Monday, February 27, 2012

Mama Mama Can't You See - Military Cadence & Children's Hand clap Rhyme

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Latest Update: November 11, 2018]

In the United States, one of the most widely known examples of a playground rhyme that was inspired in part by a military cadence is "Mama Mama Can't You See".

This post features versions of the United States military cadence "Mama Mama Can't You See" and versions of the hand clap rhyme with the same title.

The content of this post is presented for cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

These examples are given in no particular order and are numbered for referencing purposes only


USMC Cadence - Mama Can't You See

Colt28683, Published on Jun 29, 2011

United States Marine Corp Cadence
"Mama, Mama can't you see
What this Corp has done for me.
Put me in a barber's chair.
Snip snap and I had no hair.
And if I die in a combat zone
Box me up and ship me home.
Put me in a set of Dress Blues
Comb my hair and shine my shoes.
Pin my medals upon my chest
Tell my mama I did my best.
Mama Mama don't you cry
Marine Corp motto is "Do or die!"
left right layo, left right layo*
low right layo, lefty right low"
A lefty righty low.
The caller chants each line and that line is then repeated by the "responders".

"Mama, Mama Can't You See?" Classic Army Airborne Cadence

Hard Corp, Published on Nov 6, 2015

...Here are the favorite marching cadences of the Airborne & Infantry.

In the motivating oral traditions of military cadences, each caller employs his own distinct style and lyrics. This collection reflects that rich, informal diversity... every cadence wonderfully unique.

All cadences were recorded on location with drill instructors and trainees at Fort Benning, Georgia.

"Here is "Mama, mama can't you see". Needless to say, there are plenty of variants...

Mama Mama can't you see
What this road is doing to me

Mama Mama can't you see
What this road is doing to me

Chorus is a chant of the tune
(Whoa whoa), (Yay yay) or (Da da dada)....

Joined the army to get in shape
But all I do is hurry and wait

They put me in a barber's chair
Shaved my head 'til it was bare.

Use to wear designer jeans
Now I'm dressed in jungle greens

Thought I'd get to get to have some fun
But all I do is shoot my gun....

They took away my set of wheels
Now I've blisters on my heels....

Up in the morning much too soon
We're still marching after noon.

Standing tall and looking good
We ought to be in Hollywood....

Ain't no use in going slow
There are many miles to go

Ain't no point in going fast
We shall never be the last

(Someone's name) Don't be blue
Frankenstein was ugly too...."
-CET {Edmund}; "Cadence or Marching Songs", 9/30/2004

Navy Cadence

Tenee Brown, Published on Jun 6, 2016
This example is given without transcription.

Video #1: mama can't you see?

Uploaded by vdsmdac98mcs on Jun 11, 2010

juego de manos
hand shake games


The two girls speak Spanish prior to starting the handclap game, and speak English while playing the game.

Here are the words to the version found in the video:

Mama,Mama can't you see
[clap clap clap clap clapclap]
What the baby's done to me
[clap clap clap clap clapclap]
Took away my MTV.
[clap clap clap clap clapclap]
Now I’m watching dumb Barney
[clap clap clap clap clapclap]
tic tac toe three in a row
[clap clap clap clap clapclap]
barney got shot got shot by GI Joe
[clap clap clap clap clapclap]
who ever got stop get a bump in the head
[clap clap clap clap clapclap]
and that is how the game will end
[clap clap clap clap clapclap]
-vdsmdac98mcs on Jun 11, 2010 (my transcription from video)


I placed this version first because it's more similar to the examples of this rhyme that I've collected than the second featured example. The examples that I collected - African American girls & boys (ages 6-12 years old) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1999-2009 - usually say "what the army done to me" (instead of what the baby done to me, although I have also heard that version. And somewhere around 2004, instead of "Barney got shot by GI Joe", I started hearing children chant "your mama got shot by GI Joe". I consider this to quite a disturbing change in wording.

GI Joe is the small American army figurine toy that may not be as popular now as it was in the 1960s or so.

I should also mention that in most of the versions that I've seen online and in person, the tempo is faster in the beginning of the rhyme and MUCH faster at the end. The end lines that I've heard (and the end lines found in a number of online examples) are:
don't stop until your hands get hot/don't stop until your hands get red".

The palms of the hands get hot & red because of the fast paced slapping that is done in this competitive portion of this game. Those slaps can sting! The person who misses a hand slap because she or he moves her or his hands out the way (so the hands won't get slapped) is out. The last person remaining in the game is the winner.

Video #2: Mama Mama Can't You See?

daledot4kids | August 22, 2007

Silly Megan with the boys...


Here's the words to this version:

Mama mama can't you see,
What the army done to me.
They took away my favorite toys,
Now I'm playin' with boys.
They took away my MP3,
Now I'm watching Barney.
They took away my favorite jeans,
Now I'm wearin' army greens.
I saw a lady chewin' gum,
I asked her if i could have some.
She looked at me like I was dumb,
That's when I said
See my pinky
See my thumb
See my fist
You betta run!
- daledot4kids | August 22, 2007 [transcription by Azizi Powell given without the boys' sound effects]

All of the playground rhyme videos of "Mama Mama Can't You See" that I have seen and all of the performances of that rhyme that I have observed use the same tune. Notice that the tune used for the playground rhyme is different from the tune used for the military cadence.

Also, notice the reference to Mp3s. To date, versions of "Mama Mama Can't You See" are the only examples of playground rhymes that I've collected that mention "Mp3s" (or any other Ipod type music player).

UPDATE: March 21, 2017*:
Here's another example of the children's rhyme "Mama Mama Can't You See"

"Mama mama can’t you see
What the army’s done to me
made me watch Barney
Tick Tock toe
three in a row
Michael got shot by GI Joe

this is Michael Jackson, some people say your mama but they don’t because you’re not supposed to talk about somebody’s mother"
-Conraya, (11 year old African American girl, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, collected by Azizi Powell), 2008
I find this example and its comment significant for sociological/cultural reasons.

The earliest "Mama Mama Can't You See" rhymes that I've heard (in 1999) mentioned that Barney got shot by GI Joe ("Barney" being the purple dinasaur television character, and "GI Joe" being the small action soldier toy). I later observed some children -mostly girls- saying "Your mama got shot by GI Joe" (around 2002). This example substituted the name of Pop singer "Michael Jackson"
for "Mama" because "you're not supposed to talk about someone's mother".
* I noticed on that date that I had inadvertently added this example of "Mama Mama Can't You See" to a pancocojams post about parodies of the R&B song "I Believe I Can Fly". Here's the link for that post:

"We Are The Men Of Que Psi Phi" is a historically Black fraternity song that has a similar two call & response verse structure and similar or the same verses as the military cadence "Mama Mama Can't You See".

Here are two examples of those chants. Both examples have a "I told my mother not to cry" verse. And the Omega verse: ""they shaved my hair...they even took my jeans/now I'm wearing kelly green" is almost like the verse "now I'm wearing army green". However, the tempo of "We Are The Men Of Que Psi Phi" is much slower than the military cadence and the children's rhyme versions of "Mama Mama Can't You See".

Here's an example of that song which was sung at a Omega Psi Phi (also known as "Que") probate (a show where new members are introduced to the public):

Lincoln University Beta Chapter 2016 probate

Caasi Brim, Published on Apr 10, 2016

Lincoln University Omega Psi Phi Beta Chapter Spring 2016 "Apollo" leads bruhs in song.

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