To the Tune Of

"The Red Flag: nice tune, shame about the words."

So you've got some lyrics. They're wonderful, they're catchy, but you just can't seem to come up with the right music...

Hey, why not just put it to the tune of an older song?

One of The Oldest Ones in the Book, as many, many traditional songs and national anthems do this. This can produce a very dissonant effect if the two songs have completely different moods. It's also common in hymnody; most traditional hymnals include the meter signature for each text so it can be easily matched to other tunes; e.g., Common Meter (8.6.8.6 — used by Amazing Freaking Grace and many others).

Among music scholars, this trope is known as Contrafactum. Sometimes it's done to give a new song an air of familiarity; other times, as the beginning of this description suggests, it's simply done to allow a creator to use a Public Domain Soundtrack rather than having to write or commission new music.

See also In the Style of... and Suspiciously Similar Song. Sampled Up is when this version completely eclipses the original. Filk Songs are very frequently set to the tune of existing songs. Writing a song To The Tune Of an instrumental piece of music is so common that it has its own subtrope: With Lyrics.

When the point isn't that a new song was built out of an old one, but instead that the new song is a direct and overt parody of the old one, then the trope you're looking for is Song Parody. (For all intents and purposes, To The Tune Of is the Super Trope of Song Parody. Bear in mind, though, that quite a few excellent musical parodies don't actually recycle the music from the source material at all, relying instead on a Suspiciously Similar Song substitute.) Parodic examples of the practice should go on that page; non-parodic examples are found here.

While we're at it, 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. 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.


Examples:

Real Life has its own page.

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    Comic Books 
  • Mad Magazine thrived on this trope through The '70s, doing any number of musical parodies of popular properties (including Star Trek and Star Wars), whose musical numbers always included footnotes informing the reader of the appropriate tune.

    Fan Fic 

    Film 
  • The song in Citizen Kane (you forgot there was a song in Citizen Kane? Shame!) borrows the tune of "A Poco No", a song by the Mexican composer Pepe Guízar.
  • In the 1988 comedy Moon over Parador, the new president changes the national anthem to "Parador, te amo" ("I love you, Parador"), which goes to the tune of "Bésame Mucho". Sammy Davis Jr. sings it.

    Literature 

    Live Action TV 
  • Community:
    • When Pierce tries to write a song for the college, he repeatedly does this with children's songs. It also turns out he did this with ads for Hawthorne Wipes. After a comment from Annie, he finally writes a school song...set to "The Way It Is" by Bruce Hornsby And The Range.
    • "Comparative Religion" ends with the group performing an inclusive, secularized rewrite of "Silent Night". (Sensible night, appropriate night / Snow on ground, left and right...)
  • "The Lumberjack Song" of Monty Python's Flying Circus and the older The Goon Show song "Ying Tong Song" both use very similar arrangements to Eddie Morton's "I'm a Member of the Midnight Crew", which was long out of print when the two shows came along. (You might recognize it from it being referenced in Homestuck.)
  • In Doctor Who, the Third Doctor sings a "Venusian lullaby" to a monster (specifically, the Monster of Peladon) that somehow has the same tune as "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."
  • Spitting Image's "We've Ruined the World" is an aversion. It's clearly meant to be sung to the tune of "What a Wonderful World", but presumably either the rights weren't available or the holders objected.
  • The Barney franchise is known for adding new lyrics to traditional kids' songs, notably the theme song and the closing tune "I Love You," sung to "Yankee Doodle" and "This Old Man" respectively.
    • Save for some exceptions (mostly the theme and "I Love You"), this is averted in more recent Barney episodes and videos.
  • Elmo's World is another offender, with it's theme tune that's sung to Jingle Bells.
  • Bill Nye also features one at the end of every episode of the show. And they were surprisingly good.
  • The opening theme to NBC's Sunday Night Football was, for several years, done to the tune of "I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett. The current version, sung by Carrie Underwood, is a Suspiciously Similar Song.
  • Rebecca from Cheers hired a songwriter to compose a jingle for the bar only to discover his method was to do this with children's songs. She fires him, only to discover his previous jingle was rather effective.
  • One task on The Celebrity Apprentice was to make an ad for a Mexican-themed beverage. Ian Ziering repeatedly tried get his team to use his suggestion: a jingle to the tune of "La Cucaracha''. However, he was rejected just as repeatedly. After his team lost, he brought it up in the boardroom. Trump was so infuriated that he wanted to use a song he couldn't use, he fired Ziering immediately.
  • The Office (US): Michael learns the Pledge of Allegiance by singing it to "Old Mc Donald."

