<< Happy Birth, uh, Minute? | Books: Never Threaten To Eat Your Co-Workers >>
Sing Me To Sleep

I learned a lot of stuff in preparation for The Squirrelly, but, alas, the words to popular lullabies were not among them.

I know the melodies to most of the classics, but I can usually only remember the first verse of words; after that I have to resort to improv. I figure it doesn't matter what I say, as long as I sing it softly and keep the beat. Unfortunately, this philosophies results in calamities like the Brahms Lullaby sung as:

And goodnight
La la blah blah
Blah something
I think this song
Is in German
Eins zwei drei vier funf

Girls gone wild
Where's the beef?
I've got Pacman fever
Four score and
Seven years
Bingo was his name-oh.

The great thing about this strategy is that you can tailor your lyrics for the situation.
[Fifteen minutes and six made-up "Brahms Lullaby" verses later:]

No, for real
Go to sleep
Or we'll sell you
On E-bay ...

Of course, coming up with words to lullabies off the top of your head takes some mental acuity, something I am often lacking at 2:30 in the morning. Then I resort to singing the only songs I know by heart: (a) 80's tunes that I listened to so frequently as a teen that they are indelibly etched into my synapses, and (b) 80's tunes that I learned the lyrics to by reading them off of a karaoke screen while drunkenly belting out them out in a bar. Unfortunately for The Squirrelly, the these two categories combine in a playlist suitable for the Worst Mix Tape Ever:
  • Careless Whisper by Wham
  • Love Cats by The Cure
  • Kiss by Prince
  • Stay Up Late by the Talking Heads
  • Just a Gigalo by David Lee Roth
  • Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Bennetar
  • Happy Hour by the Housemartins
  • True by Spandau Ballet
  • Stragelove by Depeche Mode
  • Forgive me, but, yes, Two Princes by the Spin Doctors
These work pretty well for calming the kid down but they don't really help him doze off. Getting carried around by a guy bellowing Bizarre Love Triangle is not exactly Nature's Narcotic, it turns out.

Last night, having run through all my pop tunes and at the end of my rope, I resorted to singing the only song in my repertoire that approximates a lullaby: Asleep by The Smiths.

Well, it worked -- he drifted off about halfway through. But we'll probably have to pay it off in therapy bills somewhere down the line.

Posted on March 30, 2004 to The Squirrelly


My two girls will probably always have a primal memory of "Goodnight, Sweetheart" ... or at least the three lines of it I remembered from too many Sha-Na-Na reruns. As I'm sure you've already guessed, I played dual roles, badly singing both the lead and (of course) Bowser's parts.

Posted by: Dugrless on March 30, 2004 12:09 PM

Well, that settles it. I'm never going to be able to hear Brahms Lullaby again without laughing.

Posted by: anne on March 30, 2004 12:17 PM

Forgive me, but, yes, Two Princes by the Spin Doctors

GAAAAAAAHHHH! I don't know how long that brain cell had been removed from my brain, but it *was* removed, and YOU JUST PUT IT BACK IN THERE.

I'm going to have to listen to The Power by Snap! to try to get it back out.

Posted by: dayment on March 30, 2004 1:08 PM

Could be worse than the Smiths. For years, the only thing that would put my sister to sleep was my parents playing their Barry Manilow 8-tracks.

Of course, that would put most people to sleep...

Posted by: Sarcasmo on March 30, 2004 1:28 PM

At 6-12 weeks, my daughter would drift off to the sweet strains of My Name is Jonas by Weezer. The therapy (she's now 8) is $15k so far. We've decided to go with home therapy via a little Enimem mixed with Harry Connick, Jr. to balance her out.

Posted by: punk rock presbyterian on March 30, 2004 1:30 PM

Yes, I caught myself singing "Father Figure" by George Michael to my newborn son. I don't think I was the father figure type George had in mind.

Posted by: Chrysostom on March 30, 2004 1:31 PM

How about "Closing Time" by Semisonic for your mix?

A bad song, inappropriate lyrics, and a lullaby melody.

Posted by: Jason on March 30, 2004 1:45 PM

> How about "Closing Time" by Semisonic for your mix?


Yes, I actually sing this one to The Squirrelly. I know all the words because this was one of my karaoke standards, back in the day when I has the stamina to aactually stay up until 2:00 am and close down a karaoke bar by singing it.

Posted by: Matthew on March 30, 2004 1:49 PM

My dad used to sing the song "Woad" as a lullaby. Somehow he though a song about naked blue warriors would be restful- but apparently it put me to sleep as a kid, so I guess he wasn't completely wrong...

