- It's often said that "Ring Around the Rosey" is "actually about the Black Death". The connection is purely apocryphal, but the Urban Legend has risen to such prominence in popular culture that the song is often cited or alluded to as a sinister Ironic Nursery Tune. Heavy metal band Brocas Helm even used this nursery rhyme as the chorus of their song "Black Death".
- Brazilian nursery rhyme Nana Nenê (Sleep, Little Baby) that goes like this:
Sleep, little baby
So Cuca can catch you
Your father's on the field
Your mother went to work
Oh, Cuca? Is a monster. A baby-eating hag with the head of a caiman. Stand-up comedian Rafinha Bastos has a whole number about that.
- After Snopes.com put out a "lost" legend that the rhyme Four and Twenty Bluebirds was about piracy I've never been able to look at it the same way again. Fake or not, it's an interesting connotation.
- According to most scholarly interpretations, the English nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons' is either about sex, or the execution of King Charles I (when all the bells of London rang), or both.
- It's used for ironic effect in 1984: the Thought Police echo the creepy final lines as they crash in and arrest Winston.
- For that matter, at least one horror story has made use of the final lines: "Here comes a candle to light you to bed/ Here comes a chopper to chop off your head."
- The 1960 BBC miniseries An Age of Kings, based on Shakespeare's history plays, has the doomed Princes in the Tower sing it, with the last lines cueing Richard's remark on the fate of Lord Hastings: "Chop off his head! Something we will determine."
- "Under the spreading chestnut tree... I sold you, you sold me..."
- "Alouette" is a rather graphic description of the preparation of a bird for supper: it has to be plucked.
- And they just had to use it in Tom and Jerry. To be exact, The Two Mouseketeers.
- It was also used in the 1949 Pepe Le Pew cartoon "For Scentimental Reasons" (Pepe was singing part of it while the cat was trying to wash the paint — and possibly his stench — off her). Does not help that the song can also be warped into something sexual.
- Near the end of Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 4: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, the Marquis De Singe sings a twisted version of the song while getting the Wind Control Device ready for pulverizing Elaine into a fine powder:
De Singe: Alouette, I will live forever, alouette, immortalité... Who will live forever? Moi... Who will conquer nature? Moi... Alouette, I will live forever, alouette, immortalité...
- One episode of The Alvin Show has Alvin, Simon and Theodore singing it in French. Then this occurs:
Dave:I'm sorry, but I can't understand what you're saying. Can you please sing it in English?
Alvin, Simon and Theodore: Can we sing it in English?
"If you love me, tell me that you love me, if you don't please tell me that you do! Tell me that you love me true, tell me that you really do! Do do do, love me true, aaaah!"
- Many tunes written by one Hans Baumann. He was a children's book writer eventually, and wrote in that style early on—however, the songs he wrote early on were for the Hitler Youth. Particularly unsettling is this one, which in a children's rhyming style contains the phrase "For today we rule Germany/Tomorrow, the world!"
- While the linked version translates to "today Germany will hear us" both phrases were in use at the time. Just replace the words in bold with gehört to change the mood from hopeful/uplifting to creepy/sinister.
- Another German one:
Help us in the war,
Fly to England,
England will be destroyed by fire,
- The popular German (not nazi related) nursery rhyme Maikäfer flieg translates to:
Fly may bug, fly
Father is fighting in the war
Mother is in (gun)powder land
(Gun)powder land burned down
Fly may bug, fly
- There are different versions of where the mother is (Pulverland = (Gun)powder land, Pommerland = Pomerania, Kummerland = sorrow land, etc.) The version with Pomerania is often linked to the Thirty Years' War.
- And Hoppe Hoppe Reiter: (Hoppa, Hoppa, Horseman, it doesn't translate well)
Hoppa, hoppa, horseman,
When/if he falls he screams,
If he falls into the ditch,
The ravens will eat him,
If he falls into the bog/swamp,
The horseman will go *splash*.
Pray, children, pray
tomorrow the Swede[s] will come
he will teach the children how to pray!
- "Rockaby Baby" is about a kid falling out of a tree.
- Shel Silverstien lampshades it in one of his childrens poems.
- Yankee Doodle is a fairly common nursery rhyme in the United States (and much more common in Britain). The song dates back to the Revolutionary War, and in context calls the average American (Yankee Doodle) a backwards hick with no sense of fashion.
