Tag Archives: song

The British War Song: Pack Up Your Troubles

Song Piece:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile
As long as you have Lucifer to light your bag
Smile boys that’s the style
What’s the use in worrying
It never was worth while, So!
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile

Background: My informant learned this song from her husband who was in the British Navy. Typically this song was sung by sailors on the ship as a way of bonding. Later my informant recounted that her husband would sing it to their children while they were brushing their teeth to make sure that they spent long enough on the activity.

Context: My informant and I were discussing childhood experiences and she remembered when she had children she used to sing them songs along with her husband. She then sang those same songs to her grandchildren.

Thoughts: To my informant, this song appears to be very similar to ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ in that it carries similar memories. Some research has found that the husband changed some of the lyrics so they were more kid-friendly. ‘As long as you have Lucifer to light your bag’ originally read as ‘As long as you have Lucifer to light your fag’, the British term for a cigarette.

The British War Song: It’s a Long Way to Tipperary Song


It’s a long way to Tipperary
It’s a long way to go
It’s a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know
Goodbye Piccadilly
Farewell Lester Square
It’s a long, long way to Tipperary
By my heart’s right there

Background: My informant learned this song from her husband who was in the British Navy. Typically this song was sung by sailors on the ship as a way of bonding. Later my informant recounted that her husband would sing it to their children while they were brushing their teeth to make sure that they spent long enough on the activity.

Context: My informant and I were discussing childhood experiences and she remembered when she had children she used to sing them songs along with her husband. She then sang those same songs to her grandchildren.

Thoughts: I have heard this song before but I never knew it came from soldiers singing to pass the time. The song appears to be about returning to a loved one that the soldier has missed very much, and since that loved one lives in Tipperary the song, likely, has Irish origins. Tipperary is a county in Ireland and across the British channel from Piccadilly, certainly a ‘long, long way’ to go.

Naughty Nursery Rhyme- Driving Down the Highway

Context: My informant went to elementary school in the ‘70s and sang me this song he said was used to pick on other kids you didn’t like. He told me it was a song that everyone knew, and everyone was afraid to have it sung to them. He remembers it today because of how funny he thought it was as a child.

Song Lyrics: 

    Driving down the highway, highway 64

    [Name] ripped a big one, it blew out the door

    Engine couldn’t stand it

    Engine blew apart

    All because of [name]’s supersonic fart

My thoughts: This definitely sounds like a song you would sing to make fun of friends and enemies. I hadn’t heard this song, and no one my age that I’ve talked to knows this song, so it must have gotten less popular as the years went on. I looked it up and found different versions for different regions. Here’s a link to an archive by hosted by Straight Dope where you can find different versions of this song, and other “naughty kid nursery rhymes” https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-271331.html

We Are A Circle- A Pagan Chant

Background: My informant (M) shared with me her experience with a song we learned growing up. We attended a daycare, which was run by our grandmother, from infancy to 5 years old, and would frequently stay there during summer breaks. She shared with me her perspective on a ritual we performed daily. Neither of us had ever thought too much about this ritual until we got older, but talking about it now we could tell there was probably more to this chant than we realized as kids. Our grandmother always talked about the importance of being kind to the Earth and thanking it whenever we took something from it, like food. As kids, this was just part of growing up, and the chant was part of our daily routine, we agreed that we never thought about the words or meaning until we got older.

M’s Perspective on The Ritual: 

M: “I guess it was a way for all of the daycare kids to come together and bond and be calm. We would sit in a circle with a candle in the middle and we would sing childhood songs and tell nursery rhymes. At the end of the “circle time,” as our grandmother called it, we would have a closing ceremony of sorts where we would stand up and join hands and we would sing this one song. She played it on a CD, but we all knew all the words and we would look at each other and sing. There were a couple of verses to the song that I don’t remember very well, but during the chorus, we would all sing loud and join hands and walk in a circle. Then it would be another verse and we would stop walking. The verses all had to do with the elements, you know fire and wind and stuff. And with each new chorus, we would walk faster and faster until it got a little crazy and we were screaming this song (laughs). I don’t think she does it anymore because it started getting a little aggressive. But anyway the closing line had something to do with coming “FACE TO FACE” and we would all get really close to each other- you know face to face- and we would throw our hands up and someone would blow out the candle and that was it (laughs and pauses).