Posted by: Judy on March 30, 2004 2:06 PM

ok, first time posting here, frequent lurker. your lullaby verses made me snicker heartily. good stuff. i especially appreciate your taste in 80's tunes. 'asleep' is a perfect lullaby and any guy who can admit affection (or even knowledge of) any Wham! song is alright in my book. and, hey, congrats on the squirrely!

Posted by: joy on March 30, 2004 3:30 PM

Isn't "up all night" sort of appropriate and ironic at the same time? I mean, my take on it was that it was a story about dressing up a kid in a cute suit and making him stay up all night 'cause he's so adorable and entertaining. Subject matter: spot on. Message: a little muddled.

Posted by: scott partee on March 30, 2004 4:00 PM

Get. this. now.


Add rechargable batteries and you have ten minutes of lullabys. Mount it low and they can turn it on themselves.

Posted by: Vinny on March 30, 2004 5:22 PM

hush little baby, don't say a word,
mommas gonna buy you a mockingbird,
and if that mockingbird wont sing,
mommas gonna buy you a diamond ring,
and if that diamond ring wont shine,
mommas gonna buy you some....uh....turpentine??? oh shoot, not again.

Posted by: michele on March 30, 2004 5:49 PM

I would sing my little one to sleep with the Imperial March from Star Wars. It worked like a charm!

da, da, da, da-ta-da, da-ta-da....

Posted by: 'kat on March 30, 2004 6:57 PM

I would sing my little one to sleep with the Imperial March from Star Wars. It worked like a charm!

da, da, da, da-ta-da, da-ta-da....

Posted by: 'kat on March 30, 2004 6:57 PM

I sing my kids the only songs I know -- camp songs. They think that "The Ship Titanic" is a soothing lullaby. Like you, I am concerned about the therapy bills when they realize that they were sung off to sleep with "husbands and wives, little children lost their lives..."

Posted by: Terry on March 30, 2004 7:04 PM

I always end up singing "Hush Little Baby" and my version sounds a lot like Michele's.

Hush little baby, don't you cry
Mama's gonna sing you a lullaby
If that lullaby is weak
Mama's gonna show you . . . umm . . . her widow's peak
If her hair looks kinda funny
Mama's gonna teach you to play gin rummy
If you beat me every time
Mama's gonna be glad 'time' is easy to rhyme

Posted by: Caryn on March 31, 2004 12:00 AM

I'm sure you could have Googled this yourself, but I thought I'd help out:

Lullaby, and good night,
With pink roses bedight,
With lilies o'erspread,
Is my baby's sweet head.
Lay you down now, and rest,
May your slumber be blessed!
Lay you down now, and rest,
May thy slumber be blessed!

Lullaby, and good night,
You're your mother's delight,
Shining angels beside
My darling abide.
Soft and warm is your bed,
Close your eyes and rest your head.
Soft and warm is your bed,
Close your eyes and rest your head.

Sleepyhead, close your eyes.
Mother's right here beside you.
I'll protect you from harm,
You will wake in my arms.
Guardian angels are near,
So sleep on, with no fear.
Guardian angels are near,
So sleep on, with no fear.

Lullaby, and sleep tight.
Hush! My darling is sleeping,
On his sheets white as cream,
With his head full of dreams.
When the sky's bright with dawn,
He will wake in the morning.
When noontide warms the world,
He will frolic in the sun.

Posted by: Mike K. on March 31, 2004 6:46 AM

I used to sing my littlest brother to sleep with Jane's Addiction's Summertime Rolls.

Now whenever he hears it he gets sleepy...

Posted by: Erik Johnson on March 31, 2004 6:59 AM

Throughout my childless adulthood I've tended to avoid all things baby. I have to admit that I have even drifted away from my friends once they've started expanding their families with infant humans (dog-expanded families are okay, though). It hasn't been a conscious drift. It's just kind of similar to when a friend gets married. They have new responsibilities and new important pieces of their lives. And it's not that I dislike kids, or conversations about them, but... um, well, maybe I do.

In any case, Mr. Baldwin, my point is that I'm enjoying your Squirrelly stories every bit as much as your pre-Squirrelly ones. Apparently not all baby stories have to be, um, baby-ey. Am I softening? Should I pull a Letterman and start lobbying my wife for a late-in-life child of our own? (KR, if you're reading this, don't worry. It's a rhetorical question.)

