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Be Kind to Your Web-Posting Friends

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Cover of Sing Along with Mitch Miller albumInteractivity with one’s television or computer is normal, today. But there was a time–in a day when talking back to the tube would mark you as a bit odd–when families in the United States gathered to interact with their television receivers in a big way:

They sang along with Mitch.

Between 1961 and 1965, many Americans young and old learned the tunes and lyrics to a raft of “standards” watching a black-and-white NBC-TV show featuring a guy named Mitch Miller. The goateed Miller (off-camera, a high-profile record producer) would choral-direct “The Gang,” tidy rows of men wearing tidy shirts, sweaters and slacks. In a baritone barrage, they’d lay down a melody, breaking into simple-but-tasteful harmony on the choruses. These were songs every American was presumed to just know, but for those who didn’t, the words were flashed at the bottom of the TV screen. And if you were a kid and didn’t know the songs yet, after learning them from Mitch and The Gang you could enjoy your newfound knowledge of the tunes when Mad Magazine recycled them into satirical songs with ridiculous new lyrics.

The Library of Congress recently acquired more than 300 reels of 16-millimeter kinescopes of “Sing Along With Mitch,” to be housed in the Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. After cataloging, a process expected to take several months, the collection will be available to researchers via the Performing Arts Reading Room on Capitol Hill. These kinescopes no doubt include this favorite, sung to a tune from John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”:

Be kind to your web-footed friends, for a duck may be somebody’s mother;

Be kind to your friends in the swamp, where the weather is very very dawmp.

Now you may think that this is the end …

Well, it is!

Comments (19)

  1. And Mitch would say “follow the bouncing ball” as an animated ball bounced along the captioned lyrics.

    The singers were not just men. The show broke new ground by integrating the chorus with an African American woman, Leslie Uggams, in the very early 1960s.

  2. I end up answering a lot of musical trivia questions at work, and just after the inaugural I was forwarded an email asking what that song was that went “a duck may be somebody’s mother,” and why it was played so many times that day. I got to explain it was the national march.

  3. Thanks, lentigogirl, for making that excellent point!

  4. Growing up, we had an album of Mitch and the Gang singing Christmas songs. Still the best stuff around.

  5. That program is how I learned many of those songs as a teen, and they later became the tunes for rocking my babies, and now grandbabies, to rest or sleep.

  6. Further trivia for lentigogirl: Miller snagged the line “Follow the bouncing ball” from an old series of theatrical cartoons called “Screen Song,” each of which featured a song which the audience was urged to sing along with, with lyrics on the screen as on Mitch Miller’s show.

  7. When I was small, my dad used to read the Pogo comic strip to me on Sunday’s. I’ve always thought that the lyrics originated there in the Okeefanokee with Pogo, Albert the Allegator, Churchy LaFeemi and the other characters of the swamp.

  8. All music for the show was arranged, pre recorded and conducted by my friend Jimmy Carroll. Mitch conducted to the pre recorded soundtrack in front of a TV camera. Leslie was in a sound booth when she was recorded. The show was filmed on a different day and the sound was dubbed in at that time. I watched the recording session.

  9. The “bouncing ball” was never a part of “Sing Along With Mitch” on TV. Clips and episodes available on You Tube will bear this out. The ball was seen only as part of the Paramount “Screen Songs” by Max Fleischer and others.

    “Sing Along With Mitch” was widely parodied in its time; including the LP “Sing Along With Jonathan and Darlene Edwards” and the “Alvin Show” episode “Down In The Valley,”

    Mitch Miller, who reputedly had little if any sense of humor, was known to have hated such parodies of his work.

    “Be kind to your web-footed friends” appeared earlier as part of “Crazy Mixed-Up Song.” written by Charles Randolph Grean and Joan Javits, and recorded in several versions around 1954 by Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy (early husband-and-wife TV team) and Homer & Jethro, among others.

  10. My husband and I, in our mid-to-late 70s, have been kicking this song around for over a week now and finally found this site. We thought there might have been a “second verse” “… now you may think this is the end, but it isn’t ’cause there is another chorus”. “Jonathan and Darlene Edwards” were Paul Weston and Jo Stafford. Also remember Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy. Grateful to have found this today and enjoyed reading all the comments.

  11. Thread necromancy here. Great post about well-remembered and well-beloved “Sing Along with Mitch.

    The scouts made hay with this song by turning it into a campfire game:

    “Be kind to your web footed friends,
    For that duck may be somebody’s mother 
    She lives in a hole in a swamp
    Where the weather is always damp 
    You may think that this is the end: 
    Well it is, but to prove that we’re all liars 
    We’re going to sing it again, 
    But only this time we will sing a little higher!”

    Repeat as many times as you like (or stand) rising in pitch with each repeat.

    By the way, what happens when you get stung by a bee and bitten by a mosquito at the same time? Sting along with itch, of course.

  12. My husband also knew some lyrics about ‘your mother up a flag pole’ that he learned as a WWII GI in the 1940’s. Does anyone remember them? Don’t they were ever pc but they were funny.

    Also there are some lyrics about a Monkey up the flag pole…Is this a variation or another verse…only older vets will probably remember this! My 2nd husband was Korean/Nam vet and he didn’t know any alternative lyrics.

  13. Here is another alternate version that I learned as a kid:

    Be kind to your web-footed friends
    for a duck may be somebody’s mother
    be kind to the gator in the swamp,
    where the weather is very damp,
    be kind to the camel in the zoo
    for his hump may be hiding your brother
    you may think that this is the end,
    but it’s not cause this song goes on forever!

  14. I’ve heard this parody on an episode of
    “Barney & Friends”: “A Camping We Will Go” which aired
    on Tuesday, May 5th, 1992. Actor Brian Eppes, who played Michael, said “Duck!” That made Barney (David Joyner), Luci (Leah Gloria), Kathy (Lauren King), and Tosha (Hope Cervantes) all think there was danger flying over their heads. But since it wasn’t that kind of duck, Michael was actually trying to show some ducklings that all came out of their pond. That’s when they started to sing this parody.

  15. I am 85 years old and this music has been bouncing aroun in my head for weeks. I sought for a simple answer but none came.Out of deesperation I fired up this PC and behold knowlege. I must say i enjoy sining this song and someday its deeper meaning will surface.
    Thanks to all.

    Jim Burch

  16. Robert Mowers’ comment of 2015 are right on the money. Mr. Mowers, you have a familiar name! I used to listen to a Bob Mowers on WCME, Belfast, Maine, who played from his own collection of mostly 78rpm records ofstandards. Any relation?

  17. The words written by me and my friend were
    ‘Be kind to your web footed friends
    For the duck might be somebody’s brother
    Be kind to your friends in the swamp
    For their feet may be cold and damp
    You may think this is the end
    Well it is’
    Written by Verdine RARIDON and Mary Jo Owen
    1942 or 1943. We put our words to Stars and Stripes Forever. We were only 12 or 13 and the neighbors and family laughed about them. But today they stood the test of time. Help me correct history.

  18. I wish these gems of television were available to view outside of the library viewing rooms.
    I think many Americans would find nostalgia in seeing Mitch and the Gang again.
    I, for one, have all of his records and desperately wish I could see the television show in the comfort of my home without traveling to DC.
    Perhaps one day NBC will allow the Library to open it to external viewers.

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