Musical Transmogrification

by Harvey Reid

Any musician who plays in a band for any length of time knows how much fun it is to invent parodies of the songs in your set list. We sing them to ourselves as we tune up or backstage- it's not fair to the song or the audience to actually perform them, and they are often in poor taste anyway. But it is natural musician behavior to do those sorts of things.

A few years back I hit upon the idea of what I whimsically call Transmogrification of Songs, when I realized that Chuck Berry songs and Carter Family Songs were interchangeable, both being metrically perfect. Try to sing the words of Johnny B Goode to the tune of Wildwood Flower. Or Promised Land to the tune of Will the Circle Be Unbroken. It's harder than you think, probably because the part of our brain that remembers songs seems to store the words and music together (which is what the ancient ballad poetry stuff is all about- it's easier to remember your tribal history when it is a song.) Once you learn to Transmogrify you find that you often end up with a good song. It works. When I tried to sing various songs to the tune of each other (there are endless possibilitites) I learned that 1) it is hard 2) it is hilarious 3) only some songs work well 4) sometimes listeners don't even notice you are doing it. It's a perfect thing to do to your friend's songs and at after hours parties, and it does not offend listeners. John Gorka, David Wilcox and me got into a lively session one night after a festival, and are still laughing, though we degenerated into less graceful things, such as Dueling Woody's, where we sang 3 different Woody Guthrie songs simultaneously. It's good clean fun, and you might as well do something with all those songs you learned a long time ago that are stuck in your brain forever anyway.

The more tired and burned out you are the harder and funnier this stuff is. I have found that certain lyrics will fit the tunes of many more songs than others. And oddly they seem to be the best-known songs! Perhaps there is something about why a song becomes universal that has something to do with this property. So far Johnny B. Goode is the winner, and Greensleeves is 2nd place. (Try switching them with each other first.) Maybe some day this will become a test for songwriters: if you can't sing JBG to it, it'll never become a classic.

It is of course especially fun to sing the words of a cool song to the tune of a dumb one and vice versa, since if you switch two songs in the same genre, chances are no one will notice. You almost have to do something jolting for people to catch on. Since JBG is essentially a cool song, many of the songs it is fun to transmogrify are dumb. Here is a list of some common melodies that you can sing the words of Johnny B. Goode to: Puff the Magic Dragon, Froggie Went A Courtin' (you have to add uh-huh after each line, which is the best part), Ghost Riders in the Sky, Turkey in the Straw, Yankee Doodle, (these are good excercises, and good for testing out other possible Universal Lyrics,) Summertime (hard, but very peculiar because it's a good song that doesn't remind you much of either of them), House of Rising Sun. You can also fit it to the Tennesse Waltz, Bad Bad Leroy Brown, Old Time Rock & Roll and almost all of those songs they always want to hear when you play in a wedding band.

Good luck, and be careful. You might damage a neuron if you do this too much. And Chuck: (Berry, that is) forgive us, for we know not what we do.

© 1995 by Harvey Reid

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This web site concerns the music and life of acoustic musician & music educator Harvey Reid.

If you don't find what you want, or if you have comments or questions, please email to

 

WOODPECKER MULTIMEDIA
PO Box 815 York Maine 03909  USA
phone (207) 363-1886


Lyrics
About Harvey Reid
Concert Schedule
Lyrics
Catalog of Recordings
Buy From Us
Say Hello to Us
Books
Newest Recording
Newsletter
Booking Information
Publicity Info
Publicity Photos
About Joyce Andersen
Say Hello to Us
Listen to Audio
About the Partial Capo
Downloads
Articles & Essays
Harvey's Gear
Out of Print Music
Interviews
Reviews
Guitar Tunings
Lyrics
Listen to Audio
The Song Train
Favorite CD's
Listen to Audio
Hot News
Lyrics

Harvey Reid Concert Schedule |Harvey's Blog | About the Liberty Guitar Method|Catalog of CD's and Tapes|Discography|About this Web Site & What's New Here | Hot News | Woodpecker Home Page | About Harvey Reid |The Song Train | Video | Audio | About Joyce Andersen | Books by Harvey Reid | Get On the Mailing List... | Concert & Record Reviews | Interviews with HR | Lyrics to Harvey Reid Songs | Harvey Reid Annual Newsletters | HR's Guitar Tunings | About the Partial Capo | Articles & Essays by HR | HR's Gear | HR's Favorite CD's | HR's Career History | Booking Info | Publicity Info & Download Files |


This web site concerns the music and life of acoustic musician & music educator Harvey Reid.

If you don't find what you want, or if you have comments or questions, please email to