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"people dying, children crying - look, fingernails in your back..."
November 3, 2007 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Help identify a strange and creepy children's song from my past that seems ungoogleable.

I have a very distinct memory of coming back from YMCA summer camp with my older sister. As we were driving away, my she starts singing a song she learned that day with the kids her age. I remember the tune and some of the words, and it was creepy as hell to a seven year old. My mother made her stop singing it, I think she did the whole thing for me another time, but now she's forgotten anything of it.

The lyrics I remember was a chorus of, "people dying, children crying" followed right after by a stop of the tune and something like, "look! fingernails in your back." I think this might have been followed by something physical like putting nails to your back. The entire song was describing some kind of war-torn wasteland or nuclear apocalypse.

The tune was something like "dah dahn dah dahn da dahn da dahn - dahn!" for that above chorus.

It was extremely catchy and burned holes in my head with apocalyptic visions - I still remember it 20 years later. I don't think there's anyway they could have made it up, it's too catchy. Anyone else remember this words or know the origins to this?
posted by trinarian to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
The first Google result for "people dying, children crying" takes you here, which describes a children's song that goes
Concentrate....concentrate.
People dying, children crying
Concentrate...concentrate.
People dying, children crying
Concentrate...concentrate.

Stick a knife in your back, let the blood trickle down.
Stick a knife in your back, let the blood trickle down.
(as these lines are said, the person behind the 'victim' hits them with their fist in the back like a knife, and draws the hand down like blood)
Concentrate...concentrate.
posted by Partial Law at 10:54 AM on November 3, 2007


I've been thinking of asking this same question! I can remember a little more:

There's an orange on your shoulder with the juice running down
the juice running down
the juice running down
There's an orange on your shoulder with the juice running down
Concentrate
Meditate
Listen to what I say
Children are dying, babies are crying
Concentrate
Meditate
Listen to what I say

There's a (??? forgotten verse or verses - transitioning into objects more creepy )

There's a knife in your back with the blood running down
the blood running down
the blood running down
there's a knife in your back with the blood running down
Concentrate
Meditate
Listen to what I say
Children are dying, babies are crying
Concentrate
Meditate
Listen to what I say

All done while acting out hitting someone on the shoulder or stabbing them in the back - I forget what the pantomimes were for the rest of it.
posted by frobozz at 10:55 AM on November 3, 2007


Looking at the link, I remember more...in the version I heard, one person was supposed to close their eyes while the other acted out the verses, and at the end, they were asked to pick randomly between a choice of two objects, and then were told "When you open your eyes, you will see blank (whatever they chose)" and then when you opened your eyes there was (or was supposed to be) a ghostly image of whichever it was you had chosen in front of you.
posted by frobozz at 11:00 AM on November 3, 2007


(*nothing is ungoogleable)
posted by growabrain at 11:04 AM on November 3, 2007


IIRC, the way we did it in MN (or rather, the way my sister did it to me), the ending was "a rope around your neck and PULL!" While saying "pull" forcefully, the person doing it would yank back their arms as if they really had a rope around your neck and were pulling it backward. If it worked, you would jerk your head back.

I also believe that instead of the "orange on your shoulder" line she did "crack an egg on your back / yolk running down." So there are apparently variations in the lyrics.
posted by epugachev at 11:10 AM on November 3, 2007


That's it. My Google searches were too focused on having the "fingernails in the back" part which i clearly remember. I didn't think there could be different versions without it.

It's funny, I kept remembering something about cracking eggs and it seemed too unrelated to be the same thing. Turns out I had the "crack an egg on your back" version.

Thanks, everyone.
posted by trinarian at 11:35 AM on November 3, 2007


We used to do this at sleepovers to freak each other out. The person doing the singing would sit behind the person she was singing to, who'd have her eyes closed.

Instead of the orange, we'd crack and egg over the person's head. Then we'd do the knife in the back. The effect was it was supposed to start to feel like there really was egg and blood running down your head and back. (You'd use your hand to mimic the feeling--gently tapping the top of the head with your fist and then dragging your fingertips down the back of the head for the egg, for instance).

Instead of the rope pulling back part, we'd end it telling a story in a hushed voice, something like "imagine you're standing on top of a tall building. Out of the corner of your eye you see a man..." This would go on for a bit, I don't remember the details, but it ended with you very suddenly pushing the person on the back. If the trick worked, it was supposed to feel like the person was falling.
posted by lampoil at 11:40 AM on November 3, 2007


We did it with the knife/blood and the egg/yolk... we also had an additional verse which was "Spiders climbing up your back/Snakes crawling down." (With appropriate hand movements.) Like for lampoil, this was very much a sleepover thing, and it was excitingly creepy when you actually imagined you felt the blood/yolk/spiders/snakes/whatever.

I'm trying to remember how ours ended. It definitely was a simulated death, but it wasn't by hanging.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 1:11 PM on November 3, 2007


I remember the verse EmilyClimbs talks about. Our version ended: "tight squeeze," (squeeze the person's shoulders), "cool breeze," (blow on the back of their neck), "now you've got the shiveries." Yeah, no simulated death, I went to hippie school. There was also a verse about "stick pins in your sides and let the blood drip down," while jabbing your fingers into the other's person's side--yeah, two blood dripping down verses, a little repetitive. At the end of each yolk/blood thing I think there was a line about "the blood is red" or "the yolk is yellow" but I could be conflating that with some other chant. Throughout the entire thing, when not doing other motions, I believe the person kept up a sort of massage-like rythymic patter on the other person's back.
posted by phoenixy at 1:25 PM on November 3, 2007


We had a version of this, as well. We started with cracking an egg over the head, as lampoil remembers. The end included phoenixy's "tight squeeze, cool breeze" line, but our version definitely had a gruesome ending (which I now cannot remember, curse it all!)
posted by hilatron at 1:46 PM on November 3, 2007


We did a version of this, with the "tight squeeze" and "cool breeze", and ours just ended with "Now you've got the chills!" Not nearly as macabre--no death or destruction as far as I can remember.
posted by rio at 2:36 PM on November 3, 2007


We did it with the knife/blood and the egg/yolk... we also had an additional verse which was "Spiders climbing up your back/Snakes crawling down.

