Baa Baa Black Sheep Little Star H I J K L M N O P
January 6, 2014 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Baa Baa Blacksheep, Twinkle Twinkle, and the alphabet song are all the same tune. How is it that one song has been used for three well known songs? What are some other examples of songs being the exact same tune but with totally different lyrics? (I'll accept rip off/coincidence type things like Born This Way/Express Yourself, but I'm looking more for examples where the identical-song-different-lyrics thing was deliberate and done knowingly.)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson to Grab Bag (51 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
This is done all the time in religious hymns. Older tunes are often quite popular targets for different lyrics (eg: Greensleeves)
posted by blue_beetle at 11:54 AM on January 6 [6 favorites]

You know what's gonna blow your mind? linky
posted by Leon at 11:55 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]

The Star Spangled Banner / To Anacreon in Heaven
posted by ghharr at 11:55 AM on January 6

yeah, was going to say the same thing blue_beetle did: numerous hymns took Bach, Beethoven, etc, and put words to the music. Often multiple times (I've sung the "wrong" words for the same tune .. )
posted by k5.user at 11:57 AM on January 6

God Save the Queen / My Country Tis of Thee
posted by barnoley at 11:57 AM on January 6 [8 favorites]

A standup act from a while back points out the prevalence of Pachelbel's Canon in everything.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:58 AM on January 6 [4 favorites]

Scholarship abounds around this subject, but here's a quick and dirty version of the "Twinkle" saga.
posted by mykescipark at 12:01 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]

I remember the Methodist Hymnal from the church we went to when I was a kid had a meter code listed at the upper right of each hymn. A hymn could be sung with the tune for any other hymn that had the same code. Here is an index based on such meter codes.
posted by Ery at 12:02 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]

The specific song you're talking about was made famous by Mozart. It's originally a folk tune called "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:08 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]

This is kind of a weird example, but the song "Another Love Song" by Insane Clown Posse uses the same tune as "Jack-Ass" by Beck. This was done deliberately, but even though ICP's intention was to rewrite the Beck song in their own style, you can't even really call it another version of the song since it's so divergent - it's basically a completely different song that happens to use the same tune.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:11 PM on January 6

Good Morning To You (warning: Chipmunks) and the Happy Birthday song.
posted by sageleaf at 12:12 PM on January 6

Every time I hear Maryland, My Maryland played (which is usually Preakness day) I have to stop, laugh and wonder why the state ever chose to use O Tannenbaum/Oh Christmastree as its official song.
posted by sardonyx at 12:16 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]

Greendale Song / The Way It Is
posted by mochapickle at 12:19 PM on January 6

Oh, and also.

Rag Mop, written by Johnny Lee Wills and Deacon Anderson, was later turned into Rat Fink by Misfits. Same tune, different lyrics.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:20 PM on January 6

Goodnight my Someone and 76 Trombones from Music Man
posted by asockpuppet at 12:21 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]

yeah, was going to say the same thing blue_beetle did: numerous hymns took Bach, Beethoven, etc, and put words to the music. Often multiple times (I've sung the "wrong" words for the same tune .. )

Indeed - I've seen hymns printed with just the lyrics, and a note at the bottom that just says something like "TUNE: Hyfrydol".
posted by jquinby at 12:31 PM on January 6

Well, if you are allowing rip off/coincidences:

According to Daryl Hall, during the recording of “We Are the World”, [Michael] Jackson approached him and admitted to lifting the bass line for "Billie Jean" from a Hall and Oates song, apparently referring to "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)". Hall says that he told Jackson that he had lifted the bass line from another song himself, and that it was "something we all do."
posted by 0 answers at 12:33 PM on January 6

The court didn't agree, but: In commemoration of Saul Zaentz' death last week, that was the premise of Fantasy v. Fogerty, in which John Fogerty was sued, essentially for plagiarizing his own song. Fantasy claimed that Old Man Down the Road was Run Through the Jungle with new lyrics. (And then there's Everclear.)
posted by sageleaf at 12:35 PM on January 6

The second half of Okkervil River's "John Allyn Smith Sails" is "Sloop John B" with lyrics cleverly mostly rewritten to be about the suicide of poet John Berryman.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:38 PM on January 6

Another modern song with a Bach melody: The Toys' "A Lover's Concerto" is based on this minuet.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:50 PM on January 6

The traditional song Aura Lee turned into Love Me Tender by Elvis.
posted by sageleaf at 1:04 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this counts, but R.E.M.'s Voice of Harold and Seven Chinese Brothers.
posted by payoto at 1:07 PM on January 6

This reminds me of the Axis of Awesome
posted by grateful at 1:11 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]

Oh and my favorite rip-off is The Chiffons' He's So Fine/George Harrison's My Sweet Lord/The Chiffons' My Sweet Lord.
posted by payoto at 1:14 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]

In the liner notes to the song "Russians", Sting says that he took the tune from a theme from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite by Sergei Prokofiev. Although, that was probably intentional.

One of the more famous examples of this kind of thing is the whole Buffalo Soldier/Banana Splits thing. Theories abound as to which song inspired which.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:21 PM on January 6

Another TV theme(s): Secret Agent Man (Danger Man)/Teen Titans

Not entirely identical but the verses bear the same melody and is AFAIK intentional.
posted by methroach at 1:26 PM on January 6

Grab your nearest Methodist Hymnal, flip to the indexes (indices?), and find something called the Metrical Index. Amazing Grace, for example, is an You can sing Amazing Grace to ANY OTHER TUNE that's also and the hymnal helpfully lists them all in case your organist can only play a couple of tunes but you want some theologically appropriate hymns to your service that week.

