jing, jing

Ja-Da (Ja Da, Ja Da, Jing, Jing, Jing!) was a hit song written in 1918 by Bob Carleton. The title is sometimes rendered simply as Jada. The song has flourished through the decades as a jazz standard. Carleton penned the sixteen-bar tune when he was club pianist in Illinois and first popularized it with singer Cliff Edwards. The sheet music for Ja-Da was published in 1918 by Leo Feist, Inc., New York. The tune was briefly famous, and then spent thirty-five years as a well-known standard. One music critic in commenting on the song wrote: “It’s cute, it’s innocent, and it’s soothing. And, wonderfully enough, the only other statement the lyric makes is ‘Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Jing, Jing, Jing.’”
Ja Da

Nagasaki, another song from the jazz age, was written by Harry Warren and Mort Dixon and became a popular Tin Pan Alley hit. The silly, bawdy lyrics have only the vaguest relation to the Japanese port city of Nagasaki. It was one of a series of nonsense songs set in “exotic” locations popular in the era, starting with Albert Von Tilzer’s 1919 hit Oh By Jingo! How’s this for dynamic, but nonsensical lyrics:
Hot ginger and dynamite
There's nothing but that at night
Back in Nagasaki where the fellas chew tobaccy
And the women wicky-wacky-woo.

Nagasaki

In the 1930s and 1940s, there were several nonsense songs, among them Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood Mama), Three Little Fishies, and Mairzy Doats.

Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood Mama) was written in 1938 by Edward Robinson, Jerry Brandow, Lenny Kent, Leonard Ware, and Willie Spottswood. The song has these memorable nonsensical lyrics:
Choo-choo to Broadway, foo Cincinnati
Don’t get icky with the one two three
Life is just so fine on the solid side of the line – rip
Hold tight, hold tight, hold tight, hold tight
Frrdddddi-yacki-saki – want some seafood mama
Shrimps and rice – they’re very nice
Hold tight, hold tight, hold tight, hold tight
Frrdddddi-yacki-saki – want some seafood mama
Shrimps and rice – they’re very nice
I like oysters, lobsters too, I like my tasty butter fish – foo
When I come home late at night I get my favorite dish – fish
Hold tight, hold tight, hold tight, hold tight
Frrdddddi-yacki-saki – want some seafood mama
Shrimps and rice – they’re very nice…
Ba-da-da-dah, da-do-de-do-de-day, ba-da-da-da-da-dah…
Frrdddddi-yacki-saki – want some seafood mama
Shrimps and rice – they’re always ver-ery nice
Frrdddddi-ya, Frrdddddi-ya, Frrdddddi-yacki-saki
Want some seafood mama, oh won’t you give it to me
‘Cause I am happy as can be when the seafood comes to me
Dah-da-da-da, dah-da-da-da, dah-da-da
I like oysters, lobsters too, ba-da-dah, ba-da-da-dada-dada

I am not certain what the song is about and some commentators even suggest that the song is not about liking seafood at all. Hmmm….
Hold Tight

Another nonsense song from the 1930s and 1940s is Three Little Fishies, written by Saxie Dowel in 1939. Here is a sample of 1930s nonsensical lyrics in the song:
Down in the meadow in a little bitty pool
Swam three little fishies and a mama fishie too
“Swim” said the mama fishie, “Swim if you can”
And they swam and they swam all over the dam
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
And they swam and they swam all over the dam

Three Little Fishies

Perhaps the most popular of the nonsense songs of this period is Mairzy Doats, composed by Milton Drake, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston in 1943. At first glance, the song’s refrain seems meaningless:
Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wooden shoe?

However, the lyrics of the bridge provide a clue:
If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,
Sing “Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.”

With this aid, the refrain is quite easily comprehended, and the ear will detect the hidden message of the final line: A kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you?

One of the writers, Milton Drake said the song was based on an English nursery rhyme. According to Drake, his four-year-old daughter came home singing “Cowzy tweet and sowzy tweet and liddle sharksy doisters.” (Cows eat wheat and sows eat wheat and little sharks eat oysters.) Drake joined Hoffman and Livingston to come up with a tune for the new version of the rhyme, but for a year no one was willing to publish a “silly song.” Finally, Hoffman pitched it to his friend Al Trace, bandleader of the Silly Symphonists. Trace liked the song and recorded it. It became a huge hit, most notably with the Merry Macs’ 1944 recording.
Mairzy Doats

Lastly, in the 1960s, a big hit was a nonsense song entitled Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
(It is difficult to say, let alone spell). The song was featured in the 1964 Disney musical film Mary Poppins. The song was written by the Sherman Brothers and sung by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in the film. According to Richard M. Sherman, co-writer of the song with his brother, Robert, the word was created by them in two weeks, mostly out of double-talk. The roots of the word have been defined by Richard Lederer in his book Crazy English as follows: super- “above.” cali- “beauty,” fragilistic- “delicate,” expiali- “to atone.” and docious- “educable,” with the sum of these parts signifying roughly “Atoning for educability through delicate beauty.” That may be correct, but according to the film, this non-sensical word is defined as “something to say when you have nothing to say.”
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

chicks

All of the above is simply by way of introduction to the 1945 song, Chickery Chick, a song that I have dubbed as a nonsense song. The song was written in 1945 by Sylvia Dee and Sidney Lippman. The “message,” if there is one, is simple: Every time you are sick and tired of doing the same old thing, try something new.
Once there lived a chicken who would say “chick-chick”
“Chick-chick” all day
Soon that chick got sick and tired of just “chick-chick”
So one morning he started to say:

Chickery chick, cha-la, cha-la
Check-a-la romey in a bananika
Bollika, wollika, can’t you see
Chickery chick is me?

Every time you’re sick and tired of just the same old thing
Sayin’ just the same old words all day
Be just like the chicken who found something new to sing
Open up your mouth and start to say
Oh!

Chickery chick, cha-la, cha-la
Check-a-la romey in a bananika
Bollika, wollika, can’t you see
Chickery chick is me?

The song was a Number 1 hit for Sammy Kaye, debuting on the Billboard charts on October 20, 1945, and staying on the charts for sixteen weeks.
Another 1945 version of the song was by orchestra-leader George Olsen, whose recording reached the #12 spot on the Billboard charts.
The other charted recordings were from 1946, and include versions by Evelyn Knight and Gene Krupa.

To listen to these recordings, click on the song title.

(Swing and Sway with) Sammy Kaye, vocals by Nancy Norman, Billy Williams (1945 #1) Chickery Chick
George Olsen and his Orchestra, vocals by Judith Blair, Ray Adams and the Ensemble (1945 #12) Chickery Chick
Evelyn Knight and the Jesters (1946 #10) Chickery Chick
Gene Krupa and his Orchestra, vocals by Anita O’Day (1946 #10) Chickery Chick

Next charted song: It’s Been A Long, Long Time

1 Comment

Filed under Pop Music

One response to “Nonsense!

  1. Pingback: Jumble Spoiler – 04/04/14 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

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