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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One Hundred and One Lullabies

You may recall from an earlier entry that we sing a lot of lullabies in our house. And not just traditional, rock-a-bye-baby lullabies: pretty much anything that can be sung a capella and downtempo will do. Sometimes songs are rejected as too nightmare-inducing, but then again, sometimes songs that you would think would be nightmare-inducing are apparently not: Noah has been regularly requesting Jonathan Coulton's "Re: Your Brains" lately.

In a discussion about musical eras, we realized that our lullaby repertoire has a very uneven distribution. There are is a small smattering of the occasional Elizabethan (eg Greensleeves), medieval Jewish, or traditional folk tunes (such as the Guggisberglied). Then there are a few songs from the mid-nineteenth century (Amazing Grace, John Brown's Body, etc) and a few late Victorian (Daisy Bell). Then there is a gap until the twenties and thirties, when we have a spate of Cole Porter and jazz standards.

Then it's pretty empty again until the sixties, and then there's a massive spike in the sixties and seventies, which form the bulk of the repertoire (pretty evenly distributed between Motown, folk rock, and British Invasion). Then frequency dwindles steadily throughout the eighties, nineties, and oughts, with us being rather hard pressed to find much from 2009 and 2010. Which partly shows you how much general contemporary popular music we are listening to -- and partly shows you that what contemporary popular music we do listen to tends not to be very lullabiable. Songs with a significant rap component, songs requiring impossible vocal abilities (looking at you, Björk), songs which demand an uptempo handling, and songs in which the vocals interact interestingly with the instrumentation -- rather than standing on their own in some kind of refrain/chorus structure -- do not convert very well to lullabies.

So now my goal is to be able to sing one lullaby (broadly defined) released in every year between 1910 and 2010.

I would be very happy for suggestions, particularly for the periods 1910-1930, 1949-1960, and 1995-2010. Priority will given to songs I already can sing some of and just have to learn the rest of the words to, followed by songs that are relatively easy to learn from, say, YouTube. I am a functional illiterate with regards to musical notation, so sheet music is less helpful than performance, though I guess I could get Aviva to play things for me.

More thoughts after the cut...

In the process of charting our repertoire and searching for new options, I was surprised by a lot of things.

The period 1910-1920 seems to have been a really strange period in American music, at least going by Wikipedia -- not something that was part of my internal conceptual music history. Late nineteenth century music, all those hymns and Civil War songs ("When Johnny Comes Marching Home") seem much more familiar. 1910-1920 there's all this ethnic music (when that meant Irish, Polish, Jewish, and Italian, and when those were strongly ethnic categories in the US).

The nineteen-teens are the source of all that schmaltzy Irish music I've always heard about but don't actually know -- "Danny Boy" and "When Irish Eyes are Smiling". Are these songs about Irishness the way, I don't know, some rap songs of the 90s are about blackness? There seems to be this moment somewhere in there where the Irish turn over vaudeville and music halls to the Jews, and go off to be white. Okay, wait, this just in: Haddayr tells me in chat that "Danny Boy was written by an Englishman who had never set foot in Ireland, and When Irish Eyes are Smiling is an American song... not written by Irish Americans, either". In a way this reinforces my point though: they're Irixploitation songs! Nothing says "undigested American ethnicity" like people who are not even from your group making sentimental songs about how Other you are while pretending to be you.

There's also all this very political music, union songs and pro-and anti-war songs. Of course the blues and jazz are also getting started, but it's surprising how few blues and jazz standards, or even songs I've heard of are actually from the period 1910-1920. They tend to be either earlier (When The Saints Come Marching In) or later.

I also had the history of show tunes totally wrong. There seems, for me, something kind of atemporal about Broadway, so that Porgy & Bess (1935), Oklahoma (1943), The Sound of Music (1959), and A Little Night Music (1973) all feel like they come from the same time period. (Perhaps this atemporality comes from the fact that I don't know Gershwin, Hammerstein, or Sondheim's works from the shows themselves, but from the songs' use as standards. Nina Simone, Barbara Streisand or Norah Jones will move seamlessly from "Send in the Clowns"(1973) to "My Funny Valentine"(1937), with none of the jarring sense you would get going from a non-show-tune, top 40 pop song from 1973 to one from 1937.)

Posted by benrosen at January 26, 2011 03:56 PM | Up to blog

It's hard to determine its exact year, but "We Shall Overcome" makes an excellent lullaby, due to its repetitive structure and the infinite possibilities for impromptu verses.

Shawn Mullins' "Lullabye" is from 1998 and deserves mention.

"Airplane" by Mobius Donut was released in 2006, but maybe I'm cheating here, since my wife wrote the song. However, it really does make a beautiful lullabye.

Posted by: Rebecca H at January 26, 2011 04:22 PM

It's not cheating, but how will I learn the song? It's not on YouTube, nor is the MP3 purchasable on Amazon... and I don't want to install iTunes. Hmm, ok, looks like I can stream it from mobiusdonut.com...