- Already during the war it had been adopted by members of the American army, who sang it with an ironic pride. Now, the irony is largely forgotten, but the later verses are much more obvious in their deprecation of the Americans than the well-known first verse and chorus.
- The German counting rhyme "Eins, Zwei, Polizei". Conjures up images of the Nazi Gestapo, IMO.
- "Waltzing Matilda" is actually about a sheep poacher who commits suicide by drowning rather than be executed by hanging, which the title is slang for.
- While the song is indeed about a sheep poacher committing suicide, that's not what the title is slang for. "Matilda" is what swagmen (basically drifters with no home thanks to the depression) called his bedroll and bundle of personal possessions, so "Waltzing Matilda" was the slang for "Wandering the country carrying my belongings".
- And suddenly, its use in On the Beach (the 1959 film, at least) is all the more meaningful.
- The traditional lullaby from the Southern United States, "All The Pretty Horses" (or "Hush-a-bye"), was sung by black slaves during the pre-Civil War period. The line "wee little lamby...cried for her mammy" refers to slaves forcibly separated from their own families in order to serve their owners.
- Ah, Mary, how does your garden grow?
- Serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton, killed 20 of her husbands and offspring in County Durham in the 1800s. She had her own nursery tune, sung after her hanging in 1873:
"Mary Ann Cotton
She's dead and she's rotten
She lies in her bed,
With her eyes wide open
Sing, sing, oh, what can I sing,
Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string
Where, where? Up in the air
Sellin' black puddings a penny a pair."
- The Lizzie Borden jump-rope rhyme is similar. It should be noted, however, that Lizzie was acquitted of the double homicide Note
"Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one."
- There's a Dutch one that translates into English as:
"There were seven little frogs
in a farmer's pond.
The pond was covered in ice,
the frogs half-dead.
They didn't croak, they didn't croak
out of hunger and sadness.
There were seven little frogs
in a farmer's pond."
- A bunch of Danish children's songs is about lovely events like crows and rabbits being shot by hunters, fish and crabs being cooked alive and eaten, royality being executed, and a lot of other deaths.
- The American folk song "Oh My Darling, Clementine" is about a clumsy girl tripping into a river and drowning. Her miner father then commits suicide in despair. The song is sung from the viewpoint of Clementine's lover, who wishes to join her.
- Specifically, she dies because her lover can't swim, hence why he's "dreadful sorry."
- Happy ending though: The guy hooks up with Clementine's little sister in the end.
- I thought it was the father singing about his daughter, but in the end started kissing his other daughter instead. I guess my mind is twisted.
- Bobby Darin's version of the song changes it to her being so enormously fat and heavy that a bridge collapses under her, and then suggests that she floated out to sea and was hunted by whalers.
- "Goodnight Irene" (as performed by Leadbelly, the songwriter):
I love Irene God knows I do
Love her till the seas run dry
And if Irene turns her back on me,
Iï¿½ll take morphine and die
- Field Operation Manual for early Panzerfaust had a two-line stanza on every page, forming a short poem mimicking popular children's rhymes. It begins with: Der schwerste Panzer geht in Brand / Nimmst Du die Panzerfaust zur Hand (The heaviest armor goes up in flame / Once the Panzefaust in hand you take). May count for real-life example of Mood Dissonance.
- Around that time there was another cheerful jingle written in the German language: Nach dem Arbeit, vor dem Essen, Haende waschen, nicht vergessen. ("After work, before eating, don't forget to wash your hands.") And where was this helpful reminder posted up? The synthetic rubber factory in Auschwitz! This comes from a really old saying used to teach children hygene: Nach dem Pipi, vor dem Essen, Händewaschen nicht vergessen! ("After wee-wee, before eating, don't forget to wash hands").
- It should be noted (as any camp counselor will verify) that kids love dark humour and slightly gory songs. Classic camp songs/rhymes as examples (notable lyrics in brackets) include Sgt. Billy Madison (he jumped from 40 000 ft, forgot to pull the chute. SPLAT!), Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts (and I forgot my spoon!), The Titanic (All the husbands and wives, little children lost their lives, it was sad when the great ship went down), and The Shark Song (and all was red, 'cause they were dead). Also note that each one of those and others (and there are so many others) are sung with a happy, upbeat tune.
- In Girl Scouts (a wholesome, Christian organization), we used to sing a different shark song about losing your leg in a shark attack, dying due to blood loss, and finding out you're going to hell. Really gets the spirits up for a week of camping.