And we did this for probably ten years or more. It was a little strange now that I’m thinking about it, like what was that even about? We never really anything else that I can look back on as being out of the ordinary.         

Main Text:

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

You hear us sing, you hear us cry

Now hear us all you, spirits of air and sky

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Inside our hearts there grows a spark

Love and desire, a burning fire

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Within our blood, within our tears

There lies the altar of living waiter

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Take our fear, take our pain

Take the darkness into the Earth again

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

The circle closes between two worlds

To mark this sacred space where we come face to face

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Analysis: I looked up this song to find the lyrics we remember from our grandmother’s. I also wanted to see if I could find an explanation for it. What I found was the song has strong ties to paganism and Wicca, relating to a spiritual bond with the Earth and magic. The song is written by Rick Hamouris in the 80s so I’m not sure when or where our grandmother learned it. It seems like it’s been adopted by Wicca and other pagan religions and some say it is a song for festivals or a full moon chant. The book Casting Circles and Ceremonies by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart explains how circle chants like this one are effective for “casting circles” and “calling quarters.” These terms refer to creating the circle, which is the safe and sacred space and utilizing the Earth’s quarters-the four elements and the four directions. 

You can read more about this here: http://www.egreenway.com/wands8/envoke1.htm

Las Mananitas

Main piece: 

“Estas son las mañanitas que cantaba el rey David

Hoy por ser día de tu santo te las cantamos a ti.

Despierta mi bien despierta

Mira que ya amaneció

Ya los pajaritos cantan

La luna ya se metió.

¡Qué linda está la mañana en que vengo a saludarte

Venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte.

El día en que tú naciste, nacieron todas las flores

Ya viene amaneciendo ya la luz del dia nos dió.

Levantate de mañana, mira que ya amaneció.” 

Full translation (transliteration not included since it’s a relatively long song) :

These are the morning lyrics that King David sang

And today for your birthday we sing them to you.

 Wake up my loved one

The sun has risen

The birds are chirping

And the moon has set.

What a beautiful morning it is, to come and visit you

We are all happy to be here and congratulate you.

 The day you were born all flowers bloomed

The sun is rising giving us its light.

Wake up it’s morning, morning has come.

Background: I’m going to give credit to my dad on this one because he knows it very well and I sang along a little but don’t know the full lyrics very well. My dad was born in Mexico and moved to LA when he was 15 years old. He is bilingual and we (led by my dad) sang “Las mananitas” to my mom on her birthday very recently this month. He sings this song instead of the “Happy Birthday” song. 

Context: It was my mom’s 50th birthday a couple days ago. We got her flowers, baked a cake, and made lasagna and salad. We went to her room and started recording and singing the above song. I only know the first four lines and from there on I sang sporadically. My dad knows them really well and my sister was on the same boat as me. This took place inside my parents bedroom around early morning. 

Thoughts: I’ve heard of “Las mananitas” very often because I have a big extended family and whenever we go to Mexico over the summer, we attend various birthday parties. And in Mexico, no one sings Happy Birthday, we all sing the song transcribed above. So I kind of know it but not fully. Anyway, it is a song that upon reading more into it, is really special and nice. The lyrics provide a perfect environment and are very loving. The birthday person feels special and knows what’s happening with the first line.

Mexican lullaby

Main piece: 

“Sana, sana, colita de rana, si no sana hoy, sanara manana” 


Heal, heal, tail of frog, yes no heal today, healthy tomorrow

Full translation: 

Heal, heal, tail of frog, if today it doesn’t heal, it will tomorrow

Background: The one who provided this lullaby was my sister a while back when hurting my younger cousin on accident. My sister was born in LA and she goes to school in Downey. Her spanish isn’t good, or even decent, but somehow she knows this song well. According to her, it stuck because “it’s catchy” and because apparently I would sing this same lullaby to her when I hurt her. 