    Music 
  • "Anti-You" and "Burning Bridges" by Blue Stahli have the same music but entirely different lyrics.
  • Tom Lehrer did this twice:
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic set the words of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" to the tune of "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits, like so.
  • "La vallee de Dana" is a French song that topped the charts in the 90's, about a battle between Gauls and Cimmerians, to the tune of "Tri Martolod". The original is a folk song about three sailors.
  • Scooter's "How much is the fish?" uses an old French song about cider (Son ar Chistr) as its Leitmotif.
  • In a case legally ruled to be plagiarism, "Hail! Hail! The Gang's All Here" appropriated the tune of "With Catlike Tread" from The Pirates of Penzance.
    • The tune itself, though technically an original melody, is a reference to "The Anvil Chorus" from Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi. Listen to the "Come, friends who plough the sea" bit.
  • George Harrison's My Sweet Lord from All Things Must Pass was ruled to have plagiarized the melody of The Chiffons' He's So Fine, in a case of what the judge called "unconscious copying". Harrison later bought the rights to the song to avoid further legal entanglements.
  • "Twinkle twinkle, little star..." / "A B C D E F G..." And they're all based on the French song "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" — which itself inspired a 13-part Mozart piece.
    • Germans know this one as "Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann" ("Tomorrow comes Santa" — a Christmas song!)
    • In Hungary it's known as "Hull a pelyhes fehér hó" ("Fluffy white snow is falling") — Another Santa-themed song (maybe a translation of the German one?).
    • Finnish children learn both the ABC song and the star song (called "Tuiki tuiki tähtönen"). There was a third song to the same tune, "Lapsukaisten koululaulu" (starting with "koska meitä käsketään"). It's been pretty much forgotten about, probably because it's basically propaganda of 50's values.
    • Twinkle twinkle, Little Star not only shares it's tune with The Alphabet song, but also sounds suspiciously close to Baa baa, Black Sheep, and to a lesser extent, I Have a Little Nut Tree.
  • Coldplay have been accused of doing this with their song "Viva la Vida" (which, itself, is about a king), being accused of copying the melody from four different sources: alternative rock band Creaky Boards (who retracted the claim and decided that both bands probably stole the tune from The Legend of Zelda), guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani's "If I Could Fly," and Cat Stevens' "Foreigner" suite. And "Talk" borrows ITS main riff and parts of ITS melody from Kraftwerk's "Computer Love" — though they sought permission before releasing it, and the members of Kraftwerk are credited with co-writing the song.
    • On the topic of "Viva la Vida", there's more than that, actually. The above three are the most well known because they were the only 3 to accuse Coldplay of plagiarism. There's actually more things that sound similar to Viva la Vida, like Francis Limon, Ding Dong Song, J'en Ai Marre, Hearts, and Dirty Diaper Blues. Or at least that's what this video is saying. And there may be more. And there may be similar sounding songs made after Viva la Vida. Someone should make a medley based on that single melody and its variations.
    • Mitch Benn wrote a song, referencing his earlier "Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Now" about new bands copying Coldplay's style, called "Now Coldplay Sound Like Everything Else" (to the tune of 'Viva la Vida'.)
  • As pointed out in Mr. Holland's Opus, "A Lover's Concerto" by The Toys uses the sweet strains of Christian Petzold's "Minuet in G" stretched to four-quarter time.
  • A huge number of Elvis Presley's hits were new lyrics written for old music. "It's Now or Never" is a cover of the 1898 Neapolitan aria "O sole mio". "Can't Help Falling in Love" uses a melody from 1780. "Love Me Tender" is a version of "Aura Lee", written in 1861. "There's No Tomorrow" is another.
  • "Danny Boy" is only one of many lyrics set to the tune of "Londonderry Air" (though "Danny Boy" originally had a different tune, believe it or not). Just try to explain the "simple" progression here: The theme to the anime Romeo X Juliet is "Inori~You Raise Me Up〜" sung by Lena Park. That was a take-off of "You Raise Me Up" by Rolf Løvland of Secret Garden. This was taken from "Danny Boy", which is, in turn, set to the tune of "Londonderry Air".
  • Bright Eyes' "Road To Joy", as the title hints, takes ITS melody from Beethoven's "Ode To Joy".
  • A related phenomenon: Jazz compositions often consist of new melodies laid over the chord changes of some standard. "Hot House" (based on Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?") may be the most famous example.
  • Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, composed in 1901, was almost immediately given words to turn it into the patriotic hymn Land of Hope and Glory for King Edward VII's coronation in 1902. In the US, it is still often performed without the lyric, most often at school graduations.
