Introducing a new series here at TSSL, one that may as well be christened “Recurring Riffs”. In it, I’ll trace a chosen musical motif through as many of its incarnations as I can think of, starting with the earliest and ending with its most modern iteration. These will exist in a land separate from notions of copyright and plagiarism, instead concerning salient phrases or repeated figures which are not necessarily “copied”, and don’t really belong to anybody in particular, but which resurface from time to time in a broad array of recorded works for any number of untold reasons.
This will be a subject that naturally begs for reader participation, largely because there will no doubt be plenty of examples that either space or my own scope on the matter will limit me from covering. It is thus highly encouraged for you to take to the comments section and fill in any gaps that may arise. We’ll then add any pertinent examples to the post, soundclips and all, in an addendum section.
For the inauguratory post, we take things back to the playground.
The children’s sing-along clapping game, known as “Down Down Baby“, is one of those age-old passtime games that exists in many variations in its natural setting of the schoolyard. What might not be immediately apparent is its longevity as a theme used in the outside world.
Here’s a video from Sesame Street, featuring some kids learning the game:
And a quicker clip of children’s singer Laurie Berkner singing the song:
Right off the bat, I’ll bet many of you who were at first uncertain have by now remembered where else this tune has surfaced, and so in that spirit let’s take a chronological look at a few places it’s been.
Next, a version of “Down Down Baby” was used in a particularly memorable scene in the Tom Hanks movie Big, as the method by which Hanks’ grown-up character Josh convinces his friend Billy who he really is. In lieu of an available youtube clip, here’s the audio:
This brings us to probably the most well known use of “Down Down Baby”, found in Nelly‘s debut hit single “Country Grammar“. I don’t know what it is about rappers using juvenile ditties for their hooks — from Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” to the bevy of hip-hop figures involved in reprising “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” (a likely contender for a future Recurring Elements post) — but Nelly’s may well be the most successful attempt at “stealing candy from a baby” in such a fashion. It’s hard to imagine the song would have been such a hit without that irresistible melody and the delightful subversiveness of mixing the original lyrics with lines like “light it up and take a puff / pass it to me now”:
Finally, have a listen to one of Philly’s best bands incorporating the song into their sublime “Freedom Park”: