Song lyrics that are... secondary? alternative? Another term?
December 20, 2011 7:47 AM   Subscribe

What's the correct term for secondary lyrics in songs like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer ("like a light bulb") or Sweet Caroline ("So good! So good! So good!")? Also, can you think of other songs that have these... items?

I don't think you can call them alternate lyrics since they don't replace the main lyrics to the song... but I'm at a loss as to what else they could be called (or if there is a term for them).
posted by RyanAdams to Media & Arts (53 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
In college, we added some colorful language to the chorus of Billy Idol's "Mony, Mony"

"get laid, get *****"

No idea if this is a thing anywhere else.
posted by domino at 7:51 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've always called these "Call Backs", a term I probably picked up from Rocky Horror Picture Show fandom (where it refers to a much wider phenomenon including alternate lyrics and interjections to spoken dialogue).
posted by muddgirl at 7:52 AM on December 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

posted by Oktober at 7:52 AM on December 20, 2011

Response by poster: Not sure that refrain is the right term since those are typically integrated into the main lyrics.

Also, they don't *always* have to repeat the terms. Rudolph (for example) has both ones that repeat (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer [reindeer]) and ones that don't (the light bulb item mentioned in the original post).
posted by RyanAdams at 7:56 AM on December 20, 2011

Viral ad libs?
posted by moviehawk at 7:58 AM on December 20, 2011

Best answer: It's a form of call and response.
posted by knave at 7:59 AM on December 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm sure I've got loads of these, but here are ones I remember off the bat...

On Ikley Moor baht 'at, On Ikley Moor Baht 'at (where the ducks play football) (No idea what they're called, but that Wikipedia article calls them responses.)

He jumped from 20,000 feet without a parachute x3, He ain't gonna jump no more (without his pants on) - but I can't find any online record of that, so it might just be my Scout group.
posted by Helga-woo at 8:01 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

'Flower of Scotland' as sung by Scottish rugby fans has this. Kind of like interjections or ad libs? Except not improvised.
posted by plonkee at 8:03 AM on December 20, 2011

Less part of the actual song structure than you're probably looking for but Bob Wills seemed to work a couple into lots of the Texas Playboys' songs.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:03 AM on December 20, 2011

Response by poster: Ooh... call and response sounds likely, knave. It's certainly not the typical form since the response doesn't live in the song proper, but it gives you the right connotation.
posted by RyanAdams at 8:09 AM on December 20, 2011

2nding Call and Response, although you could probably call them background figures. I'm not sure what you mean by "Song proper" the arrangement (even an informal one) is part of the song.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:13 AM on December 20, 2011

There's a jazz song called "The Sheik of Araby" which has that. The response is "with no clothes on". Or at least it was recorded that way by the Canadian Brass.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:14 AM on December 20, 2011

Yellow Submarine has this at the end.
posted by chaiminda at 8:19 AM on December 20, 2011

Margaritaville: "Salt! Salt! Salt!"
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:20 AM on December 20, 2011

I Want you to want me, by Cheap Trick

Didn't I, didn't I, didn't I,
see you cryin' (cryin, cryin').
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:22 AM on December 20, 2011

Response by poster: By song proper, Gygesringtone, I meant the song (lyrics and score) as originally composed vs how it's performed. However, I see your point on the arrangement after I noodled over it for a bit and retract that part of my answer.
posted by RyanAdams at 8:22 AM on December 20, 2011

The choral voices do this in Lou Christie's "Lightning Strikes" and "Rhapsody in the Rain."
posted by Rash at 8:30 AM on December 20, 2011

This seems to be common with soul music from the 60s/70s.

I'm too lazy to look for them, but here's an example - Respect
posted by orme at 8:31 AM on December 20, 2011

For Margaritaville we usually added "Where's the salt? Where's the salt? Where's the salt?" if you're in mixed company or "Where's the salt? Where's the goddamned salt?" If you're not.

In camp we would add "DIE DIE DIE" or "PIE PIE PIE" or or any single-syllable word (especially if it was naughty) to the chorus of American Pie.
posted by muddgirl at 8:31 AM on December 20, 2011

The seasonal example (if I'm clear on what you're asking) that jumped out at me was Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," from 2:54 to 3:03 or so, when Bruce sings, "You better be good for goodness' sake" and Clarence Clemons--rest in peace--repeats the line in that gorgeous voice of his.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:31 AM on December 20, 2011

Best answer: No, I wouldn't exactly say that this is "call and response" per se. C&R is more of a planned thing where the "call" leads musically (and sometimes lyrically) into the "response."

Sometimes it can be a traditional interpolated/improvised "response," but this almost always consists of words added in the spot where there is a musical "response" to the "call." To take an example from above, "Mony Mony" by Tommy James & the Shondells:

Call : "Here she comes now sayin' Mony Mony"

Response :

Call : "Shoot 'em down turn around come on Mony"

Response :

There has evolved a frat-house-style tradition of shouting (traditions vary) "Hey motherfucker, get laid, get fucked" during the musical response section. So, in that sense, it's a response. But the point is that there was already a musical response there. Putting in some words doesn't make it a "response."