  • "My Way," most famously performed by Frank Sinatra from My Way, is set to the tune of a French song, "Comme d'habitude" by Claude François.
  • Michael Jackson was accused of doing this with "Will You Be There" from Dangerous, apparently set to the tune of a song by Italian singer Al Bano. Italian courts eventually ruled in favor of Jackson. Bano had to pay Jackson's legal fees. The song does start with a snippet of Ludwig van Beethoven's 9th Symphony, however (and this Jackson also got in trouble for as initial releases lacked the proper credit; this was promptly fixed.)
  • "This Land Is Your Land", by Woody Guthrie is from the traditional folk song "Oh, My Loving Brother"
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers were accused of ripping off Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance" with their own "Dani California".
  • Nirvana were accused of copying the bass riff from "Eighties" by Killing Joke for their song "Come as You Are".
    • Kurt Cobain admitted that with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" he was trying to write a The Pixies}} song, and the end result sounds quite a bit like their song "U-Mass" in terms of overall sound and "Debaser" in terms of the main riff. And then when the song came out non-alt rock people thought it sounded like "More Than a Feeling", which he was also aware of:
    "It was such a clichéd riff. It was so close to a Boston riff of 'Louie Louie'."
  • "Alouette" = "Down By the Station"
  • "I Fear IKEA" by The Lancashire Hotpots is sung to the tune of "The Wild Rover". ("That's why I fear IKEA (clap-clap-clap-clap) I won't go there again! I don't want a bookcase called Billy, or a table called Sven!")
    • Others include "Bitter Lager Cider Ale Stout" (to the tune of "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain") and "Dolby 5.1" (to Suspiciously Similar Song of "Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs").
    • Actually most Hotpots songs. Some aren't quite so obvious to people without a folk music background, though.
    • On another note, when hearing The Wild Rover's chorus for the first time, most Germans start singing An der Nordseeküste (At the north sea's coast), a silly song by silly East Frisian singers Klaus & Klaus.
  • Pet Shop Boys' "It's a Sin" was alleged by the 80s DJ Jonathan King to have plagiarized Cat Stevens' "Wild World" and remixed Stevens' vocals to the PSB version onto a single (see the George Harrison case above; it was the B-Side to this single). The funny thing is that Stevens' version actually sounds a lot more like "It's a Sin" than King's version.
  • The Kinks' "Catch Me Now I'm Falling" has a guitar riff similar to The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash", while the ending of "U.K. Jive" recalls The Who's "My Generation".
    • The Who's "I Can't Explain" has a similar feel and guitar tone to The Kinks' "You Really Got Me". Both were produced by Shel Talmy, and Townshend himself admitted "Explain" was written as a Kinks ripoff. The Clash later used the riff from "I Can't Explain" twice, once for "Clash City Rockers" and again for "Guns On The Roof".
    • As does The Doors' "Hello, I Love You" from Waitingor The Sun to "All Day and All of the Night."
  • Bruce Springsteen's "Outlaw Pete" has a similar melody to Kiss' disco single, "I Was Made For Lovin' You" from Dynasty.
    • The Boss is a phenomenal songwriter otherwise, but Radio Nowhere is essentially 867-5309 made heavier and more awesome.
  • Mägo de Oz, a Spanish Power Metal/Folk Metal band, is very prone to this. As an example, they have a song, "En Nombre De Dios", which is basically "The Gates of Babylon" by Rainbow + new lyrics about the Corrupt Church.
  • Radiohead's "Karma Police" from OK Computer uses piano passages that are lifted almost verbatim from the Beatles' "Sexy Sadie" from The White Album.
  • Eric Carmen's hit song "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again" is essentially the 3rd movement of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Symphony.
  • Cherry's "Yes I Will" uses the tune of P!nk's "U & Ur Hand" verbatim.
  • When Billy Joel wrote "Uptown Girl", he in part (accidentally) plagiarised a Mozart piece.
  • Metallica's "The Unforgiven II" sounds almost exactly like "Children of the Damned" by Iron Maiden (which itself resembles "Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd).
  • Chuck Berry may have spawned a lot of (textual) copyings, starting with the tune Too much monkey business, which led to Bob Dylan`s "Subterranean Home Sick Blues" from Bringing It All Back Home, which eventually inspired R.E.M. to make It`s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine) from Document. Billy Joel also joined in, with We didn`t start the fire, almost certainly ripped from Dylan.
  • "Si pido otra cerveza" by Los Inhumanos uses the tune of "Oh! Susanna" by Stephen Foster.
  • Solarstone's "Part of Me" is based on the tune of the Celtic standard ""She Moved Through The Fair".
  • Les Luthiers have fun with this trope: in one of their shows, the narrator mentions Johann Sebastian Mastropiero always used the same music for all his operas. He describes a scene from one, but then they perform a scene from another opera ("La Hija de Escipión").