But here's where to really answer your question: There is also something usually called a "Tune Index" which lists common tunes (often from older religious music or classical music or carols or bar songs or folk songs) that have hymns set to them, and there may be five or six to a single tune. If you scroll down here to the tune named "AZMON" (after its composer), you'll see there are four hymns commonly set to that tune. The "Old 100th" is also popular and you probably know at least a couple of those hymns set to that tune, just from movies and so on.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:28 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]

The Star Spangled Banner is the same tune as an old English drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven".

Here's the original lyrics.

The term for this kind of thing is "contrafactum".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:02 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]

The musical Kismet stole borrowed all of its music from Alexander Borodin. The most famous song from the musical is "Stranger in Paradise", which lifts from the Polovtsian Dances.

John Denver's "Annie's Song" bears more than a passing resemblance to the second movement of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. If you believe Wikipedia, Denver rewrote it because a first version sounded too similar to the symphony.

Goodnight my Someone and 76 Trombones from Music Man

This is more properly two tunes that happen to complement each other. I don't think they share a melodic line.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:10 PM on January 6

At work and can't link, but Palace's (Will Oldham/Bonny Prince Billy) "We All, Us Three, Will Ride" and The Be Good Tanyas "Dogsong 2" is my favorite example of this.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:14 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]

It blew my mind recently when it was pointed out to me that NBC's Sunday Night Football theme, Waiting All Day for Sunday Night, took its melody from Joan Jett's I Hate Myself for Loving You.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:26 PM on January 6

Make 'Em Laugh from Singin' in the Rain, was pretty much ripped off, note for note, from Cole Porter's Be a Clown.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:40 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]

Here's a post I made about a country-gospel tune that's been known as There’s Nothing Like a Good Old Country Song, The Great Speckled Bird yt , I Am Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes, The Wild Side of Life, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, and There's a Grand Old Opry Show Playing Somewhere.

Tune repurposing is really common in vernacular music history. A lot of old-time and country songs use the same tune, different lyrics. It has a lot to do with not having a population schooled in traditional musical notation, so fitting new lyrics to existing tunes made it easier for people to learn and sing along, and a lot to do with the tunes just being great. I love this blog post about how traditional music is "open source." Lyrics from one song can break free and wander into other songs. Sea chanteys are another genre where you find many songs like this.
posted by Miko at 3:54 PM on January 6

The tune is based on a melody line from a chorale from Johann Sebastian Bach's St Matthew Passion, itself a reworking of an earlier secular song, "Mein G'müt ist mir verwirret," composed by Hans Leo Hassler.

Although I don't think it's really what the OP is after, I think it's worth spending a little more time on this. Here is American Tune. Here is a somewhat fast version of "Oh Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" (generally translated as "Oh, Sacred Head Now Wounded") from the Bach St. Matthew Passion. The latter is about the suffering of Christ on the cross, specifically from the wounds inflicted by the Crown of Thorns. The former is about suffering as well -- you can draw your own conclusions about the source, remembering that it was 1973 when he wrote it.

Anyway I just wanted to drop in to second this answer and note that it might be worth stopping for a second (or about 6 minutes, total, actually) and listening to both pieces. They are both heartbreakingly beautiful IMHO and it's possible to forget, given how much silliness he produced, that Paul Simon is pretty clearly a genius.
posted by The Bellman at 3:54 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]

Another example of this in children's' songs: Barney's "I love you, you love me..." and "This Old Man."
posted by to recite so charmingly at 4:39 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]

Billy Joel / Beethoven.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 7:15 PM on January 6

I came in to say Wire / Elastica, but it looks like that site is meant just for this purpose, has many other examples. Samethattune.
posted by zoinks at 7:24 PM on January 6

Tori Amos's album Night of Hunters consists of works by various classical composers such as Bach, Satie, Debussy, Chopin etc that she has altered/rewritten/reworked - some more than others - and written lyrics for them. It took me an embarrassingly long time to work out why some of it sounded so damn familiar.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:57 AM on January 7

In the early 90's, Branford Marsalis had two big projects - he was the first band leader for Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show", and he had a one-off band called "Buckshot Lefonque". And that is why Buckshot's song "Some Cow Funk (More Tea, Vicar?)" sounds so much like the "Tonight Show" theme.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:18 AM on January 7

And now that I'm on my computer rather than my iPad:

1992 Jay Leno theme. (Unfortunately that "someone else playing it" version is the only one I could find.)

Some Cow Funk.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 AM on January 7

I was confused in the summer of 2012 in Europe when I heard somebody whistling Auld Lang Syne. That's because it's also the tune for a Dutch football/soccer anthem.

Then you've got your Islands In The Stream/Ghetto Superstar situation.

I don't think I made the connection between REM's "Hope" and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" until I read about it online, years after playing Up repeatedly.
posted by knile at 1:49 PM on January 7

"There's No Tomorrow" by Tony Martin was the inspiration for Elvis Presley's "It's Now Or Never." Both songs have the same melody as "O Sole Mio."
posted by SisterHavana at 10:12 PM on January 7

The British national anthem 'God Save The Queen' and the American song 'My Country Tis Of Thee' are sung to exactly the same tune.
posted by Hogshead at 5:02 AM on January 8

Adon Olam, the prayer that traditionally closes Jewish services, can be sung to pretty much any tune on earth.
posted by SisterHavana at 5:08 PM on January 8

Watching Blue Hawaii right now and just noticed: Elvis's song Almost Always True is sung to the tune of Alouette!
posted by mochapickle at 6:43 PM on January 10

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