One Song to the Tune of Another
"One Song to the Tune of Another" was the first game played on the BBC Radio 4 comedy panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and is still almost always played every other episode. It consists of panellists singing the lyrics of one song to the tune of another song, accompanied on the piano.
The four original panellists were adept at this game, and each took an individual turn. Since the death of Willie Rushton guest panellists have appeared, and the two team members occasionally sing together, presumably to compensate for the unsteadiness of a guest's voice. Guest panellists sometimes exhibit little or no musical talent, most notably Jeremy Hardy, whose dreadful attempts at singing are greatly anticipated by audiences, and this itself often makes for effective comedy.
The panellists also sometimes impersonate a singer associated with one of the songs (usually the tune). In several episodes, Graeme Garden was given a song with a tune by Bob Dylan and not only impersonated him, but broke off into a harmonica solo. Notably "How much is that Doggy in the Window", to "Blowin' in the Wind".
The game has been played in several Christmas specials (requiring "One Carol to the Tune of Something Else" — in particular, singing "Silent Night" to the tune of "Tequila"), and a variant was played in the 2007 special Humph In Wonderland, in which panellists sang a Lewis Carroll poem to the tune of a song. Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden sang "Jabberwocky" to the tune of "Jerusalem", and Andy Hamilton and Rob Brydon sang "You Are Old, Father William" to the tune of "I Know Him So Well".
Occasionally, some of the panellists imitate backing singers for the panellist actually singing when there is a suitable gap in the song, such as one of the 2009 episodes hosted by Jack Dee, where Barry Cryer and Graeme Garden backed Tim Brooke-Taylor.
Some of the humour derives from the incongruity caused by differences between the songs involved. They may differ wildly in genre, structure, tempo, and time signature, but unlikely combinations have sometimes worked surprisingly well. Having the same metre helps. Examples include:
- Willie Rushton singing "My Old Man's a Dustman" to the tune of "The Girl from Ipanema", and "Maresy-doats and dozy-doats" to the tune of "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover"
- Barry Cryer singing "Love Me Tender" to the theme tune from The Archers
- Barry Cryer singing "My Old Man's a Dustman" to the tune of "Heartbreak Hotel"
- Barry Cryer singing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" to the tune of "One" from A Chorus Line
- Graeme Garden singing "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" to the tune of "'O Sole Mio"
- Tim Brooke-Taylor singing "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" to the "Dance of the Hours" from La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli
- Tim Brooke-Taylor singing "What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?" to the tune of "Tea For Two"
- Tim Brooke-Taylor singing "On Mother Kelly's Doorstep" to the tune of "Hernando's Hideaway"
- Tim Brooke-Taylor singing "Rehab" to the tune of "When I'm Sixty-Four"
- Graeme Garden singing "Ain't Gonna Bump No More With No Big Fat Woman" to the tune of Jerusalem
- Willie Rushton singing "The Laughing Policeman" to the tune of "As Time Goes By"
- Barry Cryer singing "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" to the tune of the Can-Can
- Graeme Garden singing "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" to the tune of "I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside"
- Graeme Garden singing "Kung Fu Fighting" to the tune of "Greensleeves"
- Graeme Garden singing "Blame It on the Boogie" to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic
- Rob Brydon singing "Anarchy in the UK" to the tune of "Just When I Needed You Most" by Randy VanWarmer and singing "Killing Me Softly" to the tune of "The Bare Necessities"
- Jack Dee singing "Purple Haze" to the tune of Brahms' Lullaby
- Stephen Fry singing "Knees Up Mother Brown" to the tune of "The Skye Boat Song"
- Andy Hamilton singing "So Macho" to the tune of "La Marseillaise", also performed by Jeremy Hardy
- Jeremy Hardy singing "Teenage Kicks" to the tune of "Jerusalem"
- Tony Hawks singing "Girlfriend in a Coma" to the tune of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips"
- Tony Hawks singing "The Major-General's Song" to the tune of "Mad World"
- Phill Jupitus singing "Feelings" to the tune of the Colonel Bogey March
- Paul Merton singing "Stand By Me" to the tune of the William Tell Overture
- David Mitchell singing "A Whiter Shade of Pale" to the tune of the theme from The Muppet Show and vice versa sung by Tony Hawks
- Ross Noble singing "Sometimes When We Touch" to the tune of "Scotland the Brave"
- Linda Smith singing "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads to the tune of "Save Your Love" by Renée and Renato
- Sandi Toksvig singing "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"
- Victoria Wood singing "Roxanne" by The Police to the tune of the theme from Neighbours
- Singing The Wurzels' "I am a Cider Drinker" to the tune of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.
