"Alouette" is a popular French Canadian[dead link] children's song originating in France about plucking the feathers from a lark, in retribution for being woken up by its song. Although it is in French, it is well-known among speakers of other languages; in this respect it is similar to "Frère Jacques". Many American doughboys and other Allied soldiers learned the song while serving in France during World War I and brought it home with them, passing it on to their children and grandchildren.
French colonists ate horned larks, which they considered a game bird. The song was first published in A Pocket Song Book for the Use of Students and Graduates of McGill College (Montreal, 1879). However, Canadian folklorist Marius Barbeau was of the opinion that the song's ultimate origin was France.
Starting in the 1500s the French Fur trade was active for over 300 years in North America. Canoes were used to transport trade goods in exchange for furs through established expansive trade routes consisting of interconnecting lakes, and rivers, and portages in the hinterland of present day Canada and United States. The songs of the French fur trade were adapted to accompany the motion of paddles dipped in unison. Singing helped to pass the time and made the work seem lighter. In fact, it is likely that the Montreal Agents and Wintering Partners sought out and preferred to hire voyageurs who liked to sing and were good at it. They believed that singing helped the voyageurs to paddle faster and longer. "Alouette" informs the lark that the singer will pluck its head, nose, eyes, wings and tail. En roulant ma boule sings of ponds, bonnie ducks and a prince on hunting bound. Many of the songs favored by the voyageurs have been passed down to our own era.
Today, the song is used to teach French and English speaking children in Canada and other English speakers learning French around the world the names of body parts. Singers will point to or touch the part of their body that corresponds to the word being sung in the song.
Ethnomusicologist Conrad LaForte points out that, in song, the lark (l'alouette) is the bird of the morning, and that it is the first bird to sing in the morning, hence waking up lovers and causing them to part, and waking up others as well, something which is not always appreciated. In French songs, the lark also has the reputation of being a gossip, a know-it-all, and cannot be relied on to carry a message, as she will tell everyone; she also carries bad news. However the nightingale, being the first bird of spring, in Europe, sings happily all the time, during the lovely seasons of spring and summer. The nightingale (i.e., rossignol) also carries messages faithfully and dispenses advice, in Latin, no less, a language which lovers understand. LaForte explains that this alludes to the Middle Ages, when only a select few still understood Latin. And so, as the lark makes lovers part or wakes up the sleepyhead, this would explain why the singer of "Alouette" wants to pluck it in so many ways, if he can catch it, as Laporte notes, this bird is flighty as well. The lark was eaten in Europe, and when eaten is known as a "mauviette", which is also a term for a sickly person.
"Alouette" usually involves audience participation, with the audience echoing every line of each verse after the verse's second line. It is a cumulative song, with each verse built on top of the previous verses, much like the English carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
Below are the original French lyrics along with a literal English translation. As the translation does not match up well with the meter of the song, a slightly less literal, yet more singable, version is included.
|French||English translation||Singable version|
An English song known as "If You Love Me" uses the same tune as Alouette.
The tune of the chorus has been adapted to make the tune of the children's song "Down by the Station"
The song was used by French-Canadian nuns in the US to help teach French to their students. They substituted the French word for human body parts for the bird parts.
In popular culture
It is also sung in French in the Alvin and the Chipmunks TV series – but the English lyrics are changed to "if you love me tell that you love me, if you don't please tell me that you do".
Antoine sings a bit of it early in the Sonic the Hedgehog SatAM episode, "Odd Couple".
In a television commercial for Eggo waffles, a talking waffle who thinks that he is French, walks around singing "Allouette, gentille Alloutte. Alloutte je te plumé-what."
It is also frequently used in television and videos. In a The Kids in the Hall sketch, Kevin McDonald and Dave Foley sing the song whilst paddling a canoe through an office trapping employees for their clothes.
In the Barney video, "What a World We Share", Barney teaches the kids this song, while in France. It is also sung in the video "Barney's Talent Show" as a stage act.
In Animaniacs, the lyrics for both "Alouette" and "Frère Jacques" are used as the dialogue for a French movie.
On the 1959 Four Lads album, Swing Along, there is a track entitled "Alouette Means 'Skylark'." It begins with the Lads singing the song in French, followed by a stanza in which some of the members sing it again, while others sing, to the same melody, a love song about a girl nicknamed "Skylark."
In the I Love Lucy episode "Paris at Last", Lucy sings the song, but she pronounces "Alouette" the wrong way.
In the Hogan's Heroes episode "Praise the Fuhrer and Pass the Ammunition", Corporal Louis LeBeau (Robert Clary) sings "Alouette" in order to prevent SS Colonel Deutsch (Frank Marth) from leaving a talent show set up by Colonel Robert E. Hogan (Bob Crane) on Colonel Wilhelm Klink's (Werner Klemperer) 50th Birthday.
