Clang, Ding, Chug, Bump, Buzz, and Plop

Catching the Trolley by Charles Borromée Antoine Houry

Catching the Trolley
by Charles Borromée Antoine Houry

Using such words as “clang,” “ding,” “chug,” “bump,” “buzz,” and “plop,” songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane immediately captured the spirit of a turn-of-the-century Saint Louis trolley in much the same way that George Gershwin evoked the various street noises of Paris in the 1920s with his use of some Parisian taxi horns in his classic symphonic tone poem, An American in Paris. Every time I hear those taxi horns, I think of Paris and every time I hear the words “clang, clang, clang,” I think of that trolley car in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis.

The film was adapted by Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoffe from a series of short stories by Sally Benson, originally published in The New Yorker magazine under the title 5135 Kensington, and later in novel form as Meet Me in St. Louis. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli, who met Judy Garland on the set, and later married her.

Sheet music for The Trolley Song

Sheet music for The Trolley Song


The Trolley Song was nominated for the Academy Award© for Best Original Song at the 1945 Academy Awards, but lost to Swinging On A Star from The Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald film, Going My Way.

Judy Garland debuted the song in the film as well as Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, both of which became hits after the film was released. The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, Meet Me in St. Louis tells the story of an American family living in St. Louis at the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904 and stars Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Tom Drake, Leon Ames, Marjorie Main, June Lockhart, and Joan Carroll.

In the final scene of what is a summer vignette in the film, Esther (Judy Garland) joins an expectant crowd of young people (the ladies are sporting colorful flowery hats and shirt-waist dresses) that have gathered for a picnic to ride a trolley bound for the under-construction fairgrounds (the fair is still six months away). Esther is wearing a black outfit trimmed with white without a hat, nervously noticing and despairing that John Truett (Tom Drake), the boy-next-door whom she loves, has not arrived yet. As they begin to ride off – to the “clang, clang, clang” of the trolley bells, they all belt out The Trolley Song. Without singing, an anxious and tense Esther moves around the train amid the swirl of pastel colors and song, continuing to look for John. He is late as usual from basketball practice and must run after the trolley to catch it. She is relieved when he runs after the trolley, catches it and boards. She happily finishes the song on a high note, leading all of her friends in her musical tale of flirtation with a handsome man. It is an extravagant five-minute production number about a young woman in love with a guy who makes her heartstrings go zing, zing, zing and thump, thump, thump.

Judy Garland and Tom Drake in the Trolley Song scene from Meet Me in St. Louis

Judy Garland and Tom Drake in The Trolley Song scene from Meet Me in St. Louis


Here is how the song is developed in the film:
ALL
Clang ,clang, clang went the trolley
Ding, ding, ding went the bell
Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington Dell.

Chug, chug, chug went the motor
Bump, bump, bump went the brake
Thump, thump, thump went my heartstrings as we glided for Huntington Lake.

The day was bright, the air was sweet
The smell of honeysuckle charmed me off my feet
I tried to sing, but couldn’t squeak
In fact I felt so good I couldn’t even speak

Buzz, buzz, buzz went the buzzer
Time to all disembark,
Time to fall went my heartstrings as we got off at Huntington Park
As we got off at Huntington Park.

ESTHER
With my high-starched collar, and my high-topped shoes
And my hair piled high upon my head
I went to lose a jolly hour on the Trolley
And lost my heart instead.

With his light brown derby and his bright green tie
He was quite the handsomest of men
I started to yen,
so I counted to ten, then I counted to ten again

Clang, clang, clang went the trolley
Ding, ding, ding went the bell
Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings
From the moment I saw him I fell

Chug, chug, chug went the motor
Bump, bump, bump went the brake
Thump, thump, thump went my heartstrings
When he smiled I could feel the car shake

He tipped his hat, and took a seat
He said he hoped he hadn’t stepped upon my feet
He asked my name, I held my breath
I couldn’t speak because he scared me half to death

Chug, chug, chug went the motor
Plop, plop, plop went the wheels
Stop, stop, stop went my heartstrings
As he started to go then I started to know how it feels
When the universe reels

ALL
The day was bright, the air was sweet
The smell of honeysuckle charmed you off your feet
You tried to sing, but couldn’t squeaks
In fact, you loved him so you couldn’t even speak

ESTHER
Buzz, buzz, buzz went the buzzer
Plop, plop, plop went the wheels
Stop, stop, stop went my heartstrings

As he started to leave
I took hold of his sleeve with my hand
And as if it were planned he stay on with me
And it was grand just to stand with his hand holding mine
To the end of the line

Five versions of the song charted in 1944-45. Garland’s single and a version by Vaughn Monroe both peaked at number four, but the biggest hit version was by The Pied Pipers, which hit number two on Billboard magazine’s “Best Sellers in Stores” chart the week of December 16, 1944. Additionally, the Four King Sisters and Guy Lombardo recorded the song, each peaking on the Billboard charts at #13 and #19 respectively. Later non-charting versions of the song included Frank Sinatra, Dave Brubeck (1953), Herb Alpert (1967), and a Portuguese version of the song by João Gilberto (1970).

The Charted Versions
Pied Pipers, Paul Weston and his Orchestra The Trolley Song
Judy Garland, Georgie Stoll and his Chorus and Orchestra The Trolley Song
Four King Sisters, with Male Chorus The Trolley Song
Vaughn Monroe and his Orchestra, vocals by Vaughn Monroe and Marilyn Duke The Trolley Song
Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, vocals by Stuart Foster and the Lombardo Trio The Trolley Song

Non-charting Versions
Frank Sinatra The Trolley Song
Sarah Vaughan The Trolley Song
Dave Brubeck The Trolley Song
Herb Alpert The Trolley Song
João Gilberto The Trolley Song

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