Patter Song

A common feature of The Musical is the Patter Song, a light and rapid melody sung by a Motormouth character Ė less commonly, more than one. This will often take the form of a Long List, resulting in a List Song. Very commonly the song will involve tongue-twisters that test the singerís ability to pronounce the lyrics clearly, and occasionally the ability is tested even further by raising the tempo of the song little by little until it goes at a frighteningly fast pace. A semi-patter song is a toned down version that has a patter song feel, but where the words are more important than the rapid delivery.

Gilbert and Sullivan are inextricably associated with this form, which they did not invent but are credited with perfecting.

The Major General Song, which parodies and/or homages a Gilbert & Sullivan song, is a common example.

     Self-Demonstrating Version 
You will find that as a rule in ev'ry Broadway presentation
(Or perhaps the London West End, if that should be the location),
That at some point in the drama, all the action turns to stasis―
(Because, after all, how many shows make plotting their main basis?)
And a Motormouth or three will more or less expressly chatter
In a light and rapid melody—more technic'ly, a patter.
Since a Long List is a structure that no writer can resist long,
You will ofttimes find the Patter overlapping with the List Song.
Though it uses terms so recherchťs, the singers' tongues are twisted,
Each author still will use the trope, as here on this page, this did
But because to try explaining what the trope entails quite tramples
On our Tropers' little patience, let us on to the examples:


Audio Adaptation

Live-Action TV

  • This was one of Danny Kaye's signatures.
    • Remarkably averted in A Song Is Born. (Danny's songwriter wife refused to write any songs for the film as they were estranged at the time.)
  • "The Interrogation Song" by Sam the Eagle, Jean-Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) and The Muppets, from Muppets Most Wanted.
    Jean-Pierre: You know, I think they did it.
    Sam: No they didnít!
    Jean-Pierre: Yes they did, and we can pin it.
    Sam: If they did, how did they do it?
    Jean-Pierre: If they didnít, how did they didnít?
    Sam: If they didnít then itís easy,
    íCause they simply didnít do it!
    Jean-Pierre: If they did it, then I knew it,
    But weíve nothing that can prove it!

  • "One Week" by Barenaked Ladies.
  • "I've Just Seen a Face" by The Beatles.
  • "Une Valse ŗ Mille Temps" by Jacques Brel.
  • "A Wolf at the Door" by Radiohead is unusually dark in tone for a Patter Song, but no less rapid-fire (though it has longer-than-usual spaces between the pattery verses). However, the choruses are slightly slower.
  • "88 Lines about 44 Women" by The Nails.
  • "Johnny Tulloch", by The Rankin Family, featuring rapid fire lists of people piled in a wagon for a dance in Glencoe, and a story about the dance. Towards the end of the song, there's even scat singing from the women in the group while the male singer lists the names of those in the wagon.
  • "It's The End of the World as We Know It" by R.E.M..
  • "Hardware Store" by "Weird Al" Yankovic, which is also partially a List Song when Al starts rattling off things the hardware store in question sells.
    • It's one song Al refuses to perform live because he doesn't think he can do it again.
    • "Your Horoscope for Today" isn't fast enough for the whole song to count, but the bridge does, when he says all this in about twenty seconds:
    Now you may find it inconceivable or at the
    Very least a bit unlikely that the relative position
    Of the planets and the stars could have some special deep significance
    Or meaning that exclusively applies to only you
    But let me give you my assurance that these forecasts and predictions
    Are all based on solid scientific documented evidence
    So you would have to be some kind of moron not to realize
    That every single one of them is absolutely true
    Where was I?
  • Steve Goodie's Harry Potter-themed parody "Dumbledore" is likewise an example.
  • "Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan.
  • Pretty much everything Vio-Lence ever recorded.
  • Virginia-based Carbon Leaf revived a traditional song from the U.K. (opinions vary as to whether it's Scottish or Irish) called "Mary Mac". Their official recorded version may be heard here. Be sure to check out a few of their live versions, as well. Note that any tropers who wish to upload their own versions should try to increase the tempo at every verse *and* every repetition of the chorus, to show off just wwhow good they are.
  • Tim Minchin's "Pope Song" has shades of this:
  • Matisyahu - King Without A Crown
  • "Goin' Down" by The Monkees is a fast-paced, upbeat song... about a guy having second thoughts after trying to drown himself.
  • Kirby Krackle's "Who Watches the Watcher," which is used as the theme song of Marvel's online news show "The Watcher," features a major section that rattles off a list of Marvel characters who watch the Watcher.
  • Chameleon Circuit's Big Bang 2, which summarizes the Doctor Who episode named "The Big Bang."
  • The song "I've Been Everywhere" was originally written by Geoff Mack and popularized by Lucky Starr (both Australian) and featured a rapid-fire list of Australian cities the author had visited. It was later famously rewritten by Hank Snow to feature cities from the USA and recorded in that form by many, many other artists including Lynn Anderson, Asleep At The Wheel, and Johnny Cash.
  • Many of Jimmy Durante's songs were these, due to his idosyncratic singing style. Three prime examples are "Inka-dinka-doo", "Chibodee-chobodee-chibodee" and "Durante, The Patron of the Arts."
  • Barbra Streisand's "Minute Waltz" and "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking," which is also a List Song of said supermarket's more notable merchandise.
  • Rolf Harris' "Court of King Caractacus."
  • A Heavy Metal example: "Shenanigans" by S.O.D.
  • Todd Rundgren has his own examples with "Song of the Viking" and "An Elpee's Worth of Toons", both of them Gilbert and Sullivan pastiches. And he also covered Gilbert and Sullivan's "Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song", which is itself an example.

