Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Friday random ten: Tongue twisters

Somehow I got to thinking this week about songs that are challenging to sing because of lyrical density and/or complexity. Tongue-twisting songs, in other words. I came up with ten from my collection:

1. Mari Mac – Flying Fish Sailors

Here’s the refrain:

Mari Mac’s father wants Mari Mac to marry me
My father’s making me marry Mari Mac
I’m going to marry Mari to get Mari to take care of me
We’ll all be making merry when I marry Mari Mac

Like many songs of this type, it’s sung once at a modest tempo, then again at about twice the speed. You need loose lips to make it through the second time around. Here’s a Great Big Sea version, with slightly different lyrics, which is another feature of songs like this.

2. What I Want Is A Proper Cup Of Coffee – Trout Fishing In America
The refrain:

All I want is a proper cup of coffee, made in a proper copper coffee pot
I may be off my dot, but I want a proper coffee in a proper copper pot
Iron coffee pots and tin coffee pots, they are no use to me
If I can’t have a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee pot I’ll have a cup of tea

Another song that starts slow, then speeds up for the ending. All those Ps will get you eventually.

3. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It – Great Big Sea

Originally by REM, of course. Once again, my favorite Pearls Before Swine cartoon:

4. The Elements – Tom Lehrer

Lots of good videos for this one, all utilizing the periodic table of course. Here’s one:

5. One Week – Barenaked Ladies

Now that I think about it, this was the song that got me contemplating the matter. I made some kid-friendly CDs for the car to give me some relief from hearing the same ones over and over again, and I included this on one of them. The official video doesn’t allow embedding, so click to see it.

6. Garden State Stomp – Dave Van Ronk

Does for the many oddly-named towns of New Jersey what “The Elements” does for, well, the elements. Couldn’t find a good video, so go listen to a small sample of it here. I prefer the version from the Laugh Tracks Volume 2 CD, where Van Ronk lets loose with his gravelly baritone.

7. Horoscope – Weird Al Yankovic

Mostly for the bridge, which demonstrates another aspect of songs like this – the need to sing long passages without taking a breath.

8. Beer – Asylum Street Spankers

This one’s a bit of a stretch, but I figure any song whose lyrics I can’t quite master after that many listenings should qualify. Note that the song and especially the intro are NFSW:

9. Quartet (A Model Of Decorum And Tranquility) – from the Chess soundtrack

Nothing like a little counterpoint to allow for verbal gymnastics.

I suppose it’s more of an ear-twister, trying to hear everything they’re saying. Of course, you have to be careful not to use too many notes when trying this.

10. All For The Best – from the Godspell soundtrack

One of my two favorite songs (the other being “Turn Back, O Man”) from my favorite musical when I was a kid.

I haven’t seen the movie version of this since the 70s, so I had quite forgotten where the end of that scene was filmed. Be prepared to get choked up if you watch all the way through.

Well, that was fun. What would you add to this list?

Related Posts:


  1. Linkmeister says:

    I had no idea Pearls Before Swine was around in 2007. It just turned up in our paper in 2010 or thereabouts.

  2. Leisa says:

    I haven’t thought of the Godspell song in ages! In the same vein as Weird Al’s caffeinated lyrics, I offer

    “I Feel Fantastic” by Jonathan Coulton

    “Stress” by Jim Infantino/Jim’s Big Ego

    “Unworthy” by Cheryl Wheeler

  3. Fred Clark says:

    The “Museum Song,” from Barnum. I can never get past “educated fleas …”