Context: We were playing basketball in the driveway. It was my sister and my two cousins. And somehow my sister bodied into my younger cousin who’s underweight and knocked her to the ground. She’s currently 12 but she scraped her elbow pretty bad and wanted to cry. That would not have been good news for either my sister or me so my sister sang the lullaby and massaged her arm and my cousin laughed a little and then stopped any potential crying. 

Thoughts: This a fun one because I honestly don’t know what a frog’s tail has to do with healing a wound or bruise. I asked my sister who was my informant in this case, but she didn’t know either. 

Maybe a frog’s tail has luck and it’ll help heal a bruise quicker? But what I did notice from this experience, and even from my own experience, was that it’s funny to the victim. It makes them laugh, or chuckle at least, and eases the pain and tension. So it’s a helpful tool if someone gets hurt and wants to cry. 

Dayenu, a Passover song

The following is transcribed from text exchanges between my informant, A, and myself, M.

Main piece:

A: On passover, there’s this tradition that Persian Jews have, and somehow only us. There’s this song called Dayenu that you sing as part of the Passover seder, which is like what we call the food and tradition we do.

A: Passover is about Jews being slaves in Egypt and Passover is specifically about when the Jews were freed, and that’s basically the whole thing. But this song is part of it, and its about thanking God for each specific thing He did in the story. And for Persian Jews, while we sing the song we hit each other with green onions because they symbolize the whips from slavemasters. We get pretty agressive, and it looks really stupid.

M: Why just Persians?

A: I don’t know how it started or why it never made it to any other ethnic Jewish group. I didn’t even know it was a Persian thing until like late into my life, so when I talked about it with my white friends, they thought I was insane.

She later texted me that her parents told her Italian Jews do it as well.

Background: My friend is Persian Jewish from Beverly Hills. Judaism has played a large role in her life, having gone to Jewish high school and been an active participant in the community since birth.

Context: She and I were texting casually, and I asked if I could collect from her.


Food is a way of communicating, and from what I have learned about the Passover ritual is that it is a very active one, almost like a play. Also that food is heavily involved. I am left curious as to why Persians specifically do this part.

University of Alabama – Dixieland Delight Chant

Main Piece:

Dixieland Delight is a song by the rock band Alabama, but is more formally known as a chanting song during Alabama football games. It originally wasn’t intended as a song for the university’s football team, but they adopted it as their own. They add their own lyrics in between the verses of the chorus. It’s a tradition to sing it at the start of the 4th quarter of home games. The words between the chorus vary and expletives about their state school rivals in the region are added to it. Because of this her freshman year they weren’t allowed to play this song during football games, but this was lifted her sophomore year.

One constant verse of the song is as follows (additions are in italics):

“A little turle dovin’ on a Mason-Dixon night. F*** AUBURN.

Fits my life. LSU. oh so right. AND TENNESSEE TOO.

My Dixieland Delight.”


EG is a sophomore at the University of Alabama, and has attended football games for the past two seasons. Both of her parents attended the school and are also avid fans of the team. She was raised an Alabama fan her whole life and has never been otherwise. This was taken from a conversation at our house.


This trend of chants is appealing to me as it takes a song and adds lyrics to it, similar to a mashup or a cover. This seems to be used as a method of getting the crowd at their games riled up so that they can have a lot of spirit. This being done at the beginning of the fourth quarter would mean that they get much more energy during for the final push of the game. This greatly reminds me of when the USC Band plays Tusk during football games. While we don’t use expletives during the songs, we do add our own lyrics. A similar style of song that is also in the SEC, Alabama’s football conference, is LSU’s chant to the song “Neck”. Students also chant it during games to the point where it got banned. (https://youtu.be/Ji-mFaIAcX4, Neck, LSU Band and Student Body).