- Jeremy Hardy Singing Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" to the tune of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory" from Cats.
- Graeme Garden Singing Paul Anka's "My Way" to the tune of The Liberty Bell March, better known in the UK as the theme song from Monty Python.
- Harry Hill Singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm to the tune of The Eagles' Hotel California.
- Singing Because I Got High by Afroman to the tune of Frosty the Snowman.
- Singing the words of Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Hitler? (the theme from Dad's Army) to the tune of The Carpenters' Yesterday Once More.
A contribution to the effectiveness of the rendition is made by the pianist (usually Colin Sell) who, given the uneven rhythm of the vocalists, often has a much more difficult task than is usually required from an accompanist.
Additional humour is derived from the manner in which the host introduces and explains the game. The concept is actually simple, and well described by the game's title, but the chairman claims it to be complex and proceeds to give a long-winded and complicated "simple" explanation, which differs each time the game is played. For example:
- "The game works like this. The teams have in front of them the words but not the music of a song which is different from another song of which they have neither the music nor the words. The tune of this second song, which is quite unlike the first song both in words and music, will be played but without the words to which the teams will substitute the other words they have from the first song which obviously will have no tune because that's made way for the tune from the other song without its words.
- "This might be hard to explain, so perhaps this alternative definition will help. Despite the title, each contestant will be allocated two songs, or words sung to music, but from one he will concentrate only on the lyrics while trying to disregard the tune, and from the other he will focus on the music while ignoring the words.
- "I know what you are thinking, which one is which? Well the first, or one song, is the set of words sung to music which no longer has the tune, and the second, or another as we know it, is the tune to some words without the lyrics but retaining the music. All you have to do is put them together, in other words — literally — one song to the tune of another."
In later episodes of ISIHAC, these monologues generally took the form of contorted analogies, ending with an extremely contrived and obvious joke at Colin Sell's expense. For example, from June 2006:
- "A song is rather like a microscope. The vertical tube represents the tune, which carries the lenses, or words. These are assembled with precision to enable us to see the object, or hear the song. However, a song can be broken down into its component parts by separating the words from the tune, just as a microscope can have its lenses prised from the tube with pliers.
- Now, I know what you're thinking, teams: wouldn't that be a case of wanton vandalism inflicted on a delicate instrument? (pause) At the piano, Colin Sell!"
Internet-based fans have taken the silliness a step further, in true ISIHAC style, by playing the game in text-based media, such as USENET and email. Liberal use of punctuation can give readers a hint of how the metre is being applied to the lyrics.
Similar examples from elsewhere
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Members of the Barmy Army, devoted fans of the English cricket team, are known to mock Australian cricketers and fans by singing the Australian national anthem to the tune of the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb", and vice-versa.
The Australian television comedy programme The Money or the Gun featured a different artist performing "Stairway to Heaven" every week. The Beatnix performed it to the tune of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "Twist and Shout". The B-52s tribute band The Rock Lobsters performed Stairway to the tune of "Rock Lobster". Elvis impersonator Neil Pepper performed it to the tune of "Viva Las Vegas".
