Novelty, parody, and sketch songs have never been a major interest of mine. And most of my reviews would sound the same. So this week, instead of writing about the song, I’m going to pick one of its intriguing quirks or a related topic to spotlight.
Quirk: “Second verse, same as the first!”
Back in 2014, Colton, Brian, and I ranked the Top 50 Disney Songs, Colton opened his blurb to “Once Upon a Dream” (#31) with the turn of phrase: “Second verse, same as the first.” Although it clearly referred to the structure of the Sleeping Beauty ballad, it felt oddly familiar.
It wasn’t until earlier this year when I was listening to a Spotify recommendations list and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” came on that I placed it: As a line from a dumb novelty hit that I hadn’t listened to in a decade.
I googled around a bit. Apparently the phrase is popular enough on its own that it warranted a mention in the song’s Wikipedia article. I found a startlingly well-informed set of 2012 comments on the phrase’s origin on Ask MetaFilter. The well-understood facts are three-fold: 1) The phrase does not date back to earlier versions of the song (which has existed for at least a century, and was the signature act of early-century music hall star Harry Champion). 2) Peter Noone, lead singer of Herman’s Hermits, claims credit for the phrase as a piece of improvisation. And 3) despite Noone’s claim, the phrase had appeared in earlier writing and lyrics.
The consensus among the commenters is that it’s a phrase that’s probably been used in schoolyard chants for decades. Noone might have “invented” it, but it’s more likely it was deep in his memory banks from his childhood.
Fun fact: The third verse is the same as the first, too!