- An Israeli parody of a well-known Hanukkah song goes:
I have a candle, I have a candle, I have a thin candle;
Why does the parachute stay in the bag?
The reserve one wonï¿½t open either:
On the ground I go SPLAT!
- There's a song known as 'Tuuti Tuuti', which is sung like a lullaby but is literally about a peasant mother singing to her dead child, wishing it safe passage into the afterlife. Translated verses include speaking about 'children in hell' and that there will be a lot of room and food over in the hereafter.
Hush, my baby to Hades
to sleep under the grass
to swing with children of Hades,
to be held by the maids of Hades
The cradle of Hades is more beautiful
the sleep of Death is better
Hush, hush my dark one
in dark cradle
with a dark baby-sitter
in the dark croft
Mansions of Hades are large
rooms of Hades are spacious
- We can't forget this little gem, which has been taught to kids as recent as the 80s. I remember reading it and wondering why we're supposed to dislike the subject character.
Tell Tale Tit,
Your tongue shall be slit.
And all the dogs in the town,
Shall have a little bit.
- From the sound of things, you're not supposed to like the subject character because he's a squealer. When this troper was a kid being a tattletale Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves was tantamount to forfeiting your humanity.
- There's a Finnish children's rhyme that ends in these words:
Hooray, hooray, wedding! Clock already struck twelve!
The emperor's waiting in the palace
As black as soil, as white as foal,
The one who comes last, he is Death
- "Blood on the Saddle" is a catchy, never-ending ditty about falling off a horse and squishing one's brains out.
- The traditional Jewish equivalent of "The House That Jack Built" ends with the ANGEL OF DEATH coming to kill the butcher who killed the ox who drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that hit the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat that Daddy bought for two zuzim... (There may be another verse after that about the Angel of Death himself dying in the End of Days, but that just makes it weirder).
- There is indeed another verse, and there comes the Lord (literally, "the Holy One, Blessed be He"), probably in the End of Days.
- A Viennese song, "Heidschi Bumm-Beidschi", is often sung as a Christmas carol. Its origins lie in the Turk siege of Vienna, and "Heidschi Bumm-Beidschi" refers to Turk skirmishers who took children as slaves to be raised as soldiers. So it was a creepy nursery tune to begin with.
- Walking down the street at the height of the 1918 Spanish Influenza, you would hear a few little girls in the playground singing this song as they jump rope:
I had a little birdie,
Her name was Enza.
I opened up the window;
- One that I remember from childhood. I live in the US and this was actually taught to me by a school teacher or someone in "authority". The Hearse Song. We were only ever taught the "chorus".
Worms go in
and worms go out
Through your stomach and out your mouth
And when you see the hearse go by
You know you'll be the next to die.
- "Mon Coq Est Mort". A song frequently used as a warm-up for school chorus classes, upbeat and peppy...and the title translates to "My Rooster is Dead". At least one high-schooler who never took French likely ended up unnerved when they had it translated by a French-speaking classmate.
- A few older Japanese lullabies count as this. Sung by the poor babysitters of children from rich families, they can be summed up as, "I hate this job, I hate this kid, I hate my life."
I certainly hate
Taking care of the crying child
They hate me for keeping the child to cry
They hate me for keeping the child to cry
The sleeping child's
Cuteness and innocent look!
The crying child's ugly look
The crying child's ugly look
I would hate babysitting beyond Bon Festival
The snow begins to fall, and the baby cries
How can I be happy even when Bon Festival is here?
I don't even have nice clothes or a sash to wear
This child continues to cry and is mean to me
I get thinner because the baby cries all day
I would quickly quit here and go back
To my parents' home over there
To my parents' home over there
- There's a Spanish song, "Don Federico", one version of which goes:
killed his wife,
chopped her up,
and threw her in the pan.
People who passed by
smelled the stink:
it was the wife
- And then it keeps on about people losing parts of themselves so they can marry someone else, who then loses something in turn:
Don Federico lost his wallet
so he could marry a seamstress.
The seamstress lost her thimble
so she could marry a general.
The Pepsi-cola lost its bubbles
so it could marry a wicked witch.
The wicked witch lost her kitten
so she could marry don Federico.
Don Federico said "no"
and the wicked witch cursed him.
A year later, he told her "yes"
and the wicked witch sent him to go f*** himself.