The Australian television comedy programme Spicks and Specks features a segment "Substitute", where a panelist sings a well-known tune substituting words from an unrelated text (usually a technical text like "Datsun 180B Service Manual" or "2004 Australian Government Tax Pack"), and the remaining team-mates attempt to guess the name of the song. The host, Adam Hills sang the Australian National Anthem to the tune of the Rock and Roll classic, Working Class Man, in one case accompanied by the latter's singer, Jimmy Barnes. In a 2008 stand up comedy tour, Hills performed the Dutch national anthem Het Wilhelmus to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody.
The Scared Weird Little Guys, an Australian comedy duo, perform a similar vein of songs weekly on The Cage, the breakfast show on Triple M in Melbourne and Sydney. In their segment, "Stump the Scardies", listeners email in suggestions of songs to sing in another tune and the duo get about five minutes preparation time — usually just enough to find the guitar chords and lyrics online. This segment occurs weekly at 0845 AEST on Tuesdays.
In 1989 "Weird Al" Yankovic recorded "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies*", the lyrics of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" (theme from The Beverly Hillbillies) to the music of the Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing".
A serious example of the principle behind this game was Cliff Richard's "Millennium Prayer", in which he sang the Lord's Prayer to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne" (the Clue team retaliated in the 1999 Christmas special by performing "Auld Lang Syne" to the tune of "Bachelor Boy" and vice versa). Also in recent popular culture bootlegging and bastard pop have taken is a step further, employing the practice of laying down vocals from one track over the music from another.
- Semi-official explanation on the ISIHAC fan site
- Scared Weird Little Guys Official site, with downloadable examples[dead link]
- Graph Visualization of all Songs Sung To The Tune Of Another on ISIHAC
- Virtue, Graeme (04-12-2009). "Arts: Culture: Hardy har har". Sunday Herald. Check date values in:
- ISIHAC series 22 episode 1, broadcast 3 November 1993
- ISIHAC series 20 episode 4, broadcast 13 June 1992
- ISIHAC series 21 episode 1, broadcast 14 November 1992
- ISIHAC series 31 episode 3, broadcast 11 May 1998
- ISIHAC series 23 episode 3, broadcast 11 June 1994
- ISIHAC series 24 episode 5, broadcast 3 December 1994
- ISIHAC series 5 episode 6, broadcast 10 April 1977
- ISIHAC series 25 episode 3, broadcast 10 June 1995
- ISIHAC series 53 episode 1, broadcast 21 June 2010
- ISIHAC series 34 episode 3, broadcast 22 November 1999
- ISIHAC series 23 episode 1, broadcast 28 May 1994
- ISIHAC series 30 episode 5, broadcast 6 December 1997
- ISIHAC series 47 episode 3, broadcast 5 June 2006
- ISIHAC series 32 episode 3, broadcast 14 December 1998
- ISIHAC series 31 episode 5, broadcast Mon 25 May 1998
- ISIHAC series 49 episode 3, broadcast 18 June 2007
- ISIHAC series 50 episode 5, broadcast 10 December 2007
- ISIHAC series 13 episode 9, broadcast 20 September 1986
- ISIHAC series 44 episode 3, broadcast 20 December 2004
- ISIHAC series 51 episode 3, broadcast 29 June 2009
- ISIHAC series 46 episode 1, broadcast 14 November 2005
- ISIHAC series 45 episode 3, broadcast 13 June 2005
- ISIHAC series 58 episode 1, broadcast 12 November 2012
- ISIHAC series 38 episode 3, broadcast 26 November 2001
- ISIHAC series 24 episode 1, broadcast 5 November 1994
- ISIHAC series 52 episode 3, broadcast 30 November 2009
- ISIHAC series 43 episode 1, broadcast 31 May 2004
- ISIHAC series 45 Edinburgh special, broadcast 1 September 2005
- ISIHAC series 44 episode 1, broadcast 6 December 2004
- ISIHAC series 46 episode 5, broadcast 19 December 2005
- ISIHAC series 58 episode 5, broadcast 10 December 2012
- "The I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue Info Site - One Song to the Tune of Another Intros".