I don’t remember my mother ever singing a lullaby—maybe I was too young, or already asleep. But she was topnotch at an inventory of saucy patter songs which she had learned in her free-spirited youth (she didn’t marry until she was 26—positively superannuated for her generation). I suppose I was six when she taught me
A capital ship for an ocean trip
Was the walloping window blind
Father swam under a
Just as the son went down.
Imagine my delight, then, when I stumbled on “The Billboard Song,” long lost to me, but still out there in cyberspace, albeit with no more than 16 Google hits. Angelfire calls it “Trad. and Anon.” Gunther Anderson says it has “long since passed into the folk domain,” but he credits it to Cy Coben and Charles Grean. This doesn’t seem quite right to me. Answers.com says Coben was born in 1918, and my mother’s singlehood ended in 1929: I doubt that this is the work of an 11-year-old. Answers credits the Coben/Grean version to Homer & Jethro who, per Answers, came together in 1932—so again, the dates don’t seem quite to match—unless, of course, my mother continued to absorb silly songs after she became absorbed with spouse and children.
There seem to be a lot of folky variants on “The Billboard Song,” but here is some stuff that I remember from, oh, say, around 1944:
As I was walking down the street a billboard met my eye
The advertising that was there would make you laugh or cry
The wind and rain had almost washed that old billboard away
But the advertising painted there would have that billboard say
Bay Rum is good for horses, it is the best in town
Castoria cures the measles, if you pay ten dollars down
Have a smoke of Coca-Cola, chew catsup cigarettes
Watch Lillian Russell wrestle with a box of Cascarets