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A common feature of The Musical is the Patter Song, a light and rapid melody sung by a Motor Mouth character – less commonly, more than one. This will often take the form of a Long List, resulting in a List Song. Very commonly the song will involve tongue-twisters that test the singer’s ability to pronounce the lyrics clearly and, also quite commonly, the ability is tested even further by raising the tempo of the song little by little until it goes at a frighteningly fast pace. The Major-General Song is a common example.
You will find that as a rule in ev'ry Broadway presentation
(Or perhaps the London West End, if that should be the location),
That at some point in the drama, all the action turns to stasis―
(Because, after all, how many shows make plotting their main basis?)
And a Motor Mouth or three will more or less expressly chatter
In a light and rapid melody--more technic'ly, a patter.
Since a Long List is a structure that no writer can resist long,
You will ofttimes find the Patter overlapping with the List Song.
Though it uses terms so recherchés, the singers' tongues are twisted,
Each author still will use the trope, as here on this page, this did--
But because to try explaining what the trope entails quite tramples
On our Tropers' little patience, let us on to the examples:
- In the Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure Doctor Who and the Pirates, the Sixth Doctor sings "I Am The Very Model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer". Listen to it here.
- In the Musical Episode of Scrubs, Dr Cox's traditional long, funny rant becomes this.
- The theme song to The Big Bang Theory is a patter song performed by The Bare Naked Ladies.
- The Trope Maker/Trope Codifier is without a doubt, in the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan--perhaps the most prominent example "I am the very model of a Modern Major-General" from The Pirates of Penzance. Many of the examples on this list are inspired by this. Most Gilbert and Sullivan operettas have at least one patter-song, most originally written for the actor George Grossmith.
- Not that shows are limited to just one patter song apiece. There are two other patter songs in Pirates besides the famous Modern Major-General song that are frequently forgotten in that one's shadow. "How beautifully blue the sky," has the entire women's chorus singing the patter part in 2/4 time while the romantic leads sing a duet in 3/4 time. Yes, at the same time.
- Other famous Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs include "Love Unrequited" (sometimes titled "The Nightmare Song") from Iolanthe, and "My Name is John Wellington Wells" from The Sorcerer.
- Gilbert and Sullivan lampshaded their own notoriety for patter songs (and the difficulty in understanding them when sung, due to their ludicrous speed) with "My eyes are fully open" in Ruddigore, a patter song that includes the lines "This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter / Isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter!" It was then interpolated in The Pirates of Penzance for a very famous production in 1982.
- These songs are also much-parodied. One of the most famous is "The Elements Song" by Tom Lehrer; he rhymed all the chemical element names from the Periodic Table (at least, all the ones that were known at the time; several more have been discovered since ) and set them to the tune of "I am the very model of a modern major general."
- Lehrer also lampshaded it in his multi-In the Style Of rewrite of "Oh My Darling Clementine".
To end on a happy note, one can always count on Gilbert and Sullivan for a rousing finale, full of words and music and signifying... nothing.
- Meanwhile, Spitting Image used the song to parody Neil Kinnock's reputation for talking really fast, without talking much about anything at all.
- Another famous G&S patter song is "I've Got A Little List" from The Mikado, which lists people who would not be missed if they were to be executed. Modern productions of The Mikado invariably rewrite this one to incorporate topical and local events (not to mention Bowdlerize the N-word out). It's harder to rewrite than the Major-General Song because of the limited number of rhymes for "list".
- The original lyrics practically invite the performer (or producer) to rewrite the lyrics this way:
The task of filling up the blanks I rather leave to you, but it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list, 'cause they'd none of them be missed, they'd none of them be missed.
- And the ending of "I Am So Proud" from the same musical. It begins with each character singing their part, then leads to counterpoint, and totally skips that format at the end with the trio singing a patter.
- "Clarice Cara Mia Sposa" by Mozart.
- "Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)" lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Kurt Weill, first performed by Danny Kaye in Lady in the Dark.
- "Both Sides of the Coin" from Drood.
- "Contini Submits" and Necrophorus' part in "Folies Bergeres" from Nine.
- "Rock Island" from The Music Man is a rare example involving many people. It also can hardly be considered a song, and it lost its musical accompaniment when the pianist was unavailable. The authors performed it a cappella, and it worked so well that they kept it that way.
- Oh, and, of course, "Trouble" from the same score is possibly the most well-known American patter song.
- Stephen Sondheim loves this:
- "Everybody Says Don't" from Anyone Can Whistle.
- "Another Hundred People" and Amy's part of "Getting Married Today" from Company.
- "Buddy's Blues" from Follies.
- "Now" from A Little Night Music.
- "Please Hello" from Pacific Overtures.