Puppet Shows

  • The Trope Codifier are the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, everyone of which has at least one patter-song (most often these were originally written for the actor George Grossmith). Specific examples:
    • Perhaps the most prominent example is "I am the very model of a modern major-general" from The Pirates of Penzance. Many patter songs since then are inspired by this.
    • "How Beautifully Blue the Sky", also from The Pirates of Penzance, has the entire women's chorus singing patter in 2/4 time while the romantic leads sing a duet in 3/4 time—at the same time.
    • "When You're Lying Awake" (often called "The Nightmare Song") from Iolanthe
    • "My Name is John Wellington Wells" from The Sorcerer.
    • In the trio, "My Eyes Are Fully Open" from Ruddigore, which is the fastest of the G&S patter songs, Gilbert and Sullivan lampshaded their own notoriety for patter songs (and the difficulty in understanding them when sung). As the song says,
    "This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter / Isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter!"
    • "As Someday It May Happen" (a.k.a. the "Little List" song) from The Mikado lists people who would not be missed if they were to be executed. Modern productions of The Mikado invariably rewrite this one to incorporate topical and local events, especially as the original lyrics explicitly invite the performer (or producer) to add their own lines:
    "The task of filling up the blanks I rather leave to you, but it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list, 'cause they'd none of them be missed, they'd none of them be missed."
    • The final verse of "I Am So Proud" from The Mikado. The trio begins with each character singing their part in sequence, then in counterpoint, and totally skips that format at the end with the trio singing a brief patter.
    • Patience has a true patter song in "If You Want a Receipt"note  and a semi-patter song in "If You're Anxious for to Shine".
  • One famous instances of a Gilbert and Sullivan-inspired patter song is "The Elements Song" by Tom Lehrer; he rhymed all the chemical element names from the Periodic Table (at least, all the ones that were known at the time; several more have been discovered since note ) and set them to the tune of the Major General Song.
    • Another example by Lehrer is his view of what Gilbert and Sullivan would do with Clementine. While he calls it a "rousing finale", the song is actually a patter song.
  • The Phantom of the Opera has "Notes" in the first act, which is a patter song with an increasing number of people all singing angrily at each other until the Phantom shuts them up.
  • "Clarice Cara Mia Sposa" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
    • Don Giovanni has "Fin ch'han dal vino calda la testa", sung by Don Giovanni organizing a party.
  • "Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)" lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Kurt Weill, first performed by Danny Kaye in Lady in the Dark.
  • "Both Sides of the Coin" from Drood.
  • "Contini Submits" and Necrophorus' part in "Folies Bergeres" from Nine.
  • "Rock Island" from The Music Man is a rare example involving many people. It also can hardly be considered a song, and it lost its musical accompaniment when the pianist was unavailable. The authors performed it a cappella, and it worked so well that they kept it that way.
    • Oh, and, of course, "Trouble" from the same score is possibly the most well-known American patter song.
  • Stephen Sondheim loves this:
    • "Everybody Says Don't" from Anyone Can Whistle doesn't keep a consistently fast pace, but has more than enough sixteenth notes to challenge singers.
    • "Another Hundred People" and Amy's part of "Getting Married Today" from Company. The latter is such a fast patter that the printed notes are never sung.
    • "Buddy's Blues" from Follies.
    • "Now" from A Little Night Music.
    • "Please Hello" from Pacific Overtures.
      • Not all of Please Hello is a Patter Song, just the British Ambassador's part. Sondhiem wrote each Ambassador's part (American, British, Dutch, Russian, and French) in a musical style that reflects their nationality. The British Ambassador's bit is an homage to Gilbert and Sullivan
    • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has some of this in "The Contest," and more in "The Worst Pies In London."
    • "Franklin Shepard, Inc." from Merrily We Roll Along has elements of this.
    • Into the Woods has an ensemble version of this in "Your Fault", but other bits in the score are similar, such as the Witch and Stepsister's bit in "Ever After".
    • Arguably "The Ballad of Czolgosz" from Assassins.
  • The Quartet from Chess has some of this.
  • Mr. Graydon's dictation test/interview of Mille in Thoroughly Modern Millie gradually becomes this as they move through the verses. The tune uses "My Eyes Are Fully Open" from Ruddigore. In this case, the music starts off as PAINSTAKINGLY SLOW, and then little by little turns RIDICULOUSLY FAST.
  • A song that Jim Steinman wrote for the never produced Batman musical was a patter song. It was written for the Joker character, was entitled "Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?" (Steinman likes long titles) and it goes a little something like this...
  • "The Plan" from The Brain From Planet X counts as this.
  • The verses of "War Is A Science" from Pippin.
    • Made more evident in the revival, in which the verses get EVEN FASTER.
  • The other wiki has its own list...
  • Professor Abronsius' song "Wahrheit" in Tanz Der Vampire.
  • Thomas Aquinas's part in Godspell's "Tower of Babble." "God is apprehended by imagination, intuition...."
    • Also from Godspell, Judas/David's verse in "All For The Best."
  • "Pulled" from The Addams Family has a bridge which is a brief, fast-paced List Song.
  • "Tonight at Eight" from She Loves Me.
  • Not a whole song, but the ending of "The King of Broadway" in The Producers certainly qualifies.
    • So does Leo's part in "We Can Do It"
  • Most of the song "The Brain" from the musical version of Young Frankenstein ("His Medulla Oblongata / tells his brain stem that itís gotta / send an impulse full of data / which creates a lot of pain"Ö etc).
  • "The Red Phone Rag" in Strangelove: The Musical.
  • "Strike That, Reverse It" in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has fun with this trope: A Running Gag within it has Willy Wonka singing so quickly that he keeps accidentally switching words around at the end of verses (Internal Homage to the 1971 film adaptation of this story), and in the final stretch he promises "The next time I'll rehearse it". As he presses the guardians of the Golden Ticket finders to sign a contract before proceeding with the tour, his summary of its contents is so fast — and filled with both Gratuitous Latin and Gratuitous French — that Mr. Salt complains "This tempo is preposterous!"
    Wonka: Our schedule has no room for intros, languid and rubato./ Accelerate right to the verse, and play it molto presto and staccato!
  • In Albert Herring, the Mayor delivers his speech chanting out words at a very fast clip, slowing down only for coloratura cadences, after each of which he takes a big breath.

