Mangled Bluegrass Song Lyrics : ‘Two Meatballs in the Sand’

By Wayne Erbsen

I guess you can say I’ve had a love affair with words almost since before I learned to talk. Since moving to North Carolina from California in 1972, I’ve learned that a mountains“minner dipper” is a mandolin, a “scratch box” is a fiddle, and a “starvation box” is a guitar. I’ve learned that a “cathead” is a biscuit, a “ballet” is a ballad and “catawampus” means crosswise. I’ve met fleshy (overweight) people and those who could hide behind a straw (skinny). I’ve seen people who cootered around aimlessly while being bumfusticated, flummoxed, and flustrated. I’ve been told haint (ghost) stories by knot-headed (dumb or stubborn) folks who put stuff in polks (sacks). I’ve grown and shaved a soup strainer (mustache), got hitched (married) but have yet to visit a yarb (herb) doctor or grannywoman (midwife).

cowboy bandThe words to bluegrass songs have been a source of particular fascination to me. Back in 1965 while still living in California, I went to a bluegrass show in a small club in Berkeley, California, called the Jabberwalk. On stage was Joe Val and the Charles River Valley Boys. I remember that the banjo player, Bob Siggins, joked about the lyrics of the Bill Monroe song, Goodbye Old Pal. Siggins suggested that instead of “to me boys it was sad,” he always thought it was “two meatballs in the sand.”

Recently, I got to wondering how other singers have accidentally mangled the words of other bluegrass songs. Come to find out, there’s actually a word for mangled lyrics: mondegreens. Who knew?

I asked some of my bluegrass buddies, students, and friends what mondegreens they have heard or sung, and here’s what they contributed.

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 Are your varmints washed
(Are your garments washed) from Washed in the Blood

With a naked horse
(With an achin’ heart) from Doing My Time

My feet stink on the mantel
(I’m feasting on the manna) from Beulah Land

I fought the green creature down in the dark valley
(I fought the grim reaper down in the dark valley) from I’ve Lived a Lot in My Time

It is a whale that is hurt upon the shore
(It is a wail that is heard upon the shore) from Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More

The ants are my friends, they’re blowing in wind
(The answer my friend is blowing in the wind) from Blowing in the Wind

Feta cheese and hair
(Faded cheeks and hair) from Wandering Boy

May I walk on your lawn every day
(May I walk in your light everyday) from Lord Have Mercy

There’ll be no detours in Heaven, Nora froze along the way
(There’ll be no detours in Heaven, no rough roads along the way)  from I’m Using My Bible For a Roadmap

Hold back the Russian menace
(Hold back the rushing minutes) from My Baby’s Gone

The mandolin player ate cheese whiz
(The man in the middle is Jesus) from The Man in the Middle

They call me by a number of naughty names
(They call me by a number, not a name) from Doin’ My Time

Oh beautiful and spaceship skies
(O beautiful for spacious skies) from America the Beautiful

Lonesome light-bulb waltz
(Lonesome Moonlight Waltz)

Although your love was even colder, I’ll wear your underwear tonight.
(Although your love is even colder, I wonder where you are tonight) from I Wonder Where You Are Tonight

Big spy camera
(Big Spike Hammer)

Bright day will turn to night my love, the elephants will mourn
(Bright day will turn to night my love, the elements will mourn) from The Blackest Crow

Can I get you now, or must the hen I take
(Can I get you now, or must I hesitate) from The Hesitation Blues

She’d row t’church a Sunday,
She’d pass me on by
I saw her mind was changing
Bada-ol-bing on her eye
(She’d go to church on Sunday
She passed me on by
I saw her mind was changing
By the roving of her eye) from Handsome Molly

That’s the way I giddy my gnome
(That way I’ll get him I know) from Feast Here Tonight

Poison tomatoes are taking our loved ones
(Wars and tornadoes are taking our loved ones) from The Family Who Prays

My time on earth is buttered Spam
(My time on earth is but a span) from A Beautiful Life

If you’re like me, you might find these mangled verses more interesting than the “real” ones. Big thanks goes out to everyone who contributed to this collection! If you’d like to contribute your favorite manged lyrics, by all means, send them my way!

7 thoughts on “Mangled Bluegrass Song Lyrics : ‘Two Meatballs in the Sand’

  1. Per the liner notes on J.D. Crowe & The New South, Jimmy Martin used to refer to J.D.’s banjo as a “minner dipper,” too . . . And you should really have noted that the very word “mondegreen” comes from misinterpreting an old ballad lyric “. . . laid him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen . . . ” BUT — great article!

    1. Thanks, Tom!

  2. Once, during “Don’t That Road Look Rough and Rocky” I sang very clearly “Don’t that road look rock and roughy.” And this is not a song, but a real life event. I was the MC during the later 1970’s of a national folk festival which was at wolf trap farm park in Vienna Virginia (after 1978 the Feline center burned. This must have been 1977 or so) I was to introduce Marcy Marxer and Kathy Fink. I had been up all night the night before, walked up to the mic in front of a quiet and attentive crowd and said “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the stage Kathy Fink and MAGIC MARKER.”

    1. Ha!

  3. Wayne…What a blast–I love these things. Have you ever heard the record of bloopers? Some of them could not be printed on the Facebook channel. The mondegreen I believed in for years was “Virtues to reign so fine” for “Purchased her raiment so fine” in “Cory Is Gone” on the old Mercury by F&S.

  4. Wayne! Blast from the past! Great stuff and I remember the nights at the Jabberwock and other Berkeley joints, and the Ash Grove as well. No song is exempt from parody. None.

  5. January 10, 2016
    to; Wayne Erbson
    from: Elin Larson
    Dear Wayne,
    You asked for mangled lyrics. Here are a few more:
    Gladly, the cross-eyed bear (Gladly, the cross I’d bear)
    Our father, charred in Heaven (Our father, which art in Heaven)
    Our father, which art in Heaven, Harold be thy name (Our father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name)
    The search for the elephants (The search for the elements, a chemistry textbook by Isaac Asimov)
    Little star up in the sky, power equals R squared I. (Twinkle twinkle little star, power equals I squared R. (Ohm’s law.))
    They all joined hands and circled left. (They all joined hands and bowed their heads, and grateful prayers were said. (From “Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before.))
    Lead us not into Penn Station. (Lead us not into temptation.)

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