     Radio 
  • The I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue round "One Song to the Tune of Another", in which panellists must sing one song to the tune of another.note 

    Religion 
  • The Catholic Mass (particularly the Latin version) is prone to a direct inversion this trope: it's a standard text that can be, and has been, set over and over again by different composers for different occasions.
    • Not only that, but chunks of the Mass are often broken off and set as standalone pieces for choirs to sing; any choral piece called "Sanctus" or "Gloria" or "Agnus Dei" or "Kyrie"—and there are hundreds—is likely to be a Mass excerpt sung To The Tune Of new music.
    • And not only that, but the Roman Catholic Liturgy often does this trope to itself. "The Mystery of Faith" and "The Great Amen" are generally sung to the same tune (assuming, of course, that they are sung).
  • Renaissance composers such as Josquin, Ockeghem and Dufay who created the foundations of our musical language worked almost exclusively with melodies that were not their own. Many of their settings of the Catholic Mass were even called "parody Masses", in the sense that they used short pieces of music (not just a melody) composed by others as a starting point. (Parody does not imply a humorous appropriation in this case.)
  • All over the place in just about any hymnal:
    • The hymns "For the Beauty of the Earth" and "As with Gladness Men of Old" both use "Dix", a melody composed by Conrad Kocher.
    • "What Child Is This," a Christmas song, was written with the melody from "Greensleeves", an English folk song.
    • Likewise, the hymn "Lord of the Dance" copied "Simple Gifts", a Quaker song.
    • The traditional Gaelic hymn tune "Bunessan" has been used for the Christmas carol "Child in a Manger" and more commonly for the hymn "Morning Has Broken".
    • "Battle Hymn of the Republic" comes from "John Brown's Body", as does "Oil Thigh," the Football Fight Song of Queen's University.
      • "John Brown's Body" was itself sung to an even earlier tune, "Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us."
      • In turn, the union hymn "Solidarity Forever" used the same tune.
    • Overall it's a common practice for even new lyricists to repurpose existing familiar tunes for new hymns.
    • When the (Liverpool) Spinners performed the folk song "Old Johnny Booker" they got one woman complaining that the song was "sacrilegious" because it has the same tune as her favourite hymn. What she didn't realise is that both the hymn and the folk song lifted the tune from an earlier song.
    • The tune "Winchester Old"; best known as the UK tune for "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night", but also the tune of several other hymns (and nearly the same as "There Is A Green Hill Far Away").
    • Really, you could pick up any two hymnals at random and find that they have totally different melodies for the same words. The fact that a lot of hymns are in Common Meter really helps.

    Sport 
  • Just about every Australian Football League club theme song is an existing song with rewritten lyrics, as can be seen here. The only exceptions are Fremantle (which includes a small section from "Song of the Volga Boatmen"), Port Adelaide and West Coast. * The Perth Wildcats' anthem is to the tune of the "Hallelujah Chorus".