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at January 26, 2011 04:43 PM

An few nominations:

1944 (or 1949): Baby it's Cold Outside (do you and Esther sing duets?) - love the Glee version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTnwv2NN-DI

1950: Luck be a Lady https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luck_Be_a_Lady and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7tuuJb1_t0&feature=related

1952: Almost anything from Hans Christian Anderson, but especially Inchworm https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTecfVEzPNw or Thumbalina https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJHls-r_Pp0

Posted by: Jeanne at January 26, 2011 04:47 PM

Hmm.. could we cover 2008 with something from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? And 2001 with something from the Buffy Musical? Need to ponder each to find the right candidates if you aren't familiar with either. :)

Posted by: Jeanne at January 26, 2011 04:53 PM

This particular link heads to a song from 1907 performed by longtime Yosemite employee Tom Bopp, whom I love. He undoubtedly has some fun tunes from the 1910s, too, mostly ragtime piano tunes that I'm sure would slow down nicely.


Posted by: Carolyn at January 26, 2011 05:14 PM

River likes "Straight Outta Compton" (though vocally it's Nina Gordon's cover version rather than NWAs original from 1988, so not sure how you'd date that)

He also likes "Crescent City" by Lucinda Williams, and "Happy Kid" by Nada Surf, though it's rather upbeat.

Posted by: Tim Pratt at January 26, 2011 09:29 PM

Oh, and I, uh, altered the lyrics to Straight Outta Compton a bit, once he was old enough to go around repeating things... He likes "We 3" by Soul Asylum too.

Posted by: Tim Pratt at January 26, 2011 09:30 PM

Musical theater is atemporal. It has it's own style of dress & it's own setting, neither of which are based on time.

Posted by: glynda at January 26, 2011 10:13 PM

Contemporary song-wise, I really like Rhythm of Love by the Plain White T's that came out in 2010. I'm not entirely sure how appropriate the lyrics are for kids, but it's a nice melodic song.


And I totally know it's in Japanese, but I love this song from SMAP that came out in 2003. In Japanese it's Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake No Hana, which translates to "A Flower Unlike Any Other in The World". This video has Japanese and English lyric translation:


Posted by: Jenny Rae Rappaport at January 26, 2011 11:29 PM

I will give some thought to this; I know there are some popular Yiddish lullabies that date to the teens, if you don't mind some schmaltz.

Have you listened to the new Natalie Merchant album? How would you categorize a 2010 melody for a poem written in 1920?


Posted by: Vardibidian at January 27, 2011 02:14 AM

The tune that immediately came to mind for me is "What me worry" by St. Vincent.

Or maybe "All My Stars Aligned":

Both are from her 2007 album, which does take a bit of a jazzy turn halfway through.

Maybe the most fitting from the 2009 album is "The Bed", but it has lyricless interludes and might induce Dirty Harry fantasies.


(Okay, okay, moving on.)

Something from The Gentle Waves, maybe "Solace for the Pain". (2000)

Maybe a Villagers song (2010), like "Twenty Seven Strangers":

From REM, my best pick would probably be "At My Most Beautiful" (1998)

Well, that's probably more than enough from me, eh?

(In all cases lyrical appropriateness left to your judgment.)

Posted by: jamesG at January 27, 2011 06:22 AM

An unorthodox suggestion maybe:

Shubidua, Vuggevisen.

Beginning of first verse:


Rest of first verse:




There's a small gap, because of a small solo in a every verse, but apart from that, easy to sing.

It's from 1979.

Posted by: Lise A at January 27, 2011 11:41 AM

Hi Ben.

Can't resist putting my 2¢ in:

Irene Goodnight, around 1908, possible earlier; words are kind of depressing, but the tune is lovely:

1910, Carrie Jacobs-Bond:

Precious Memories, 1925:
(This is hard; most of that time period was either ragtime (no words) or early gospel- "Will the Circle be Unbroken," 1907, "I'll Fly Away")

There might be some Louis Armstrong stuff for the 30s..."Dream a Little Dream?" Wiki says 1931
either skip the bridges, or invite the kids to play air trumpet?

"Wise Men Say," 1961, maybe a bit late for your gap, covered by everyone from Joan Baez to UB40:

Katie Melua's Sailboat Song, because it lends itself to inventing one's own lyrics in the manner of "Every Breath You Take" (every lawn you rake, every stripy snake, etc.) (2007):

And loads of Irish songs (REAL ones), but it's difficult to be sure of the dates and they're probably pre-1900. Let me know if you're interested. Need one from 17th century (possibly earlier)? It's very pretty and turned up again in 2008 or so:
(don't let the uilleann pipes put you off, it works great a capella.)

Regina Spektor? (2008 or so):

"All the Roadrunning" (mark knopfler with emmylou harris):
or Border Reiver:

My dad used to sing
"Home, home on the range,
where the beer and the cantaloupes play.
Where seldom is heard
a disparaging word
and the skies are not crowded all day."

(The range, of course, being the thing we cooked dinner on, in the event that I asked.)

"When the moon hits your eye
like a big pizza pie
that's Amore."

I asked him what 'amore' was. He said "it's like an eel, only bigger." He loved to mess with my head :)

Happy singing.

Posted by: susan at January 28, 2011 03:48 PM

How about "Bobby Shaftoe" which was a lullaby written to sing you and Shoshana to sleep? And what about Noah which is a slow tune excellent for a lullaby?

How quickly I am being forgotten while I am still here.

Posted by: dmrose at January 30, 2011 03:46 AM

I wrote the first verse of Sheikah Lullaby in 2010, also performing it in that year. You can find the lyrics on https://www. northcastle. co.uk and the tune is Zelda's Theme, which can be downloaded from https://www. khinsider. com

Posted by: Sheogorath at May 20, 2012 05:25 PM
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