Puff, the Magic Dragon
|"Puff, the Magic Dragon"|
|Single by Peter, Paul and Mary|
|from the album Peter, Paul & Mommy, Too|
|Label||Warner Music Group|
|Peter, Paul and Mary singles chronology|
The lyrics for "Puff, the Magic Dragon" are based on a 1959 poem by Leonard Lipton, then a 19-year-old Cornell University student. Lipton was inspired by an Ogden Nash poem titled "Custard the Dragon", about a "realio, trulio little pet dragon".
The lyrics tell a story of the ageless dragon Puff and his playmate, Jackie Paper, a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the imaginary adventures of childhood and leaves Puff to be with himself. (The line "A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys" is generally thought to imply only that "little Jackie Paper" grew up.) The story of the song takes place "by the sea" in the fictional land of "Honalee".
Lipton was friends with Peter Yarrow's housemate when they were all students at Cornell. He used Yarrow's typewriter to get the poem out of his head. He then forgot about it until years later, when a friend called and told him Yarrow was looking for him, to give him credit for the lyrics. On making contact Yarrow gave Lipton half the songwriting credit, and he still gets royalties from the song.
In an effort to be gender-neutral, Yarrow now sings the line "A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys" as "A dragon lives forever, but not so girls and boys." The original poem also had a verse that did not make it into the song. In it, Puff found another child and played with him after returning. Neither Yarrow nor Lipton remembers the verse in any detail, and the paper that was left in Yarrow's typewriter in 1958 has since been lost.
In 1961, Peter Yarrow joined Paul Stookey and Mary Travers to form Peter, Paul and Mary. The group incorporated the song into their live performances before recording it in 1962; their 1962 recording of "Puff the Magic Dragon" reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and spent two weeks atop the Billboard easy listening chart in early 1963. It also reached number ten on Billboard's R&B chart.
Speculation about drug references
After the song's initial success, speculation arose — as early as a 1964 article in Newsweek — that the song contained veiled references to smoking marijuana. The word "paper" in the name of Puff's human friend (Jackie Paper) was said to be a reference to rolling papers, and the word "dragon" was interpreted as "draggin'," i.e. inhaling smoke; similarly, the name "Puff" was alleged to be a reference to taking a "puff" on a joint, and the lyric “lived by the sea” was interpreted as “living by the ‘C’” (as in cocaine). The supposition was claimed to be common knowledge in a letter by a member of the public to The New York Times in 1984.
The authors of the song have repeatedly rejected this interpretation and have strongly and consistently denied that they intended any references to drug use. Both Leonard Lipton and lead singer Peter Yarrow have stated "Puff the Magic Dragon is not about drugs." Yarrow has frequently explained that the song is about the hardships of growing older and has no relationship to drug-taking. He has also said of the song that it "never had any meaning other than the obvious one" and is about the "loss of innocence in children", and dismissed the suggestion of association with drugs as "sloppy research".
In 1973, Yarrow's bandmate Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary also upheld the song's innocence. He recorded a version of the song at the Sydney Opera House in March 1973, in which he set up a fictitious trial scene. The Prosecutor accused the song of being about marijuana, but Puff and Jackie protested. The judge finally left the case to the jury (the Opera House audience) and said if they will sing along with the song, it would be acquitted. The audience joined in with Stookey, and at the end of their sing-along, the judge declared: "case dismissed."
- Peter, Paul and Mary (1963) - Entered the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts on March 30, 1963 and peaked at No. 2. Topped Billboard's Adult Contemporary charts.
- Nina & Frederik (1963)
- Glen Campbell - instrumental version for his album The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell (1964)
- Trini Lopez - recorded for The Folk Album (1965)
- Connie Francis - included in her album Connie Francis and The Kids Next Door (1966)
- Bing Crosby - included in his album Thoroughly Modern Bing (1968)
- The Mike Sammes Singers (1970)
- Slim Whitman - recorded for his album Ghost Riders in the Sky (1978)
- Genevieve Jereb - recorded for her album Cool Bananas (2004)
A 1978 animated television special, Puff the Magic Dragon, adapted the song. It was followed by two sequels, Puff the Magic Dragon in the Land of the Living Lies and Puff and the Incredible Mr. Nobody. In all three films Burgess Meredith voiced Puff. In December 2016, it was announced that Fox Animation will produce a live-action/animation film based on the song with Mike Mitchell as director.
A 2007 book adaptation of the song's lyrics by Yarrow, Lipton, and illustrator Eric Puybaret gives the story a happier ending with a young girl (presumed by reviewers to be Jackie Paper's daughter) seeking out Puff to become her new companion. The lyrics remain unchanged from the Peter Paul and Mary version; the young girl is only seen in the pictures by illustrator Puybaret. On the last page of the book, she is introduced to Puff by an older Jackie Paper.
In the mid 1970s an American Jewish band named Ruach created a parody version of the song entitled "Puff the Kosher Dragon". In the course of the song, Kosher Puff eats kosher food, has a Bar Mitzvah, fights anti-semites and finally marries and brings up his children as loyal members of the faith. The Ruach song has been noted as one of the first examples of a modern Jewish band using a popular secular tune.
