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The Wheels on the Bus

The Wheels on the Bus go round and round [repeat]... What is the last line, repeated every verse?

All through the town
All around the town
All Day Long
Something else, to be described in the comments

Wikipedia describes "The Wheels on the Bus" as a mid-20th century anonymous folk song, with three different possible last lines, repeated every verse.

I grew up with "The Wheels on the Bus" going round and round "all through the town". In retrospect, it seems a song of exploration, checking out the variety of humanity which occupies the wide expanse of the town's many neighborhoods, and thus might also be found on the bus, combined with the inevitable annoyance of fellow passengers and a repetitious song. It's a song from the perspective of a cross-town passenger, in which (as I learned it) the driver on the bus features in the inevitable second verse (saying "Move on Back"), thus clearly marking him/her as yet another character, if one of particular interest, to be encountered when exploring by bus.

Where I am now, everyone knows the last line as "all day long", which transforms it into a song about the weariness of a bus driver's long, long work day, and makes me think of transport unions and labor laws. I keep wanting to know if it was ever used as a picketing song for a transport union. The variety of humanity is now for the bus driver to be endured, rather than to be explored from the perspective of a passenger. Indeed, in none of the (many, many) times I have now heard it around here has the driver ever featured as a character within the song, leaving him/her excluded (at least, in my expectation of hearing that verse), an observer throughout that long, long work day.

That last line entirely recontextualizes the song for me.



Feb. 12th, 2013 12:23 am (UTC)
According to the Google NGram viewer, it took off in the mid-1960s overall, but the early 1970s for British English in particular.
Feb. 12th, 2013 12:40 am (UTC)
Yup. That would've been too late for me. *creaks with age wisdom*
Feb. 12th, 2013 12:54 pm (UTC)
I am of a similar age, and lived abroad for a lot of the 80s. So it sprang at me fully formed when people I knew started to have children in the late 80s / early 90s. I'd assumed it had come from a tv programme, it had a manufactured sound that real playground songs avoid. Does it make sense to say it felt like something written deliberately by a well-meaning education professional? as opposed to the normal racist, sexist, violent stuff kids perpetuate amongst themselves.
Feb. 12th, 2013 02:47 pm (UTC)
I was just thinking how many children's songs (not to mention seaside puppet shows) involve alcoholism and domestic violence, but I don't know whether the adults or the children are responsible for that.
Feb. 12th, 2013 01:21 pm (UTC)
That fits. I didn't sing Wheels on the Bus as a child, but learned it when my own children were small.

A travelling song that we did sing as children when we were on group outings and travelling on a coach went: "We're off, we're off, we're off in a motor car, 100 coppers are after us and they don't know where we are." Repeat reducing the number of policemen by one each time.
Feb. 12th, 2013 04:41 pm (UTC)
It's not to the same tune as "100 bottles of beer on the wall", is it? It scans reasonably well to it, even if it's not.
Feb. 12th, 2013 05:54 pm (UTC)
I think calling it a "tune" is something of an exaggeration. :) More a chant really. It's definitely not the same tune as "10 green bottles", but I'm not sure if that's the same as "100 bottles of beer".
Feb. 12th, 2013 06:40 pm (UTC)
"100 bottles of beer on the wall" is more American, has a different tune, different scansion, and different words, but the same theme: a diminishing number of bottles on the wall. I was taught the tune by an American as:

Aleph-null bottles of beer on the wall,
Aleph-null bottles of beer.
Take one down, pass it around,
Aleph-null bottles of beer!