"Mairzy Doats" is a novelty song composed in 1943 by Milton Drake, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston. It was first played on radio station WOR, New York, by Al Trace and his Silly Symphonists. The song made the pop charts several times, with a version by the Merry Macs reaching No. 1 in March 1944.
At first glance the song's refrain, as written on the sheet music, seems meaningless:
- Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
- A kiddley divey too, wooden shoe?
However, the lyrics of the bridge provide a clue:
- If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,
- Sing "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy."
With this aid, the refrain is quite easily comprehended, and the ear will detect the hidden message of the final line: "A kid'll eat ivy too, wouldn't you?"
One of the writers, Milton Drake, said the song was based on an English nursery rhyme. According to this story, Drake's four-year-old daughter came home singing, "Cowzy tweet and sowzy tweet and liddle sharksy doisters." (Cows eat wheat and sows eat wheat and little sharks eat oysters.)
Drake joined Hoffman and Livingston to come up with a tune for the new version of the rhyme, but for a year no one was willing to publish a "silly song." Finally, Hoffman pitched it to his friend Al Trace, bandleader of the Silly Symphonists. Trace liked the song and recorded it. It became a huge hit, most notably with the Merry Macs' 1944 recording.
"Mairzy Doats" received a minor revival in 1967, when it was recorded by The Innocence, who took it to Number 75 on the Pop Top 100 on Kama Sutra Records.
Spike Jones was among several other artists who covered it, characteristically substituting sound effects for the "food" words.
In other media
The song was used in movies by Stan Laurel (The Big Noise, 1944) and Woody Allen (Radio Days, 1987). It was featured several times on the BBC radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue – most notably sung by Graeme Garden. Shari Lewis sang it on television's Lamb Chop's Play-Along, and it was also heard in the "The Beer Hunter" episode of the British television series Minder. The title alone was once borrowed for an episode of BBC's Goodnight Sweetheart.
Director David Lynch gave the song a sinister twist in the episode opening the second season of Twin Peaks, when Ray Wise betrayed the madness of his character, Leland Palmer turning the song into a psychotic showtune. The song was used to a similar effect in the 2000 horror film The Cell, when serial killer Carl Stargher, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, sang the song to himself while in the bathtub. A version of the song can be heard briefly in the James Garner 1965 World War II suspense film 36 Hours. Alan Alda, as Hawkeye Pierce on an episode of the TV series M*A*S*H, recited a couple of lines from the song while teaching Korean locals how to speak English. In the M*A*S*H episode "A Smattering of Intelligence," a part of the song was used as code by a visiting C.I.A. operative (Colonel Flagg).
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