I would probably call these sorts of things either a "shout out" (as previously suggested) or, where it might consist of non-response singing just as a parenthetical interpolation.

posted by slkinsey at 8:35 AM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Guessing I went to the same summer camp as muddgirl, because I did the additions to American Pie at camp dances too. Where I went, the typical thing to call after the chorus was ¨DIE DIE DIE DIE LIVE LIVE LIVE LIVE SEX SEX SEX SEX MORE MORE MORE MORE!¨ There were also certain lines we yelled out for emphasis, like the part about ¨fists of rage.¨

The term I know for these sorts of responses is ¨call-backs," as someone else above said.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:37 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: MonkeyToes, seasonal answers are not required (though I like that answer). It just came into my head after watching the Rudolph claymation movie a couple of weeks ago... and that seems to be one of the canonical examples.
posted by RyanAdams at 8:40 AM on December 20, 2011

For ironic backing vocals, I'd be inclined to go with muddgirl's 'callbacks'; for the specific instances where they're not part of the official lyric, but an ironic or deflating augmentation, I'd probably coin a term like 'paralyrics'.

The one that comes to mind, to my eternal shame, is "AND SHAKE YOUR ARSE" to... The Birdie Song.
posted by holgate at 8:41 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Call and response doesn't sound right to me.

I seem to remember it being referred to as "the secret words", especially in the case of Rudolph.
posted by kpmcguire at 8:42 AM on December 20, 2011

I recognize exactly what you're talking about! It's not a refrain or specifically a repetition of a word in the song (though it can be, like "reindeer"); it's not written in the original song at all, and it will have regional variations: for Join in any reindeer games I've heard "Like Monopoly!" "Like Candyland!" etc.

Audience participation, maybe? I think that's the term for the movie audience variation of this. Think Rocky Horror Picture Show.
"I see you shiver with antici...[SAY IT!]...pation."
posted by nicebookrack at 8:42 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites] you mean something more like "an old song comes on the radio, and I am singing along and I insert words and phrases at the end of lines *just like we used to do at school* and I hear myself singing solo for a few seconds and realize how silly I sound, even though I used to laugh and laugh" kind of thing? What is the name for this regionally-inflected, hazily recalled but oddly reflexive action?
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:49 AM on December 20, 2011

I was actually just reading Nicholas Mosley's war memoir and he uses the term antiphon in this passage
We would land up in a favourite nightclub called The Nut House where we drank and sang communal songs like "The Sheik of Araby" (to which the antiphon was With no pants on); or "Bell-bottom Trousers Coats of Navy Blue" (antiphon: He'll climb the rigging like his father used to do.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:58 AM on December 20, 2011 [7 favorites]

Oh boy. Hank Williams Jr. Family Tradition has some rowdy call-and-reponses that I've heard in bars from Kansas to Washington DC. Here's how they go...

"Hank why do you drink?" (TO GET DRUNK!)
"and why do you roll smoke?" (TO GET HIGH!)
"why must you live out the songs that you wrote?" (TO GET LAID!)
posted by Knicke at 8:59 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh that clears it up, thanks. No criticism was meant, I just wanted to make sure I understood what you were saying.

There may be a specific type of call and response this is, but I doubt it'd be a very effective way of describing it except to a very small group of people who happen to read the right musicological texts. If I was writing about them in a formal setting, I'd describe the lines as humorous antiphons (thanks villanelles at dawn ) that are part of contemporary oral traditions.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:07 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like it, villanelles. Now, what's the colloquial term for antiphon?
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:07 AM on December 20, 2011

Villanelles' suggestion of 'antiphon' sounds like the perfect word to me - it's a musical response, but not necessarily a repetition. Hooray, one semester of music history!
posted by lovedbymarylane at 9:08 AM on December 20, 2011

The band Smokie sang a song called Living Next Door to Alice, to which crowds would add, "Alice? Who the f**k is Alice?" in the chorus.
posted by cali59 at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a really interesting question. Part of the complexity is that some of these are written into the lyrics. Another example that Knicke's reminds me of is Itchykoo Park:

What did you do there
What did you feel there
Why the tears there?


A Little Help From My Friends

Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time...


Billy Bragg, Walt Whitman's Niece

Last night or the night before last

or the odd Spanish response in The Clash's, Should I Stay or Should I Go

This indecision’s bugging me

This is also a technique I've heard in a lot of Big Band/Swing music - the band calls back to the vocalist. I wish I could think of an example right now, but I don't have time to search around. I think Squirrel Nut Zippers mimics that on at least one song.

But this is all composed and so it's a little different from what's going on with Rudolph. In the Rudolph responses, there's been a folk process which has developed the callbacks and shared them through informal transmission, the same way things like song parodies of commercial jingles or "Batmen Smells" come to be. I've seen that happen with a number of summer camp songs, which can take on lots of strange additions over just a decade or so. The Ship Titanic comes to mind ("to the bottom of the sea...") and I'm sure I'll think of others.