That's the version I remember. The squeeze/breeze sounds familiar, too. I don't remember the ending, violent or otherwise.

It would be interesting to know if the variations are regional or just random.
posted by necessitas at 2:41 PM on November 3, 2007


Where I grew up (suburban Ontario), we had tight squeeze/cool breeze, but it was totally separate from "concentrate," which ended with epugachev's "PULL!"

I had always assumed the reflexive head-jerk was the whole point of the song.
posted by Reggie Digest at 2:43 PM on November 3, 2007


Also, during the "concentrate, concentrate" part, the singer would rhythmically pummel the listener's back.
posted by Reggie Digest at 2:46 PM on November 3, 2007


Wow. I haven't thought about this odd childhood ritual in decades and I'd forgotten all about it. It seemed to be done only by little girls; my sister and her friends would do it by my friends and I never did. I suspected witchcraft at the time.

I saw this done as a child in both New Jersey and in the SF Bay Area, so I guess it was widespread.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 2:50 PM on November 3, 2007


Yeah, we did this all the time at sleepovers and recess. The "victim" would close their eyes, as the other girl pounded on her back in 4/4 time with both fists and chanted:

Concentrate, concentrate
People are dying, children are crying
Concentrate, concentrate

There's an egg on your head, feel the yolk running down, and the yolk running down, and the yolk running down

There's an egg on your head, feel the yolk running down, and the yolk running down, and the yolk running down

Concentrate, concentrate
People are dying, children are crying
Concentrate, concentrate

There's a knife in your back, feel the blood running down, and the blood running down, and the blood running down

There's a knife in your back, feel the blood running down, and the blood running down, and the blood running down

Concentrate, concentrate
People are dying, children are crying
Concentrate, concentrate

You're on top of a tall building. You look off the edge and feel dizzy—it's a long way down! You step back—but then someone
pushes you off!
posted by limeonaire at 3:03 PM on November 3, 2007


i remember my friends and i used to have a "tight squeeze cool breeze" verse too, but i don't remember having any "concentrate concentrate" stuff (or maybe i just have a bad memory)... ours went something like "criss cross, apple sauce, spiders crawling up your back, tight squeeze, cool breeze, now you've got the shiveries!"
posted by aielen at 3:42 PM on November 3, 2007


I remember lots of the parts people are quoting here, but don't recall it ever being a song. The "cool breeze/gentle squeeze/now you've got the shiveries!" (the way I learned it) stood alone, and people would randomly do it to other kids on, say, the school bus.
posted by litlnemo at 4:03 PM on November 3, 2007


Oh good lord, I'd forgotten all about this. SW England, fifteen/twenty years ago.

The 'victim' stands with her eyes shut, while someone else stands behind her, hands on the victim's shoulders, shaking her gently backwards and forwards, reciting the 'concentrate' bit. Then the egg on the head, but not as a rhyme, just gently describing what was supposedly happening as she ran her fingers over the victim's head.

Then, completely new bit! Or, oh now, now I'm confused, was it a different thing? Hands on the shoulders, gentle shaking, "You're on a train, suddenly, it crashes!" and a sharp jerk. Then, truly bizarre, someone is banging four stakes into your back - two fingers stabbed, one after the other, into shoulderblades and lower back - and winding string around them, winding, and winding, and they keep on winding - with a finger spiralling round all the imaginary stakes - until it's wrapped up tight around all the stakes, and then they're pulling, and sometimes you can get the person to step backwards by pulling the imaginary string attached to the imaginary stakes.

Why do little girls teach each other hypnosis and really, how creepy is that?
posted by Lebannen at 5:18 PM on November 3, 2007


Yeah, what everybody else said. We had a
"spiders crawling up your back,
spiders crawling down"
verse, as well. All that stuff was pretty weird, but no weirder than certain ghost stories, fairy tales, ouija boarding, etc...What about "Light as a feather, stiff as a board?" That was always fun, eh?
posted by SixteenTons at 6:41 PM on November 3, 2007


we did this at my school too, and i just remembered the ending bit... they put their hands on your shoulders and wobbled you around in circles, saying "you're onnnnnnnn a rollercoaster" and then a quick shake, "you fall off!" and then, with your eyes still closed they'd ask "quick, what color do you see?" each color had a different ending to the story: green was for landing in bushes, blue was for landing in a pond, red was for dying and going to Hell.

pretty grim, actually.
posted by beandip at 11:32 AM on November 4, 2007


So odd to be reminded of this! Ours went:
'Criss, cross' (x-swipes on the back) 'applesauce' (tickling under the ribs) 'spiders crawling up your back' (both hands lightly 'chittering' up the back) 'One HERE, one HERE, one HERE, and one HERE' (firm spider landings on each back quadrant) 'Cool breeze' (blowing on the nape of the neck) 'slight squeeze' (light brush of fingers on neck) 'Now you've got the chills' I'd had no idea that this was so widespread and varied. Thanks, good people!
posted by DrAwkward at 6:27 AM on November 7, 2007


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