Summer Camp Taps Tradition

Main Piece:

BO, a junior at USC, shared this story from a Musician Summer Camp he attended. He says, “Like at 10PM everynight we would all have to be in bed in our cabins while they play a military trumpet song called Taps. Everyone was supposed to be extremely quiet and if you made any noise you’d get in trouble. The idea was it was supposed to give everyone in the whole camp a few minutes of silence to reflect on their day.”


BO is a junior at USC. He attended this music summer camp from ages 12 to 18 and was familiar with lots of its traditions. This piece was taken during a text chat with BO.


This tradition seems to reflect the discipline that they would teach at the camp. BO explained how they would train a lot during this musician camp, and discipline is a big part of this training. Playing Taps, a military song which is typically played during solemn times, shows how this moment at the end of their day is a time for them to reflect. The formal nature of it also shows how they are training their musicians to be disciplined, and self reflection is important to that.

My Girlfriend’s A Vegetable; An Army Cadence

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (GK).

GK: “My girlfriend’s a vegetable, (and then everyone would answer you back, so like each time you say something they say it again). So it goes:

My girl’s a vegetable

She lives in the hospital

And I would do anything to keep her alive

She has a green TV

It’s called an EKG

I would do anything to keep her alive

She has no arms or legs

That’s why we call her Peg

I would do anything to keep her alive

Sometimes I play a joke, pull a plug and watch her choke

But I would do anything to keep her alive

“So yeah there’s a lot of just nonsense ones like that, that are very strange” 

CB: [laughs] “Thats great, so what does it mean to you?”

GK: “Well that one in particular doesn’t really mean anything to me”

CB: “So what context would they sing them in?”

GK: “Oh, you just sing them to pass the time. And too, they’re also like morale raisers. Like when morale is really low you’d just sing a cadence. Because like they actually sound pretty musical when everyone sings them together, and like you don’t need any instruments and everyone knows them.”

. . .

“A lot of them are about dying, to like make dying seem not so bad. A lot of them are about really horrible things too. There’s like napalm 66, and there’s one about shooting up a playground. There’s just all sorts of shit”

CB: “And so why do you think they’re so horrible?”

GK: “Well like war is a horrible thing, and so a lot of cadences are started by infantrymen, and it prepares people for the horrible things that they’re going to see for one. And two, singing them, it makes things seem not so bad. Like they sing about the worst things that can happen to you. And just thinking about it is so awful it can make you freeze up, and when you sing about it and make it not so bad, so then when you think about it, it makes it more of like a joke so you’re not going to freeze up.”


My informant just graduated from basic training, and is now at a military base waiting to start further training and specialization. He grew up with an older brother in the army and has learned a lot about army culture from him, and then from his superiors at basic training. He described cadences as very similar to a sort of summer camp song that bonds and amuses those engaging in it. The main difference is the content. Despite this example being relatively mild, my informant assured me that many cadences engage in very dark humor and describe horrific events.

I called my informant to interview him over the phone, and recorded the interview on my laptop. I had often asked him about his experiences since enlisting, and so my questions were fairly normal for him. It was a casual comfortable conversation with the occasional input from his roommate.


The cadences portray horrible situations as humorous. The song describes a loved one on life support humorously, while also portraying a commitment to her. It encourages the singers and the listeners to interact with a horrific reality, that they might not have been prepared for otherwise. My informant talked about how the cadences are spread by infantrymen who are likely engaging in some of the worst situations that war has to offer. The cadences are then taught to the incoming trainees as a way to desensitize them and prepare them for the horrors ahead. It’s interesting that they also act as such a strong morale booster. I think that by singing them with others it acts as a reminder that you’re not alone. Yes, you may be forced into some horrific situations, but you will never be alone.

For another version of this song see entry titled “My Girls A Vegetable” in the online Army Study Guide. https://www.armystudyguide.com/content/cadence/marching_cadence/my-girls-a-vegetable.shtml