Go play!

Miss Susie: A hand-clapping history

 

 

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This is part 3 of a 3-part series telling brief histories of popular hand-clapping songs. 

In the first two posts (on “Down, down baby”, and “Miss Mary Mack”), I started with recent hip hop incarnations. As far as I can tell, our third song has not yet been referenced by a rap artist, but instead I found this hypnotic acapella, which dissolved my will and forced me to post it here.

(By the way, this guy and a friend also released a Miss Mary Mack version just this month, which though less mesmerizing, does rather light up at about :50.)

Miss Susie (or Miss Lucy) is a classic “profanity avoidance” number, in which every other line ends with an implied taboo word that elides into the next, more innocent line. These have a venerable tradition, with many similarities to the “Bang, bang, Lulu” (or “Lulu gal”) songs popular in America during the World Wars (which derive from the even earlier British “Bang, bang, Rosie”). You can listen to a superb 1968 reggae version of “Bang, bang, Lulu” here, and you can always learn more from African American culture blogger Ms. Azizi Powell.

Back to Miss Susie. Here’s how I remember her:

Miss Susie had a steamboat,
The steamboat had a bell. (Toot-toot!)
Miss Susie went to heaven.
The steamboat went to…

…HELLO, operator.
Please give me number 9.
And if you disconnect me,
I’ll kick you from…

…BEHIND the ‘frigerator,
There was a piece of glass.
Miss Susie sat upon it,
And broke her little…

…ASK me no more questions.
I’ll tell you no more lies.
The boys are in the bathroom
Zipping up their…

…FLIES are in the city,
The bees are in the park.
Miss Susie and her boyfriend,
Are kissing in the…

D-A-R-K, D-A-R-K, 
Dark! Dark!

Darker than the ocean,
Darker than the sea.
Darker than the big, black bird,
That’s chasing after me-me-me!

Perhaps more often, the “black bird” is instead a “black boy,” which I only heard sung once as a child (by a white girl, to my shock). I’m guessing the “black boy” version precedes the race-neutral one I remember.

On that note, you may have noticed that in his acapella version above, Landon Stahmer instead sings (something) like:

Dark is like a movie,
a movie’s like a show.
A show is like a television.
That is all…

I know, I know my ma,
I know, I know my pa,
I know, I know my sister
with the 40 thousand alligator.

And that is all I saw.

This, according to the “Miss Susie” Wikipedia article, is similar to a version recorded in Vancouver in the 1990s. (In case you were wondering about the alligator thing, the related song/game “Miss Lucy (had a baby)” talks about a lady with the alligator purse. Which might have been a reference to a social worker.)

My favorite resolution of “Dark! Dark!” is the version sung by the girls in the 2010 video below. True to form, it flirts with naughtiness, before snapping back into innocence/nonsense (innonsense?).

This post needs to end, but before I leave you, I will make you sit through this girl’s uncontrollable laughing fit to find out what it is they say. Mostly because these moments of gleeful hysteria comprise such an indispensable part of schoolyard girls’ games.

I hope you enjoyed this rope-skip down memory lane. If you missed parts 1 and 2, on “Down, down baby”, and “Miss Mary Mack”, check them out.

 

Is this how you sang it? Feel free to reminisce in the comment section below!

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