Shave and a Haircut

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"Shave and a Haircut" in C major. About this sound Play 
These notes are: C-G-G-A-G B-C.
In a variation on this tune, the second and third notes are replaced with a triplet with the middle a semitone lower, and the fourth note is flatted.[citation needed]
"Shave and a Haircut" in G major and then with chords.[1] About this sound Play  or About this sound play with chords .

In music, the call "Shave and a Haircut" and the associated response "two bits" is a simple, 7-note musical couplet, riff or fanfare popularly used at the end of a musical performance, usually for comic effect. It is used both melodically and rhythmically, for example as a door knock. About this sound Play 

"Two bits" is an archaism in the United States for 25 cents, a quarter. "Six bits" is occasionally used. The final words may also be "get lost", "drop dead" (in Australia), or some other facetious expression. In England, it was often said as "five bob" (slang for five shillings), although words are now rarely used to accompany the rhythm or the tune.


An early occurrence of the tune is from an 1899 Charles Hale song, "At a Darktown Cakewalk".[2] Other songs from the same period also used the tune. The same notes form the bridge in the "Hot Scotch Rag", written by H. A. Fischler in 1911.

An early recording used the 7-note tune at both the beginning and the ending of a humorous 1915 song, by Billy Murray and the American Quartet, called "On the 5:15".

In his 1933 novel, Hizzoner the Mayor, Joel Sayre wrote of boats "tooting the official Malta welcome blast to the tempo of 'Shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits, shave- and-a-haircut-two-bits, shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits,' which was soon taken up by every craft in the harbor that had a boiler,"[3] indicating that the tune was already associated by that time with the lyric.

In 1939, Dan Shapiro, Lestor Lee and Milton Berle released "Shave and a Haircut – Shampoo,"[4] which used the tune in the closing bars and has been thought to be the origin of the lyric.


The tune can be heard on customized car horns,[5][6] while the rhythm may be tapped as a door knock[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] or as a Morse code "dah-di-di-dah-di, di-dit" ( –··–·   ·· )[15] at the end of an amateur radio contact.

The former prisoner of war and U.S. Naval Seaman Doug Hegdahl reports fellow American captives in the Vietnam war would authenticate a new prisoner's American identity by tapping the first five notes of "Shave and a Haircut", against a cell wall, waiting for the appropriate response. American POWs were then able to communicate securely with one another via the quadratic alphabet code.[16]

The tune has been used innumerable times as a coda or ending in musical pieces. It is strongly associated with the stringed instruments of bluegrass music, particularly the 5-string banjo. Earl Scruggs often ended a song with this phrase or a variation of it. On the television show The Beverly Hillbillies, musical cues signifying the coming of a commercial break (cues which were in bluegrass style) frequently ended with "Shave and a Haircut". It is the most popular bluegrass run, after the G run.[1]

The phrase has been incorporated into countless recordings and performances. Notable examples include:

  • 'That's a Lot of Bunk', a 1920s novelty song by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, known as "The Happiness Boys," uses the riff at the end of the song.
  • R&B singer and bandleader Dave Bartholomew used the phrase on two of his recordings: "Country Boy" (1950) at the very end, and the original version of "My Ding-A-Ling" (1952) as a figure introducing each verse.[17]
  • Les Paul and Mary Ford's Capitol recording of "Magic Melody" concluded with the phrase minus the last two notes ("two bits"). Responding to complaints from disc jockeys, Capitol in 1955 released "Magic Melody Part 2"—consisting solely of the missing notes—on a 45, said to be the shortest tune on record.[18]
  • Dexter Gordon's version of Billy Eckstine and Gerald Valentine's "Second Balcony Jump" on his 1962 album Go ends on the phrase, minus the last note ("bits"). Gordon was known to frequently insert humorous quotations into his solos.
  • P. D. Q. Bach ends his "Blaues Gras" ("bluegrass") aria with "Shave and a Haircut", sung in Denglisch (mangled German and English): "Rasieren und Haarschneiden, zwei bitte" ("Shave and haircut, two please", ungrammatical in either language). "Zwei bitte" is a Denglisch pun, sounding like "two bits" to a speaker of both languages.[19] The melody is also used in The Short-Tempered Clavier.[20]
  • "Shave and a Haircut" was used in many early cartoons, particularly Looney Tunes cartoons, played on things varying from car horns to window shutters banging in the wind. It was also used as an ending to many cartoon shows, just after the credits. Decades later, the couplet became a plot device used by the chief antagonist Judge Doom in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the idea being that Toons cannot resist finishing with the "two bits" when they hear the opening rhythm.[21]
  • In the book Genellan: Planetfall by Scott Gier, a character uses the tune to establish contact with an alien race.
  • The song "Gee, Officer Krupke" from Leonard Bernstein's musical West Side Story ends in the tune.
  • Nardwuar the Human Serviette, a music journalist, ends every interview with this melody, pausing before the final two notes and leaving them to be completed by the interviewee.[22]
  • Lambert, Hendricks and Ross use the 7 note motif in the piano part at the beginning of their recording of "Cloudburst".
  • The theme for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson ends with the tune.