Video Games
  • In Mass Effect 2, Mordin Solus once states that he used to sing Gilbert & Sullivan, and always did the Patter Songs. It should come as no surprise, seeing as Mordin talks about five times as fast as everyone else anyway.
    I am the very model of a scientist salarian
    I've studied species turian, asari, and batarian
    I'm quite good at genetics (as a subset of biology)
    because I am an expert (which I know is a tautology)
    My xenoscience studies range from urban to agrarian
    I am the very model of a scientist salarian!
    • He also did The Pirates of Penzance in Mass Effect 3 with a Krogan theme. And if that wasn't enough, he did a song about molecular biology to the tune of John Brown's Body as well.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation
  • "I Really Don't Hate Christmas" from Phineas and Ferb's Christmas Vacation is a song in which Dr. Doofenshmirtz sings about how much it bugs him that he can't work up more than "an intense, burning indifference" towards a holiday he, as an evil genius, feels obliged to hate, while rattling off a number of holidays and other things that he unambiguously hates.
    You see, Valentine's is torture, and my birthday is a mess
    New Year's is a lot of noise, and Arbor Day's a pest
    Halloween's a horror, but I guess I must confess
    That I really don't hate Christmas!
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000", the Flim-Flam Brothers get a patter song that's heavily based on the previously mentioned "Trouble" from The Music Man.
  • In Animaniacs, the segments "Yakko's World" and "All the Words in the English Language", both of which are sung by Yakko, seem to be this.
  • Taz-Mania: Francis X. Bushlad gets brief one (set to the tune of "Modern Major General") extolling the virtues of his lemonade in "Francis Takes a Stand".
  • There's a Cartoon Network promo listing all the aliens in Ben10 in song form.

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