Season 04, Episode 17 of Ghost Whisperer featured the song "Alouette". In this episode a female, earth-bound, spirit named "Greer Clarkson" was admitted to a psychiatric sanatorium. After her death, the sanatorium was shut down and the building was later used for an elementary school. While she was alive, she sang the song "Alouette" to calm and soothe her baby. When her baby died, she was admitted into psychiatric care. During stressful procedures and disturbing situations, she sang "Alouette" to try and calm herself. After she died, in the newly established school, she taught the song to a kindergarten class, to children who were still young enough to see her. In reality, her baby was actually alive all along. While she was in the sanatorium, a misguided ghost convinced her otherwise. This other ghost was a former doctor at the psychiatric hospital. In the end, she remembered the truth and was finally able to go into the "light" and be at peace. 
The score of the 1968 film Stay Away, Joe includes three variations of "Alouette": a march variation, a harem-sounding variation, and a variation in which Elvis Presley changes the lyrics to "Mamie, Mamie, lovely little Mamie."
Félix Leclerc refers to "Alouette" in his own song L'alouette en colère, part of his 1973 album of the same title.
The song is also used for parody and cultural reference. Comedian and performer Andy Kaufman used to sing his own derivative of "Alouette" entitled "Abodabee", which he claimed was a song "performed every harvest time in the islands of the Caspian Sea."
A modified version of the song, referring to "lightning (fast) French alopecia, from the song of the same name", appears in "Call of the West", an episode of The Goon Show, sung by Hercules Grytpype-Thynne and Count Jim Moriarty.
In François Bourgeon's The Twilight Companions, a group of Breton villagers sing the song as they merrily prepare to torture and kill a suspected witch. The series is set during the Hundred Years' War, prior to the French colonization of America, and Bourgeon hence argues its European origin.
A revision of the song, written by French American Eric Beteille, replaces the word alouette with omelette: Omelette, gentille omelette, omelette, je te mangerais ... Je te mangerais les oeufs ... Je te mangerais fromage ... Je te mangerais jambon ... etc. It was parodied by Allan Sherman as "Al and Yetta", which is about an older couple watching television according to a strict routine.
The chorus from the song "Cruelty to Animals" by Pernice Brothers is "Alouette, gentille alouette. Head to toe so thoroughly until we're both dismembered."
The children's record, Casper the Friendly Ghost: A Trip Through Ghostland, uses "Alouette" as the melodic basis for the song "Ghost Lesson".
"Alouette" appears in Adventure Time's Christmas Special where Jake the dog sings it.
Fans of Everton FC sing a version of the song, replacing the words with the names of those who won the double with the club in 1985, such as Neville Southall and Peter Reid. The chorus from the song is "Everton, oh we love Everton, oh Everton oh we love Everton".
The song has also been paid homage to in the 2010 song "Bang Bang Bang" by Mark Ronson (feat. MNDR and QTip), with the chorus hook being "Je te plumerai la tête" and "Alouette"; The video for the song also presents a young girl singing the opening lines to 'Alouette'. The song and the call and response have been adapted to a rugby/drinking version. It is sung to a single female (men's club) or male (women's club) who functions as the "rugby queen" or "rugby king." The individual is subjected to verses containing derisive comments about his/her appearance. At the end of the song, the queen or king gets to dump beer all over the song leader.
A version of the Delta Rhythm Boys' 1958 recording of the song is used in Target's 2012 "Color Changes Everything" commercial.
"Alouette" was used in a group dance on Lifetime's Dance Moms
In the 1960s satire comedy to parody the spy era, Get Smart, The Chief sings a variation of the song in the season three episode "The Hotline" with the verse replaced with the "CONTROL Singing code" to tell Max and 99 that a KAOS agent was present and that they needed to get away as quickly as possible. The two KAOS agents then come up on either side of the Chief and join in, holding guns on him. Max and 99 are next to join the group, holding guns on the KAOS agents. Finally, two more enemy agents appear and they all finish the song with the CONTROL agents in the custody of the enemy.
In 2012, the Northern Guard Supporters, a supporters group for the Detroit City FC soccer team, developed an obscene parody of the song that lists physical flaws of opposing players' wives. They sing "Detroit Alouette" in the 60th minute of home matches.
American children sometimes sing a parody of "Alouette" called "Suffocation"; the lyrics vary somewhat but one version is as follows: "Suffocation/Suffo-suffo-cation/Suffocation, a game we like to play/First you take a rubber hose/Then you cram it up your nose/Turn it on/Then you're gone/Yay!"
- Canadian Encyclopedia: Alouette!
- Conrad LaForte, Survivances médiévales dans la chanson folklorique, les presses de l'Université Laval, 1981
- Larousse gastronomique, Hamlyn, London, New York, Sydney, Toronto, 1974
- Conrad LaForte, Survivances Médiévales dans la chanson folklorique, les presses de l'Université Laval, 1981, pp.227-229.
- "Lark", Larousse Gastronomique, the encyclopedia of food, wine and cooking, Hamlyn: London, New York. Sydney, Toronto, 14th edition, 1974.
- CBS Website: Ghost Whisperer- Delusion of Grandview
- Youtube- Ghost Whisperer: Delusion of Grandview
- Youtube - Robot singing Everton Oh We Love Everton
- YouTube - Northern Guard Supporters - Detroit Alouette vs. FC Sharta "Michigan" (FULL)