|Written by||James Weldon Johnson|
Dem Bones — also called Dry Bones and Dem Dry Bones — is a well-known spiritual song. The melody was composed by African-American author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938). Both a long and a shortened version of the song are widely known. The lyrics are inspired by Ezekiel 37:1-14, where the Prophet visits the "Valley of Dry Bones" and prophesies that they will one day revive at God's command.
The chorus and verses are noted for many variations among performers, but fall into the following style. The second verse reverses the first in a pattern similar to:
- The neck bone (dis)connected from the head bone
- … etc…
Over the years, the song has been played and recorded by many artists, including:
- Shirley Caesar, gospel version notable for not adhering to the distinctive traditional melody.
- Clara Ward Singers, lead vocals by Malvilyn Statham
- Rosemary Clooney
- The Delta Rhythm Boys
- Deep River Boys Featuring Harry Douglas with Pete Brown's Orchestra (Recorded in Oslo on August 23, 1956 and released on the 78 rpm record HMV AL 6019).
- The Four Lads, used as an integral part of "Fall Out," the final episode of British television series The Prisoner (1967-68). It is performed on screen in one scene and heard on a car radio in another.
- The Kingsmen
- The Lennon Sisters
- Mills Brothers
- Signature Sound Quartet, 2003 album Glory to His Name
- Fats Waller
- Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians (Recorded on 30 April 1947 and released on the 78 rpm record Decca 23948), used in the 1986 BBC television serial, The Singing Detective.
Comedic versions and parodies
- Alvin and the Chipmunks (in the 1999 direct-to-video film Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein)
- The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
- Die Campbells, comedy version, with parody lyrics sung in Afrikaans.
- Fred Gwynne (In-character as Herman Munster in one episode of the television series The Munsters.)
- Jay-Jay Johanson, Dry Bones EP from 2013 and also on the album Cockroach.
- Peter O'Toole sings the song in the 1972 film, The Ruling Class as a call-to-arms to the upper-classes to "bring back fear" by means of the breaking wheel.
- The Wiggles
References in popular culture
- The Kinks used the chorus on the song "Skin and Bone" on their 1971 album Muswell Hillbillies.
- Bob Barner based a children's book of anatomy on this song.
- In the musical Li'l Abner, the political satire song "The Country is in The Very Best of Hands" contains a long passage which references this song, rewritten to be about politicians sitting around on their "thigh bones."
- The song "Dry Bones" was also featured as the second track on the Rain Man movie soundtrack.
- Schoolhouse Rock! has a version of "Dem Dry Bones", in order to teach children about the skeletal system.
- In a second season episode of The Munsters, entitled "Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?", Herman Munster was playing with Eddie Munster's friend's portable tape recorder by singing and playing back his own version of the song, which includes a mention of Herman's creator.
- The main chorus and a variation of the verses are featured in the song "Skeletons in the closet", by Kris McKay, used as the theme for the 7th Guest video game.
- The song appears twice in Evil Ed, first when Ed gets rid of the body of his boss and over the closing credits.
- In a fifth season episode of Married...with Children, Al Bundy is trying to recall the name of a song from his youth and to that end has the idea of naming "every song that was ever made until we get it." Al's first offer is "Mandy", Jefferson's is "Dem Bones".
- The Bone Song is sung by Guybrush's parents in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. The song is a variation of the popular spiritual song "Dem Bones". It is different every time the game is played.
- In Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 904, as a scene featuring the bones of a werewolf in a science lab plays, one of the characters dryly comments "We've come to the conclusion: dem bones, dem dry bones, sir".
- In the Wacky Races short "Mish Mash Missouri Dash", Muttley sings a similar song about bolts while repairing the Mean Machine.
- In the song "They Want EFX" by Das EFX.
- In the video game League of Legends by Riot Games (The Champion Sion).
- In Animaniacs, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot sing a variation of the song called "Bones in the Body".
- In Monsters University, the children, including the young Mike Wazowski, sing a parody of the song in a school bus.
- The song is played at the end of the 2013 Pretty Little Liars episode entitled, "Cat's Cradle."
- The song is sung in the final episode of the British television series The Prisoner.
- In Kidsongs' "What I Want to Be", the doctors talk about the bones of the skeleton.
- In King's Quest VI, Alexander plays a xylophone made entirely of bones to play Dem Bones. This causes the skeleton guards, and later a chorus line of skeletons, to dance. The purpose of this is to get one of the guards to dance so that a skeleton key can fall from the key ring attached to one of the guards' belt.
- "Dry Bones, Valley of," in Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, David L. Jeffery, editor. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, November 1, 1992, pages 216-217, ISBN 0-8028-3634-8
- Entry for Decca 23948 on http://www.discogs.com (including image of disc label). Accessed 13 March 2012.
- "Bob Barner" Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2005. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2005. retrieved 5 December 2005
- "Them Not-So-Dry-Bones".
- Vinciguerra, Thomas (October 19, 2008). "A Spy Trapped in a Nightmare of Psychedelia". The New York Times.