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has some of this in "The Contest".
- "Franklin Shepard, Inc." from Merrily We Roll Along has elements of this.
- Into the Woods has "Your Fault", but other bits in the score are similar, such as the Witch and Stepsister's bit in "Ever After".
- Arguably "The Ballad of Czolgosz" from Assassins.
- The Quartet from Chess has some of this.
- Mr. Graydon's dictation test/interview of Mille in Thoroughly Modern Millie gradually becomes this as they move through the verses. The tune uses "My Eyes Are Fully Open" from Ruddigore. In this case, the music starts off as PAINSTAKINGLY SLOW, and then little by little turns RIDICULOUSLY FAST.
- A song that Jim Steinman wrote for the never produced Batman musical was a patter song. It was written for the Joker character, was entitled "Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?" (Steinman likes long titles) and it goes a little something like this...
- "The Plan" from The Brain From Planet X counts as this.
- The verses of "War Is A Science" from Pippin.
- The other wiki has its own list...
- Professor Abronsius' song "Wahrheit" in Tanz der Vampire.
- Thomas Aquinas's part in Godspell's "Tower of Babble." "God is apprehended by imagination, intuition...."
- Also from Godspell, Judas/David's verse in "All For The Best."
- "Pulled" from the Addams Family musical has a bridge which is a brief, fast-paced List Song.
- "Tonight at Eight" from She Loves Me.
- Not a whole song, but the ending of "The King of Broadway" in The Producers certainly qualifies.
- Most of the song "The Brain" from the musical version of Young Frankenstein ("His Medulla Oblongata / tells his brain stem that it’s gotta / send an impulse full of data / which creates a lot of pain"… etc).
- "I've Just Seen a Face" by The Beatles.
- "Une Valse à Mille Temps" by Jacques Brel.
- "A Wolf at the Door" by Radiohead is unusually dark in tone for a Patter Song, but no less rapid-fire (though it has longer-than-usual spaces between the pattery verses). However, the choruses are slightly slower.
- "88 Lines about 44 Women" by The Nails.
- "Johnny Tulloch", by The Rankin Family, featuring rapid fire lists of people piled in a wagon for a dance in Glencoe, and a story about the dance. Towards the end of the song, there's even scat singing from the women in the group while the male singer lists the names of those in the wagon.
- "It's The End of the World as We Know It" by REM.
- "Hardware Store" by "Weird Al" Yankovic, which is also partially a List Song when Al starts rattling off things the hardware store in question sells.
- Needless to say, it's one song Al refuses to perform live because he doesn't think he can do it again.
- Steve Goodie's Harry Potter-themed parody "Dumbledore" is likewise an example.
- "Your Horoscope for Today" isn't fast enough for the whole song to count, but the bridge does, when he says all this in about twenty seconds:
Now you may find it inconceivable or at the very least a bit unlikely
- "Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan.
- Pretty much everything Vio-Lence ever recorded.
- Virginia-based Carbon Leaf revived a traditional song from the U.K. (opinions vary as to whether it's Scottish or Irish) called "Mary Mac". Their official recorded version may be heard here. Be sure to check out a few of their live versions, as well. Note that any tropers who wish to upload their own versions should try to increase the tempo at every verse *and* every repetition of the chorus, to show off just how good they are.
- Tim Minchin's "Pope Song" has shades of this:
- Matisyahu - King Without A Crown
- "Goin' Down" by The Monkees is a fast-paced, upbeat song... about a guy having second thoughts after trying to drown himself.
- Kirby Krackle's "Who Watches the Watcher," which is used as the theme song of Marvel's online news show "The Watcher," features a major section that rattles off a list of Marvel characters who watch the Watcher.
- Chameleon Circuit's Big Bang 2, which summarizes the Doctor Who episode named "The Big Bang."
- In Mass Effect 2, Mordin Solus once states that he used to sing Gilbert & Sullivan, and always did the Patter Songs. It should come as no surprise, seeing as Mordin talks about five times as fast as everyone else anyway.
- "I Really Don't Hate Christmas" from Phineas and Ferb's Christmas Vacation is a song in which Dr. Doofenshmirtz sings about how much it bugs him that he can't work up more than "an intense, burning indifference" towards a holiday he feels obliged, as an evil genius, to hate, while rattling off a number of holidays and other things that he unambiguously hates.
You see, Valentine's is torture, and my birthday is a mess
- The Flim-Flam Brothers in the "Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000" episode of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic get a patter song. Granny Smith has a line in said song. All of Ponyville takes part by the end.
And now that you have finished proofing, adding tropes, or lurking,
- Lehrer knew this was going to happen - the last words of the song are "These are the only [elements] of which the news has come to Harvard, and there may be many others but they haven't been discahvered."