I feel there must be a term for this, at least a term posited by someone researching either the folk development of the callbacks or the compositional approach, but I don't know what it is. Interesting question though.
posted by Miko at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2011

Best answer: I don't think "antiphon" quite does it either. This is a musical (and liturgical) term with a very specific meaning. It refers to a piece of music written so that one part "responds" to another part musically (and most often liturgically and/or scripturally). It effectively has no non-liturgical musical meaning.

What's wrong with "interpolated parenthetical lyrics"? That effectively describes what they are, and covers most every possible situation (strike the "interpolated" when the parenthetical is part of the actual song).
posted by slkinsey at 9:21 AM on December 20, 2011

Miko, is a wonderful repository of folk/playground songs, and includes the kid version of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer".
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:24 AM on December 20, 2011

bim bam: shabbat shalom (hey!)
posted by sabh at 9:25 AM on December 20, 2011

To 2 Live Crew's "We Want Some Pussy," I once (in the eighties, in a club) heard women call/respond with "Hey... we want some d-i-c-k!"
posted by mrmarley at 10:46 AM on December 20, 2011

In the same vein as Sweet Caroline (whose "additions" I only learned when I moved to Boston and met Red Sox fans), in Ohio the song "Hang On Sloopy" has "O! H! I! O" calls interjected between the "Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on" lines.
posted by olinerd at 10:51 AM on December 20, 2011

The school where my dad taught forbade DJs to play "Mony Mony" at prom (and I'm guessing at other dances") because of the "Hey, hey, what, get laid, get f'd" line people shout out during the chorus.

(And I've only heard this with the Billy Idol version of the song. Never with the Tommy James version.)
posted by SisterHavana at 11:22 AM on December 20, 2011

The Cotton Eyed Joe - you shout out "Bullshit! What you say?" during part of the song. Preferably not at the school dance.
posted by Addlepated at 11:29 AM on December 20, 2011

Australian band The Angels have what Wikipedia refers to as an Iconic Live Audience Chorus in their song 'Am I Ever Going To See Your Face Again' ("No way get fucked fuck off!").
posted by goo at 11:47 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

You Picked A Fine Time to Leave me Lucille....

I always felt sorry for Lucille.
posted by Kitty Cornered at 12:01 PM on December 20, 2011

The version of The Titanic that we sang when I was a kid had accumulated layers of these extra lyrics. The linked version has most of them, but you get the sense that the kids who are doing it don't even really have a clear sense of which are the "main" lyrics and which are the "extra" ones. It's all just become part of the song — which was my experience of it too. I was actually sort of shocked to hear an earlier version as an adult and realize that there was a perfectly respectable folk song under all that extraneous wacky shit.

Also, this isn't an extra lyric, but any time you hear "It's the End of the World as we Know It," you are morally obligated to stop what you're doing and shout LEONARD BERNSTEIN at the appropriate moment.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:08 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Gah. Looking back, I see Miko already mentioned the Titanic song.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:08 PM on December 20, 2011

Came in to mention the Angels' "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?", saw it's already been mentioned, will instead post this Youtube video with the very cheerful audience participation. Very late 70s Aussie pub rock.

Enjoyed taking my mum to a State of Origin football match where some band did a cover of the song, and watching mum's horrified expression when she realised what the crowd of 50000 was singing in reply.
posted by chronic sublime at 3:54 PM on December 20, 2011

Response by poster: Appreciate all of the answers and the examples.

I like slkinsey's "interpolated parenthetical lyrics" ultimately the best, but antiphon is intriguing (and a word I'll stick in my back of my noggin if nothing else).
posted by RyanAdams at 4:33 PM on December 20, 2011

The Squirrel Nut Zippers kind of do both in "Put A Lid On It": there's a written-in call-and-response through most of the song that kind of breaks down at the end into something that feels more ad-libbed. In fact, I'd probably call the interpolations "ad libs" speaking about them casually. It doesn't quite fit with the standard understanding of "ad-libbing", in that these responses have developed a common tradition behind them, but they are invoked more or less spontaneously, and possibly originated in ad-libbing/riffing/goofing around on the lyrics.
posted by EvaDestruction at 5:04 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Love that version, nebulawindphone. My camp didn't have quite that many add-ins for that one. But we did have another song that began with the crazy "Oooohhh" arms.
posted by Miko at 7:37 PM on December 20, 2011

I was also coming in to mention The Angels! Australian friends told me that this was a customary audience interaction with this song. The term "Iconic Live Audience Chorus" seems to sum it up pretty well.
posted by bendy at 9:05 PM on December 20, 2011

Sadly, this is now a staple at children's birthday parties:

"Happy birthday to you ... CHA CHA CHA ... Happy birthday to you ... CHA CHA CHA ... Happy BIRTHDAY, dear Shallow Center ... CHA CHA CHA ... Happy birthday to you ... CHA CHA CHA."
posted by shallowcenter at 3:30 AM on December 21, 2011

And there was the true call-and-response of Cab Calloway's Minnie the Moocher

posted by Billiken at 12:57 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the word you're looking for is interjection. That's what I'd call all of those from a grammatical standpoint.
posted by limeonaire at 5:24 PM on December 21, 2011

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