Posted by: ken on March 31, 2004 7:10 AM

My mom used to put me and my sister to sleep by singing this French drinking song about "the knights of the round table who taste to see if the wine is good"--in the second verse, the guy says "when I die I want to be buried with my head under a wine spigot, and my tombstone will read: 'here lies the king of the drunkards.'" It worked great.

I don't think those songs would make the worst mix tape ever. I'd love to have all them together, but without the Spin Doctors. Bleah.

Posted by: susan on March 31, 2004 7:45 AM

Hey, check this out, I know you'll get a kick out of this, seeing as how you love google and all...

Go to google.com, and type 'weapons of mass destruction' into the search engine. Click on the 'I'm feeling lucky button'

Okay, go do that now...

Posted by: Meagen on March 31, 2004 9:06 AM

In a moment of zen, perfect for this time of year, I sang "Take Me Out To The Ball Game"

Posted by: MojoMark on March 31, 2004 9:50 AM

Do you mean "Up All Night" by the Boomtown Rats, or "Stay Up Late" by Talking Heads?

Posted by: Joe Crawford on March 31, 2004 9:59 AM

Man, what's with all the Spin Doctors bashing? I like Two Princes! :/

When I was a kid in the 70s, I had this set of '45s (for youngsters, that was a small kind of analog record album) with a bunch of kids songs, like "On Top of Old Smokey" and "Puff the Magic Dragon" sung by some anonymous group of studio musicians. One of these songs was "Yellow Submarine". It was years and years before I discovered that it was a Beatles cover. I just thought it was a kids song.

Posted by: Dana on March 31, 2004 10:34 AM

Ok, not a lullabye (if you want one, Creed's song "Lullabye" is sweet)--but music/baby story:

My son never failed to nurse around 8 am and during that time our local rock station, for several weeks, never failed to play "Dragula" (Rob Zombie). He kept good time with the music. :)
Now at four, he sings along with Irish drinking songs...

Advice with kids and music: do NOT get sucked into buying four thousand goofy kiddie music cds. Get 'em listening to good music from the start! You will thank yourself later on when you are taking any sort of ride in the car.

Posted by: misty on March 31, 2004 10:41 AM

My father's not good with little kids, doesn't know what to do with 'em. So when trying to get me to sleep as a baby, he'd do the only thing he knew: played the bagpipes. It worked.

Posted by: cmb on March 31, 2004 2:04 PM

I have always loved the Bee Gees, though I was too young for them when they were in vogue. Nonetheless, when my youngest child was born in 1993, I used to lull her to sleep with "How can you mend a broken heart", "Morning of my Life", and "Lonely Days". Add that to the mix for good measure.

Posted by: Angela on March 31, 2004 2:59 PM

Yeah. There's also the 'word substitution method.' So I find myself singing while pumping my breast: "I'm pumping up, pumping up for your love..."

I only know the words to corny country western songs (or sometimes good ones--like Folsom Prison Blues) but these are bound to cause a need for therapy at a later date.

Posted by: Miel on March 31, 2004 3:32 PM

I've often sung The Beatles YELLOW SUBMARINE to soothe a crying niece or nephew. Doing so in public always guaranteed a bevy of happy grins and sarcastic smirks from passersby.

I agree with misty (play misty for me!), expose kids to good music early and ignore the drivel targetng them!!! My nieces and nephews all have very advanced musical tastes, and are mor fun because of it!

If I ever spawn, The Cradle Will Rock!!!

Posted by: mr. grooism on March 31, 2004 8:35 PM

the REM song "Losing My Religion" works every bit as well if you take out "religion" and substitute "erection". [...trying to keep up with you/And I don't know if I can do it/Oh, no, I said too much.] that might not make it more appropriate for children...but it does fit in with the joys of word substitution.

i don't know if this is common knowledge, but twinkle twinkle little star, baa baa black sheep, and the abc song are all the same tune. twinkle twinkle have you any wool H I J K what you are. it's like singing a round in your head, where you can't plug your ears to stay on target. helps you to avoid falling asleep in the middle of your own crooning, though.

Posted by: anne on March 31, 2004 9:24 PM

Beatles work very well for lullabyes! Especially Norwegian Wood and Blackbird, or really anything off Abby Road which is just one big put-you-to-sleep record.

My husband and his brother sang our daughter to sleep with Frank Zappa, though ... until they had to stop because, well, she learned what the words meant, didn't she?

