Nursery rhymes and fairy tales have long captured the minds of little children all around the world. They tell little tales of happiness, heroism, bravery and tragedy in a manner that will entertain children. On paper, they seem innocent and harmless, but we decided to look back at the most popular children’s songs that we all grew up listening to and singing along with. Needless to say, we found many shady meanings and disturbing history that inspired these songs before they were adapted to be fit for children.
Here are the children’s songs that we totally didn't get as kids. Spoiler Alert! If you want your favorite innocent childhood memories to remain innocent, this is not for you.
This short children’s nursery rhyme is just four sentences long. The song was first recorded in 1939, but its first two lines can be found in a book published in 1912. The last verse of the song goes ‘he went to bed and bumped his head. And couldn’t get up in the morning’. Many interpretations believe that this line describes an accidental death caused by an old man bumping his head against his bed. This sweet little song sure took a dark turn.
Many children’s songs and stories come from historical events and are much darker than their modern counterparts. This is the case with this short nursery rhyme. The third line ‘With Silver Bells, And Cockle Shells’ might sound like an innocent reference to decorative knick-knacks but when the song was originally written these referred to torture devices that were used against people who refused to convert to Catholicism. The ‘Mary’ referred to the song is also likely Queen Mary Tudor, whose violent ways earned her the nickname Bloody Mary.
Singing about a falling bridge is quite dark for a children’s song, but it takes a darker turn if we go into history. The song refers to the practice of child sacrifice that was prominent during the middle ages. The sacrifices were performed in the belief that it would ensure the integrity of the structures. To this end, many children were entombed under the London bridge as part of ritual sacrifices.
Three men bathing in a tub. Already this song is vulgar in nature, but the original version of the song is even more erotic. The original writings surfaced somewhere around the 14th century in England and the three men were actually three maids. The song referred to a peep show and the term ‘Rub-a-dub-dub’ was supposed to reprimand men who were ogling naked ladies in a bathtub.
As children we sang this song with glee, never realizing how messed up the song really is. The song refers to a woman cutting the tails off of three mice. Similar to ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,’ this song might also be referencing Queen Mary when she executed three Protestant bishops. With animal torture in its lyrics, it's surprising how this song even became a nursery rhyme.
When Jack and Jill go up the hill, Jack falls down. He sustains an injury on the top of his head or ‘crown.’ Jill follows suit, tumbling down the hill behind Jack. This cute children’s nursery rhyme talks about a broken crown and another accident. Delving deeper into its history, Jack and Jill actually referred to a boy and girl and was likely used to describe two people having an affair.
Another English rhyme on this list, ‘ring around the rosey’ is a children’s rhyme that's sung while playing games. Children hold hands and dance around in a circle and stoop down at the last line. The last person standing faces a penalty. Innocent as it sounds, the song’s history is quite shady. ‘Rosey’ is a reference to rosy rash that was a symptom of the plague. ‘Posy’ refers to a small bunch of flowers that were used to conceal the smell of the disease. That’s sure to dampen any child’s mood.
The American version of this song is a tamed down version of the British original. In Britain, ‘pop goes the weasel’ is slang for pawning your winter coat. The British version also includes different lines such as ‘A penny for a spool of thread, a penny for a needle.’ The song is meant to describe the poor conditions of people in Britain that are living in poverty. No wonder the song was modified to be suitable for children.
Is your mind blown or had you always noticed the hidden meanings behind this innocent-sounding children’s songs? Let us know.