Reading My Way Around the World

Monday, 12 May 2014

Sing an old song

I have to confess to shamelessly stealing this quote from the internet.  But it's just perfect. 

After my post about Singing and Dementia the other day, my friend over at Teaching at Pempi's Palace was asking for some songs that children could sing with older people or people with dementia.   This is a brilliant idea and I'm dying to see what you come up with.  Here's some of my rambling thoughts on it ... went on a bit longer than I had intended lol

I think this is a very regional thing my experience the songs that work best are those that were familiar when the people were very young.   So you need to start with whatever was popular then or was popular when the parents were kids.   So local folk songs and dance songs, and they're best if they're singalong and have a chorus....

Here I'm doing mostly Irish songs for that reason - cos the wider radio and record business wasn't really reaching the country areas here back then ... so songs  like The Spinning Wheel, Let Him Go Let Him Tarry, A Dacent Irish Boy, If I Were A Blackbird, the Connemara Cradle Song - Danny Boy and the Moonshiner and so on...

And I also do some Ruby Murray and Doris Day songs that were in the charts in the 50s - Softly Softly, Que Sera Sera etc - and even songs from shows - the Black Hills of Dakota being one that comes to mind.

In England I would suggest that a starting point would be the songs of Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn as well as Doris Day and Ruby Murray. 
Here's Gracie singing Wish Me Luck As You Wave me Goodbye

People in their late 70s and early 80s now were children during the war, so songs like We'll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover and also Let Him Go, Let Him Tarry which Gracie also sang - Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye, It's a Long Way to Tipperary, Pack up Your Troubles in Your old kit bag - songs that would have been sung in World War One.

I find a lot of these songs incredibly moving ... so it may need a bit of trial and error.

And then there's also the songs of the Pearly Kings and Queens - Down at the Old Bull and Bush, Roll out the Barrel, My Old Man said Follow the Van - although I find that a lot of these songs, people only know the chorus - perhaps just learning a few well known choruses might be a way to start.   There are a lot of videos of Florrie Forde and many others on You Tube that give all the words of those.

Here are more common universal ones and much lighter in theme.

Happy Days Are Here Again
You are my Sunshine
Swinging on a Star - this would be a fun one for kids as well
Scarlet Ribbons
Mona Lisa
Lili Marlene
Tommy Steele - Little White Bull
Early Disney songs - When you wish upon a star
Zip a dee doo dah
Early Cliff Richard songs
and old standards like 
Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do and 
Lavender's Blue Dilly Dilly.

There's a couple of really nice ones in this compilation video although I have to confess I hadn't heard about a lot of them.

And Christmas songs are easy ones to include.

I was going to suggest Lonnie Donegan and George Formby ...
they'd be great for the older folks, but I'm not sure about for the kids...  
You could check out  
Does Your Chewing Gum Lose it's Flavour on the Bbedpost Overnight!!  
(although on second thoughts maybe not!!!!)
And My Old Man's A Dustman
And George Formby ... Leaning on the Lamppost

In Scotland there's all the great ballads as well as more come all ye songs like
I'll Take the High Road, Show me the Way to Go Home, Go Lassie Go etc

And in the great American song book,
songs that Frank Sinatra, or Judy Garland or Ella Fitzgerald sang - the simpler ones.

Finally, Josna at her blog Tell Me Another mentioned the Young @ Heart chorus in America that also do old rock covers like the Zimmers in England .... This is them on the Ellen de Generes programme a few years back! I love it.  And no warning needed this time ;)

I'm sure you have lots of suggestions for songs that you could add to my list, songs your parents loved to sing, or songs you've sung with seniors groups etc so I'd love to hear from you.


  1. Hi Fil ... these are great to remember and see some of your recommendations ... the main ones I remember were the Flanders and Swann songs .... they still amuse me and are so clever ...

    Those with Alzheimers and / or Dementia often love to have old songs on ... great selection you've given us ... cheers Hilary

  2. What about The Biggest Aspidistra in the World, that was a Gracie song. You sure brought back a few memories. I remember Flanders and Swan, they were very clever, "It Was on a Monday Morning that the Gasman came to call" really stands out in my mind. OK, maybe not so good for kids to sing too.

  3. Thank you for this super post! Don't know about bringing back memories for old people quite a few of these songs brought back memories for me - particularly "Swinging on a star" (my memory appears to be linked to Bruce Willis singing it?) and "Let him go let him tarry" which I think I learnt at school possibly off the radio schools program. I think quite a number of the songs you listed would appeal to the children to learn and link to our curriculum - Que Sera Sera could be part of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) and My old man's a dustman & Daisy Daisy certainly have a historical slant. It also brought to mind Bernard Cribbens singing "Digging this hole" which maybe older people would also remember. Lots and lots of songs to choose from - can't wait to start organising this now.

  4. What a great post! I'm a dj and my father in law died of Alzheimers a few years back. He loved music and it was one of the things he reacted to the most even in his last few days. He, like my Dad, loved boggie woogie and the swing bands. Glen Miller, Count Basie etc.


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