    Theatre 
  • Entire genres of theatre work under this principle. For instance, "ballad operas" — the most famous probably being John Gay's The Beggar's Opera — took popular tunes and rewrote their lyrics to tell a story. (Note, though, that Weill and Brecht's adaptation of The Beggar's Opera, The Threepenny Opera, had original music, except for the "Morning Anthem", which reused one of the 18th-century tunes.) The genres of "burlesque", "extravaganza" and a few others were the same. Most of these genres are completely or near-completely dead, except for British pantomimes (a sort of very silly Christmas show, with crossdressing and audience participation), which appear every year in Britain.
  • Almost all of Händel's operas, cantatas and oratorios borrowed music from himself or even adapted from other composers, in varying amounts.
  • The famous "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen was based on what the composer originally thought to be a folk melody, but turned out to be a composition of a contemporary Spanish musician Sebastian Iradier called "El Arreglito". Bizet acknowledged this in the score.
  • The Cocoanuts has a comic number with the Non-Appearing Title "The Tale of a Shirt" which consists of new lyrics written to the Habañera and Toreador Song from Carmen.
  • Musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber frequently use the same tune multiple times for different lyrics.
    • Aspects of Love is particularly prone to this, with the melody of "Love Changes Everything" used for pretty much any circumstance at all. The critic for The Independent commented:
    As the evening goes on, Aspects of Love increasingly resembles one of those snow-scene knick-knacks with a built-in music box: every few minutes, it's shaken furiously and the scenery rearranges itself, but, after the dust settles, the same tune re-emerges. … Would the young Lloyd Webber [watching South Pacific as a child] have been as impressed by "Some Enchanted Evening" if it had popped up 10 minutes later as "Would You Like A Biscuit?"?
  • In The Pirates of Penzance, the Major-General enters to a tune we've heard before: the Pirate King's "I Am" Song.
    Pirate King (in an angry aside to one of the pirates): That's the same as the Pirate King tune!
  • Inverted by the songs in William Shakespeare's plays, which often get set to completely new tunes for new productions.
  • Broadway songwriters Robert Wright and George Forrest milked this trope for all it was worth: their hit musicals Kismet and Song of Norway were cobbled together out of melodies by Alexander Borodin and Edvard Grieg, respectively. Other shows of theirs reworked tunes by Victor Herbert, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Johann Strauss, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
  • In The Magic Flute, the melody sung by the two Threshold Guardians is that of Martin Luther's "Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh' darein." Its arrangement is a stylistic homage to Johann Sebastian Bach's chorale preludes.

    Video Games 

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs and its spin-off Pinky and the Brain often feature songs set to the tune of already-existing public domain songs, but with original lyrics.
  • In-universe example with Arthur: Mary Moo-Cow's theme song is sung to Frere Jacques.
    • Real-Life example: The Actimates D.W. sang a birthday song to the tune of London Bridge on your birthday.
  • While The Backyardigans usually have original music, the song What Do You Do With A Scurvy Pirate? is a filk of the shanty classic Drunken Sailor.
  • Camp Lazlo: The "Buddy Wuddy" song from Parasitic Pal was modified, complete with the same singers, for the same-titled song from Loogie Llama.
  • Family Guy did this several times. The tune for "The FCC Song" is from Take Me Along, an old Broadway musical. The tune for "A Bag of Weed" is "Me Ol' Bamboo" from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Whether a given song from the show counts as this trope or straight-up parody mostly depends on how obscure the originals were.
  • One of the cases on Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law consisted of him prosecuting for a Japanese band called Shoyu Weenienote , who were accusing the Neptunes (yes, from Jabberjaw) of stealing their hit.
  • Looney Tunes famously used opera tunes for Rabbit of Seville and What's Opera, Doc?.
  • The Simpsons — "O Whacking Day" is strong Lyrical Dissonance for Americans and Germans familiar with the yuletide hymn "O Christmas Tree"/"O Tannenbaum", less so for Britons who know the bloodthirsty lyrics of the revolutionary hymn of the same tune, "The Red Flag" (to give you a taste, the first two lines are "The People's flag is deepest red/it shrouded oft our martyred dead").
  • The Totally Spies! Theme Tune uses the tune of the rather obscure song "Here We Go" by Moonbaby.
  • "Blow The Man Down" and the opening theme to SpongeBob SquarePants.
  • One of the ending tunes of Camp Candy is sung to the tune of On Top of Ol' Smokey
  • Garfield and Friends had Binky The Clown's birthday song sung to "Freres Jacques".
    • One episode of Justice League had a commercial jingle playing on the Batmobile's radio that used that tune.
  • The short lived cartoon Pro Stars originally had a theme song with new lyrics set to Queen's "We Will Rock You". This was rather appropriate given that the song is a staple of sporting events and the main characters were fictionalized versions of famous athletes (Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Bo Jackson). Unfortunately, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury died from AIDS a couple of months into the show's run and a new theme song was put in place.
  • Julius Jr. also uses What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor with original lyrics in Perfect Pirate Day. They then sang a song with original lyrics about staying awake to the tune of Brahms Lullaby in Smellalicious Flower


Alternative Title(s): X To The Tune Of Y, God Save The King

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ToTheTuneOf