Both tune and elements of the lyrics were adapted in the controversial parody "Barack the Magic Negro", written and recorded by Paul Shanklin for Rush Limbaugh's radio program, after the term was first applied to then presidential candidate Obama by movie and culture critic, David Ehrenstein, in a Los Angeles Times op ed column of March 19, 2007. Yarrow condemned the act as "shocking and saddening in the extreme," stating that "taking a children's song and twisting it in such vulgar, mean-spirited way, is a slur to our entire country and our common agreement to move beyond racism… Puff, himself, if asked, would certainly agree."
Vietnam War-era gunship
During the Vietnam War the AC-47 Spooky gunship was nicknamed the "Dragon" or "Dragon ship" by the Americans because of its armament and firepower – the nickname soon caught on, and one website without primary citations indicates that the American troops began to call the AC-47 "Puff the Magic Dragon". Robert Mason's Chickenhawk states, in reference to the Peter, Paul and Mary song playing on a turntable: “Puff the Magic Dragon” was making me uncomfortable. It was the saccharine song that had inspired the naming of the murderous Gatling-gun-armed C-47s. I couldn’t listen.
In an episode of King of the Hill titled "The Bluegrass is Always Greener", Hank scolds Bill for being a fan of the song; as a bait-and-switch joke, the conservative and uptight Hank isn't aware of the alleged drug references, instead chiding Bill that grown men ought to appreciate other kinds of music.
In Marvel Studios' Iron Man 2, the character Justin Hammer, who owns Hammer Industries, introduces a machine gun nicknamed Puff the Magic Dragon to the U.S. military, thereby combining allusions to both PP&M's "If I Had a Hammer" and "Puff".
In the 1999 film Meet The Parents, Robert De Niro's character, Jack Byrnes, plays the song in the car when driving with his daughter's boyfriend. In an attempt to make humorous chat Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) makes the point that this song is clearly about smoking pot. Jack feigns ignorance and uses this to later on implicate Greg as a dope fiend, in an attempt to get his daughter to break up with Greg. In a post credit sting, we later see Greg Focker referring to this conversation and calling doubt on Jack's ignorance of the inferred drug reference.
In the movie While You Were Sleeping, Jack, brother of Peter (then in a coma), tries to prove - by a series of personal questions about his brother - that Lucy (who has been accidentally identified as Peter's fiancee) does not really even know Peter. During the interrogation it is revealed that Peter's favorite song is "Puff, the Magic Dragon."
A Catalan translation ("Paf, el drac màgic") was popularized by the Grup de Folk supergroup on the 1967 EP "Escolta-ho en el Vent", becoming from then onwards one of the most popular children's songs in Catalan. It has also been played by, among many others, Joan Manuel Serrat.
- Lipton, Lenny. "Lenny Lipton". Lennylipton. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
- "Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary". SongFacts. Retrieved May 31, 2017.
- Lipton, Lenny. "Lenny Lipton". Lennylipton. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
- Nash, Ogden. "The Tale of Custard the Dragon". Harvard. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
- "Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary Songfacts". SongFacts.com. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
In an effort to be gender-neutral, Peter Yarrow later sang the line "A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys" as "A dragon lives forever, but not so girls and boys."
- "Song facts". Retrieved December 7, 2011.
The original poem had a verse that did not make it into the song. In it, Puff found another child and played with him after returning. Neither Yarrow nor Lipton remember the verse in any detail, and the paper that was left in Yarrow's typewriter in 1958 has since been lost.
- The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (6th ed.), 1996
- "Puff the Magic Dragon and Marijuana". Snopes. Retrieved 2011-12-07.
- "Magic Dragon's Not-So-Innocuous Puff". The NY Times. 1984-10-11. Retrieved 2011-12-07.
- Just A Minute With: Peter Yarrow, Reuters
- "How 'Puff The Magic Dragon' Came To Be". Great Big Story. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
- "Puff the Magic Dragon and Marijuana". Snopes.com. 2016-09-14. Retrieved 2016-09-27.
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- Released in 1977 on the album "Real to Reel" and distributed by Sparrow Records
- Noel Paul Stookey (1977). Reel to Reel (audio recording). Neworld Media.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (8th ed.). New York: Billboard Books. p. 488. ISBN 0-8230-7499-4.
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- Fleming Jr, Mike. "Peter, Paul & Mary Tune 'Puff The Magic Dragon' In Fox Deal With 'Troll's Helmer Mike Mitchell". Deadline. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
- "What's On For the School Hols [sic]", The Sydney Morning Herald
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- "Push the Magic Button", Archives (songlist), Computer History Museum[permanent dead link]
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- Bryan Edelman, Marsha (2003). Discovering Jewish music. Jewish Publication Society.
- Yarrow, Peter, "My Response to the Mean-Spirited "Barack the Magic Negro"", The Huffington Post
- John Pike. "AC-47". Globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 2016-09-27.
- Chow, Denise (December 8, 2010). "Millionaire private space capsule splashes: successful maiden voyage". Space.com. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
- "Paff, a bűvös sárkány". YouTube. 2007-11-23. Retrieved 2016-09-27.