Common Meter

I learned from Achewood that since this poem is in ballad meter, it can be sung to the tune of Gilligan's Island. Since then, try as I might, I haven't ONCE been able to read it normally.

When songs are sung or verse is read,
It's often hard to miss
A rhythm that sticks in your head
(The one that sounds like this).

One line has four iambic beats.
The next has only three.
And then the pattern once repeats
(Or thrice, in CMD).note 

This meter, as its name implies,
Is commoner than bread.
Internal rhymes are used sometimes,
And some rhymes are stilt-ED.

Since common meter texts abound,
Tune-swapping is a breeze.
You'll see examples float around,
Including these and these.

Why swap the tunes? To breathe new use
Into some faded verse,
Or just for fun, as an excuse
To joke, or mock, or worse.

In short, you'll surely have to own
That nothing could be neater
Than that poetic rhythm known
As Common (Ballad) Meter.

Please note that this has nothing to do with songs that happen to be in the same tempo. For instance, it's a well-known and curious fact that LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" matches the Star Wars Cantina theme in the middle, as well as the Charleston (as seen here.) But this trope is about lyrics, which the Cantina theme and the Charleston don't really have. ("Party Rock Anthem"'s, amusingly, are in Inverted Common Meter, six beats followed by eight.) As such, this fact is cute trivia, but has nothing to do with this trope. Besides, songs being in the same tempo is a "People Sit on Chairs" thing.

The terms "Common Meter" and "Ballad Meter" are often used interchangeably; technically, the difference is that in Ballad Meter the first and third lines don't have to rhyme. Not to be confused with Common Time. A tune can scan to Common Meter, be in Common Time, neither, or both.


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    Songs in Common Meter 
  • "Amazing Grace"
  • "The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle"
  • Parts of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (the verses, but not the chorus) and "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"
  • "The House of the Rising Sun"
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Green Hills of Earth
  • "America The Beautiful"
  • "Semper Paratus", the marching song of the United States Coast Guard
  • The United States Marine hymn "From the Halls of Montezuma"
  • Many military running cadences
  • Many Christmas carols, such as "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night", "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"
  • "There Is a Green Hill Far Away"
  • "Yankee Doodle"
  • Lots of Emily Dickinson poems (e.g. "Because I Could Not Stop For Death")
  • Most of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
  • Richard Lovelace's To Althea, from Prison ("Stone walls do not a prison make / Nor iron bars a cage")
  • Hoedown!
    • The music from Irish Drinking Song
  • The Australian national anthem
  • "Working Class Man"
  • Infamous Filk Song "Banned from Argo"; it's been noted how many songs scan to it.
  • "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing", one of Charles Wesley's many hymns
  • "The Little Snicket Lad"
    • This is especially funny given that the text explicitly notes that the song was mistakenly written to the tune of a well-known song about naval disaster. (aka "Row Row Row Your Boat")
  • "The Yellow Rose of Texas"
  • The writer of the webcomic Everyday Heroes likes to start new chapters with a bit of allegedly humorous verse, done in Common Meter. Examples can be found here, here, here, and here.
  • "The Ballad of Jed Clampett"
  • "Johnson's Motor Car"
  • Parts of "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town" fit this meter ("You've painted up your lips and rolled in curls your tinted hair/Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?")
  • Several Child Ballads, including:
    • "Tam Lin"
    • "The Maid Freed from the Gallows" as performed by Tim Erikson
    • "Willie O Winsbury"
  • "Knoxville Girl," an American Murder Ballad
  • The verses of "The Last Saskatchewan Pirate" by The Arrogant Worms
  • The verses of "Sing For Me" by The Fiery Furnaces
  • "Two Kinds Of People" by The Magnetic Fields, albeit with an extra syllable on lines 2 and 4 of the first stanza.
  • Much of Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages" (more famously Covered Up by The Byrds)
  • "Old Polina"
  • "The Rising of the Moon"
  • "The Scotsman"
  • "Tight Fittin' Jeans" by Conway Twitty
  • "Joy to the World" and many of Isaac Watts' other psalm "translations"
  • The Pokémon theme. (Season one.)
  • Older Than Steam: The Scottish Psalter of 1650 sets the biblical Psalms to Common Metre.note  It's here. While the Scottish Psalter didn't invent Common Metre, it is the reason that it's considered "Common" — 149 of the 150 psalms (including Psalm 119, in 22 separate parts) are written in Common Metre.note  Poor scansion and Painful Rhyme are the natural result in many cases. The Psalter also had a wide variety of Common Metre tunes which could be used with any of the psalms; standard publishing practice for this and other metrical psalters, even today, is to divide the book in half horizontally, essentially binding two separate books together, the upper with music and the lower with the words.
  • The verses of "The Mummers Dance" by Loreena McKennitt
  • "Oh Susanna"
  • All of the Sorting Hat's songs in Harry Potter
  • "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Possibly one of the more amusing tunes to sing "Amazing Grace" to. (For maximum effectiveness, at the "wimoweh" parts, say "amazing grace" instead.)
  • "I Just Can't Wait to be King" from The Lion King
  • "The Rains of Castamere" from A Song of Ice and Fire is metered this way, with a couple of anapaestic substitutions.
  • Emilie Autumn's "The Ballad of Mushroom Down" from Your Sugar Sits Untouched
  • The Thunder Song from Ted
  • This poem from Reddit's Poem_for_your_sprog.
  • "Lose My Mind" by Brett Eldredge (verses)

    Songs in Common Meter Double 
  • "Ghost Riders in the Sky"
  • The verses of "Rocky" by Dickey Lee
  • "Beer Gut" and "Dear Mr. Governor" by Da Yoopers
  • "Queen of the Silver Dollar", written by Shel Silverstein and most famously recorded by Dave & Sugar
  • "Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet)" by Tom T. Hall is almost common meter double, but the last line is only 10 syllables instead of 14.
  • "Last Dollar (Fly Away)" by Tim McGraw is common meter double on the verses.
  • "Every Second" by Collin Raye is common meter double on the verses.
  • "No News" by Lonestar is common meter double on the verses, except for the "ooh, no news" at the end.

    Common Meter Tune-Swapping 
  • "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" has been sung to the tune of "The House of the Rising Sun"; there's a recording on one of Bob Rivers' Christmas albums.
    • Gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama recorded a version of "Amazing Grace" set to this tune. It works but some may find the Mood Dissonance confusing.
    • "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" is another hymn that has been sung to this tune, and it is similarly jarring when this is done.
  • It has been demonstrated—probably from a safe distance—to Marines that their hymn, "From the Halls of Montezuma", can be sung to the "Gilligan's Island" theme.
  • Adam Hills once suggested that, to keep the Australian national anthem relevant, we keep the lyrics and sing them to the tune of "Working Class Man". He then demonstrated. Awesomely.
  • It has been pointed out that any Emily Dickinson poem can be sung to "The Yellow Rose of Texas": the phenomenon gets a mention in a fifth-season Babylon 5 episode, and also features in Sharyn McCrumb's (Bimbos of the Death Sun), Zombies of the Gene Pool, where a Hillybilly folk singer (with a Ph.D.) mentions that he did exactly this to fool a visiting scholar.
    • "The Yellow Rose", a country song by Johnny Lee and Lane Brody, also swipes the melody from "The Yellow Rose of Texas".
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic set the words of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" to the tune of "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits, like so.
  • Some of the best "One Song To The Tune Of Another" rounds on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue use two songs in Common Meter (others have deliberately chosen songs with completely different meters to make it more difficult).