Posted by: Carny Asada on March 31, 2004 9:25 PM

Guten Abend, gut'Nacht! Mit Rosen bedacht
Mit naglein bestecht schlumpf unter die Deck
Morgan fruh, wenn Gott will, wirst du wieder gewecht (2x)

Guten Abend, gut'Nacht! Von Englein bewacht
Die zeigen im Traum, dir Christkindlein's baum
Schlaf' nun selig und suss, schau' im Traum's Paradies (2x)

Posted by: jeremy on March 31, 2004 10:22 PM

hush little baby don't say a word
papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird
and if that mockingbird won't sing
papa's gonna buy you a diamong ring

and if that diamond ring turns brass
papa's gonna buy you a looking glass
and if that looking glass gets broke
papa's gonna buy you a billy goat

and if that billy goat won't pull
papa's gonna buy you a cart and bull
and if that cart and bull turns over
papa's gonna buy you a dog named rover

and if that dog named rover won't bark
papa's gonna buy you a horse and cart
and if that horse and cart falls down
you'll still be the cutest little baby in town

Posted by: jeremy on March 31, 2004 10:28 PM

I'm still partial to the song Phoebe's dad sang to her on "Friends":

Sleepy girl, sleepy girl
why won't you go to sleep?
Sleepy girl, sleepy girl
you're keeping me up!

Posted by: Ryan on April 1, 2004 8:53 AM

My daughter somehow got fixated on "Send in the Clowns" when but a babe. I am proud to say I could only hum the tune...

Posted by: Jen on April 1, 2004 11:59 AM

i have a daycare; and i sing all the kids to sleep singing bizzarre love triangle; or silent night. everyone always yell/asks me why in the world i'm singing christmas songs in june.

Posted by: sara on April 1, 2004 3:56 PM

Ugh. The worst I've been stuck with is...You Light Up My Life, by Debbie Boone. It was seared into my little child head by a sadistic piano teacher. Likewise Musicbox Dancer, which, luckily for my kid, doesn't have any lyrics.

The other option, which I've been studying up on via late-night sing-along, is South Park: The Movie lyrics (minus "Uncle F$*#er," of course, but including "Mmmmkay.")

Posted by: greg.org/daddytypes on April 2, 2004 9:07 PM

We've had a lot of success with the O BROTHER, WHERE ARE THOU? soundtrack. Except for that first track, with the chain gang driving railroad spikes. Those heavy *clinks* are a little jarring.

Posted by: Doug on April 3, 2004 8:19 AM

That is really strange.

Along with random Village People songs, I sang "Just a Gigalo" to my son almost every night.

There must be something about that song.

Posted by: melly on April 4, 2004 6:33 PM

As I discovered when trying to look up the words to Brahms' Lullaby -- there are a multitude of variations (all of which can be found at Very Authoritative Child Rearing Sites).

The one we use (which seems to map decently to the original German):

Lullaby and goodnight
With roses bedight,
With lilies bespread
Is Baby's wee head,
Lay thee down, now, and rest
May thy slumber be blest
Lay thee down, now, and rest
May thy slumber be blest

Just wait until the kid is old enough to sing it with you ...

Posted by: *** Dave on April 5, 2004 1:08 PM

Ahhhh, ONE TWO hours before daylight
(that's what I said now)
lullabies, been singing them since midnight
(that's what I said now)
One kid creating such a racket
(that's some noise now)
this kid really needs to sack it
(just go to bed now)...

Posted by: Chris from Spin Doctors on April 6, 2004 6:58 AM

we have made up many a song/lullaby that we couldn't remember the lyrics for. now our 'baby' is 2 years old so we've got a few standards that we can use.

one of my favorite 'what are the words?' incidents was whne my sister was trying to remember the words to 'hush little baby' and it came out like this;
hush little baby, dont' say a word
mamm's going to buy you a mocking bird
if that mocking bird won't sing
mama's going to buy you a diamond ring
and if that diamond ring turns brass
mama's going to open up a can of whoop ass
...and it all went down hill from there.

the best time to sing? diaper changes. try a few bars of 'i like diaper butts and i cannot lie...'

Posted by: elaine on April 6, 2004 12:10 PM

In my linguistics class, we saw this video about a study of "mommy talk". Some linguists recorded and taped a bunch of moms from all over the world talking to their babies with different tasks--soothing, putting them to bed, playing, etc. Turns out that no matter what language they're speaking, they modulate the pitch of their voices in a similar way across the board, generally according to task. So it really doesn't matter what you're saying, it's how it sounds that's important. (I think this is true with animals to some extent, too...)

Posted by: Shana on April 8, 2004 10:52 PM