Uses in other countries[edit]

In Mexico, the tune is highly offensive, as it is commonly used to stand in for the rhythmically similar vulgar phrase "chinga tu madre, cabrón" (translation: "Fuck your mother, asshole!").[5][7][23][6]

The Italian version is Ammazza la vecchia... col Flit! [i.e. "Kill the old lady with Flit!" - Flit being an old brand of DDT insecticide]. This is a humorous popular version of a post-World War II commercial Ammazza la mosca... col Flit [i.e. "Kill the fly with Flit!"].[citation needed] This version is never perceived as offensive, but just as a joke.

The same tune is used in Catalan with a different lyric: "Nas de barraca. Sant Boi" ("Shack nose. Sant Boi"). Is also used tapped as a door knock. The Catalan lyrics may come from Blanes, where it was sung twice with "Nas de barraca. Sant Boi. Cinc de carmelos pel noi" (Shack nose. Sant Boi. Five candies for the boy).[24]

In Spain, it is sung with the lyrics "Una copita... de Ojén" ("A shot of schnapps").

In Sweden it was used in a commercial for the Bronzol brand of candy with the slogan 'Hälsan för halsen - Bronzol' (Health for your throat - Bronzol).

In the Netherlands, they use the phrase as when someone leaves to not get back. "Die zien we nooit meer, te-rug" (We shall never see them, a-gain). It is used as a way to make fun of someone/something, if it sudddenly disappears from the scene.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Traum, Happy (1974). Bluegrass Guitar, p.26. ISBN 0-8256-0153-3.
  2. ^ Much of this article is taken from James Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk. 5th ed., revised and enlarged (New York: Dover Publications, 2000), p. 495.
  3. ^ Sayre, Joel (1933). Hizzoner the Mayor: A Novel. New York: John Day Company. pp. 28–29. 
  4. ^ "Catchy Tune Central", Members.MultiMania.NL.
  5. ^ a b Franz, Carl; Havens, Lorena (2006). The People's Guide to Mexico. Avalon Travel Publishing. p. 319. ISBN 1-56691-711-5. 
  6. ^ a b Arellano, Gustavo (2008). Ask a Mexican. Scribner. p. 26. ISBN 1-4165-4003-2. 
  7. ^ a b Thompson, Chuck (2009). To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism. Holt Paperbacks. p. 220. ISBN 0-8050-8788-5. 
  8. ^ Stanton, John (September 20, 1948). "In Mexico City Traffic is Terrific". LIFE. Time, Inc. 
  9. ^ Keenan, Joseph John (2004). Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-74322-X. 
  10. ^ Axtell, Roger E.; Fornwald, Mike (1998). Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World. Wiley. p. 101. ISBN 0-471-18342-3. 
  11. ^ Axtell, Roger E. (1998). Do's and Taboos of Humor Around the World. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-25403-7. 
  12. ^ Ruiz Fornells, Enrique; Ruiz-Fornells, Cynthia Y. (1979). The United States and the Spanish World. Sociedad General Española de Librería. ISBN 84-7143-192-0. 
  13. ^ Wilder, Cora Sarjeant; Sherrier, James (1992). Celebrating Diversity. Ginn Press. ISBN 0-536-58133-9. 
  14. ^ Partridge, Eric; Dalzell, Tom; and Victor, Terry (2007). The concise new Partridge dictionary of slang and unconventional English, p.571. ISBN 978-0-415-21259-5.
  15. ^ King, Thomas W. (1999). Modern Morse Code in Rehabilitation and Education. Allyn & Bacon. p. 77. ISBN 0-205-28751-4. 
  16. ^ Brace, Ernest C. (May 2, 2008). "Messages From John". Archived from the original on December 1, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  17. ^ Bartholomew, Dave, "The King Sides" Collectables (CD) 2883, 2004
  18. ^ Cleveland, Barry (Sep 1, 2002). "It Happened This Month". Archived from the original on May 27, 2009. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  19. ^ "Cantata 'Blaus Gras'". The Peter Schickele/P.D.Q. Bach Web Site. July 3, 2011. Retrieved 2012-12-07. 
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Gerrard, Arthur Bryson (ed.) (1980). Cassell's Colloquial Spanish, 3rd revised ed. London: Cassell Ltd. p. 60. ISBN 0-304-07943-X. 
  24. ^ Sola i Ramos, Elisa (December 1999). "PROVERBIS, DITES I FRASES FETES DE BLANES" (PDF). Servei de Català de Blanes (CPNL). Retrieved March 2016.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

External links[edit]